Rapid product development at Google

Google Gets Ready To Rumble With Microsoft – N.Y. Time, Steve Lohr and Miguel Helft.

Google maintains that pace courtesy of the cloud. With a vast majority of its products Web-based, it doesn’t wait to ship discs or load programs onto personal computers. Inside the company, late stages of product development are sometimes punctuated by 24-to-48-hour marathon programming sessions known as “hack-a-thons.” The company sometimes invites outside engineers to these sessions to encourage independent software developers to use Google technologies as platforms for their own products.

New features and improvements are made and tested on Google’s computers and constantly sprinkled into the services users tap into online. In the last two months alone, eight new features or improvements have been added to Google’s e-mail system, Gmail, including a tweak to improve the processing speed and code to simplify the handling of e-mail on mobile phones. A similar number of enhancements have been made in the last two months to Google’s online spreadsheet, word processing and presentation software.

Early this month, Google released new cellphone software, with the code-name Grand Prix. A project that took just six weeks to complete, Grand Prix allows for fast and easy access to Google services like search, Gmail and calendars through a stripped-down mobile phone browser. (For now, it is tailored for iPhone browsers, but the plan is to make it work on other mobile browsers as well.)

Grand Prix was born when a Google engineer, tinkering on his own one weekend, came up with prototype code and e-mailed it to Vic Gundotra, a Google executive who oversees mobile products. Mr. Gundotra then showed the prototype to Mr. Schmidt, who in turn mentioned it to Mr. Brin. In about an hour, Mr. Brin came to look at the prototype.

“Sergey was really supportive,” recalls Mr. Gundotra, saying that Mr. Brin was most intrigued by the “engineering tricks” employed. After that, Mr. Gundotra posted a message on Google’s internal network, asking employees who owned iPhones to test the prototype. Such peer review is common at Google, which has an engineering culture in which a favorite mantra is “nothing speaks louder than code.”

As co-workers dug in, testing Grand Prix’s performance speed, memory use and other features, “the feedback started pouring in,” Mr. Gundotra recalls. The comments amounted to a thumbs-up, and after a few weeks of fine-tuning and fixing bugs, Grand Prix was released. In the brief development, there were no formal product reviews or formal approval processes.

Mr. Gundotra joined Google in July, after 15 years at Microsoft. He says that he always considered Microsoft to be the epicenter of technological development, but that the rise of cloud computing forced him to reconsider. more…

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