Q & A with Doug Edwards, author and Google employee No. 59

Just how lucky was Doug Edwards, whose book, “I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59,” is coming out July 12?

Well, put it this way: Since he left Google in 2005, Edwards has yet to hold another full-time job, and has no immediate plans to do so. But, he says, he “certainly didn’t end up where [billionaire co-founders] Larry (Page) and Sergey (Brin) are” — he still drives the same Toyota minivan he had when he started at Google in 1999, although he has since bought a Prius. Still, he spends his time traveling and being involved in political organizations while putting two kids through college. He’s co-chair of the board of Maplight.org, a non-profit, non-partisan site that tracks campaign contributions.

Disclaimer: Edwards is a former Mercury News marketing employee, though our paths never crossed. I’m writing about his book because it’s about Google, and none of Edwards’ “luck” has rubbed off on GMSV.

The book is an interesting blend of what Google was like pre-IPO, before it became ginormous, and Edwards’ personal struggles and accomplishments during his approximately five years as “the voice of Google,” which is what he was called by former senior VP Jonathan Rosenberg as the company wrote and revised its S-1 SEC filing when it went public in 2004. Edwards gives readers a glimpse into Google’s geek culture — data- and engineering-driven, free massages and gourmet food and all — with plenty of other details only someone who has worked there would know. For example, nowhere in Steven Levy’s excellent and recently published “In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives,” does the word “bastards” appear. But in “I’m Feeling Lucky,” the reader comes away knowing that it’s one of Page and Brin’s favorite words.

In a phone interview with GMSV Thursday, Edwards talked about his time at Google, and why he decided to write the book. Here are edited highlights of our conversation:

GMSV: It’s been six years since you left Google. Why write the book now?

Edwards: I started writing right after I left. I went back and forth between a blog (see Xooglers, where Edwards has posted a video of a TGIF meeting at Google from 1999) and writing a book. At one point I said I just have to get this out of my head. It was almost therapeutic. I came from the Merc, where I was fairly confident and secure in my position. When I got to Google, I had to start from scratch. (In the book, Edwards shares his angst about going to Google at age 41 to work with a bunch of brilliant twentysomethings.) Also, every time I see something written about Google, I think, “I know what happened then.”

GMSV: How long did it take to write the book? Was Google cooperative?

Edwards: About two-and-a-half years. I interviewed many former and current workers. I went through Google’s PR office to talk to current employees, and at no point did the company say no, you can’t answer that. I think it was in part because I was a first employee, not a reporter, and they didn’t really know how to deal with that. They were surprisingly open. I have to give them a lot of credit.

GMSV: What were your biggest accomplishments at Google?

Edwards: The thing I’m most proud of is adding a human voice. That came in many forms, such as the April Fools’ jokes, the Yada Yada thing, a recruitment campaign for engineers, and even naming AdWords after myself. (In his book, Edwards details how he sold Brin on Google’s now-famous April Fools’ announcements;  wrote the privacy wording users saw when they downloaded the Google Toolbar, which read in part, “Please read this carefully. It’s not the usual yada yada”; and conceived of a fun, widely praised but largely unproductive campaign to woo engineers to Google. Edwards also sounds a lot like AdWords, Google’s self-serve ad program, which it launched in 2000.)

GMSV: How closely do you keep up with the company to this day?

Edwards: I follow it. I have a Google alert on Google. I’m getting together with some Google people this week for my birthday. And I have read “In the Plex.” Steven did an amazing job of getting access.

GMSV: Tell me about how you came to leave Google. They basically called you into an office and told you they couldn’t find a “fit” for you.

Edwards: After my boss, Cindy, left (after Google’s first earnings call) I was moved from branding into product management. They just didn’t know what to do with my role. Frankly, after five years, I was kind of tired. And I was in a financial position where it wasn’t necessary for me to work those long hours. I feel pretty good about what I did there, but I don’t miss the stress and the hours.


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  • Stuart

    God help us

  • dbenson

    Doug was my manager during his Mercury News years. If he’d stayed here he might have gotten the denim jacket with the Mercury Center logo on it, but I guess things worked out well enough for him.

  • Waseem Soomro

    I don’t know Doug, neither he knows me. But he’s truly gifted.

    God bless him!