Microsoft/Apple/Google: can you spot the company from its staffer’s description?


Welcome to Microsoft. Photo by mbtrama on Flickr. Some rights reserved

Given that I’m writing a book about Microsoft, Apple and Google, and about the business practices inside them and what sorts of effects they lead to, I felt quite pleased when I came across someone who has worked for all three.

The interview was very interesting; particularly interesting was the description of how the companies work internally. But here’s where I turn it over to you.

Can you figure out the company from the description?

1) “The engineers pretty much run it.”
2) “Marketing really drives it.”
3) “It’s pretty much run from the top.”

OK? Now here’s another trio (might be the same order as above, might be different)

1) “There’s definitely more of a rah-rah approach there than at the others.”
2) “It’s really difficult to move between teams.”
3) “It’s really easy to move between teams.”

So here’s the question I’d pose to you: which companeis do you think those are (I’ll reveal it in a later post), and more importantly, why? Why is that your picture of each of those companies?

Although if you’ve worked for any (or all, or some) of Microsoft/Apple/Google, then please do pile in, or contact me at charles.arthur+rivals@gmail.com.

OK, comments are yours…

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About charlesarthur

Freelance journalist - technology, science, and so on. Author of "Digital Wars: Apple, Google, Microsoft and the battle for the internet".
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57 Responses to Microsoft/Apple/Google: can you spot the company from its staffer’s description?

  1. Tim Anderson says:

    1) “The engineers pretty much run it.” – Google. Because it began with a search ranking algorithm and then became an engineering problem – how to index the internet and scale as searches increased.

    2) “Marketing really drives it.” – Microsoft.

    3) “It’s pretty much run from the top.” – Apple. Steve Jobs the control freak.

    1) “There’s definitely more of a rah-rah approach there than at the others.” – Microsoft. Because of the shouty CEO.

    2) “It’s really difficult to move between teams.” – doubtful about this one but I’m guessing Apple, because I see the company as big on quality but not on fluidity.

    3) “It’s really easy to move between teams.” – which leaves this for Google, fitting with its easy-going image and 10% time.

    Tim

    • charlesarthur says:

      Ooh, so close, but only 4 out of 6, Tim. Excellent effort.

      • Gus Fraser says:

        Fun!

        I think Tim’s mistake was Google/Microsoft for the first question.

        So:

        1) “The engineers pretty much run it.” – Microsoft. Perhaps a less recent era (Gates?)

        2) “Marketing really drives it.” – Google. Hired Schmidt for a reason.

  2. Michael Brunton-Spall says:

    first set
    1) Microsoft – It’s always been a fairly engineers company
    2) Apple – Naturlich
    3) Google – I figure working at Google has a feeling that the goals being set by Sergei and Larry make it feel like it’s run from the top.
    I’d not be suprised if Microsoft was run from the top, and google by engineers though, so that’d be my run up order.

    Second set
    Hmm, much harder
    1) Rah rah – going to go for Apple
    2) Hard to move between teams – Probably microsoft, although that might depend on the context of the word team there, I know people who have moved teams within a department, but moving to a whole other department might be tougher, who knows.
    3) Easy to move between teams – I’m going to say Google, I know that 20% time might be spent working with another team, and that could help people move around.

  3. Eugene says:

    “1) “The engineers pretty much run it.”

    Google, or Apple. Depending on the definition of Engineers. If Scott Forstall, or Avie Tevanian become managers they are still engineers. ( All succesful technology companies have engineers as managers)

    2) “Marketing really drives it.” – Microsoft.

    3) “It’s pretty much run from the top.” – MS.

    1) “There’s definitely more of a rah-rah approach there than at the others.” – Not sure what rah rah means.

    2) “It’s really difficult to move between teams.” MS, Apple moves people all the time.

    3) “It’s really easy to move between teams.” – Apple,or possibly Google. ( Why not both for some answers?). I doubt if the search team in Google move onto Android, however the mid layer Objective C guys in APple would work on lots of stuff in their career.

    Specialty groups – like the compiler, obviously exist too. MS may be the same.

  4. charlesarthur says:

    @Gus: no fair, you have to aim at all six questions so I can give you the aggregate mark.

    @Brunton-Spall oh dear me, 3/6.

    @Eugene – also 3/6, but you didn’t really give an answer in some places.

  5. Jonny Herbert says:

    1) Google, 2) Microsoft, 3) Apple 4) Google, 5) Microsoft, 6) Apple!

  6. John Watkins says:

    1) “The engineers pretty much run it.” – Google
    2) “Marketing really drives it.” – Apple (visibility everywhere)
    3) “It’s pretty much run from the top.” – Microsoft (CEO leads)
    1) “There’s definitely more of a rah-rah approach there than at the others.” – Microsoft.
    2) “It’s really difficult to move between teams.” – Apple (secrecy abounds)
    3) “It’s really easy to move between teams.” – Google

  7. 1) “The engineers pretty much run it.”

    Google. Engineers make google happen! 🙂

    2) “Marketing really drives it.”

    Microsoft.

    3) “It’s pretty much run from the top.”

    Apple. Steve Jobs, enough said.

    OK? Now here’s another trio (might be the same order as above, might be different)

    1) “There’s definitely more of a rah-rah approach there than at the others.”

    Microsoft. Steve Balmer is as rah-rah as they get.

    2) “It’s really difficult to move between teams.”

    Apple. Apple run by control freak Steve Jobs, wouldn’t surprise me.

    3) “It’s really easy to move between teams.”

    Google. Seems like a really flexible place to work.

  8. Cathal says:

    1) “The engineers pretty much run it.” – google, founded by engineers ran by engineers
    2) “Marketing really drives it.” -Apple, not a computer company, but a lifestyle ambition company
    3) “It’s pretty much run from the top.” – Microsoft, bow to the will of SteveB or die

    OK? Now here’s another trio (might be the same order as above, might be different)

    1) “There’s definitely more of a rah-rah approach there than at the others.” – Apple, these people work within the vicinity of Job’s reality distortion field so going to work is a religious experience for them
    2) “It’s really difficult to move between teams.” – Microsoft, hires tons of smart people, but has so many managers running little kingdoms fails to utilise them
    3) “It’s really easy to move between teams.” – Google, 10% time

  9. Good fun. My guesses (without reading other responses and trying to play mastermind):

    1) “The engineers pretty much run it.” – Google
    2) “Marketing really drives it.” – Microsoft
    3) “It’s pretty much run from the top.” – Apple

    1) “There’s definitely more of a rah-rah approach there than at the others.” – Apple
    2) “It’s really difficult to move between teams.” – Google
    3) “It’s really easy to move between teams.” – Microsoft

  10. charlesarthur says:

    @Jonny 4/6 I’m afraid…

  11. TuckerJJ says:

    1) “The engineers pretty much run it.” – Google: the company is engineering driven with new products coming along as the technology is developed, not when marketing deems they’re ready for release.
    2) “Marketing really drives it.” – Microsoft: many stories of features being pushed or dropped on they say so of the marketing team, regardless of the view of the engineers.
    3) “It’s pretty much run from the top.” – Apple: Steve Jobs

    1) “There’s definitely more of a rah-rah approach there than at the others.” – not sure what rah-rah means in this context, but I’m gonna say Google by default; see below.
    2) “It’s really difficult to move between teams.” – Microsoft: stories in the press about how the teams don’t work together, coming up with different solutions to the same problem, sometimes scuppering the products of competing teams.
    3) “It’s really easy to move between teams.” – Apple: Certainly with the software teams we know Apple move engineers between projects and teams as required, and features that work well with one product are migrated across to other teams (app store, multi touch iPod nano) which indicates the teams share and work well together.

  12. Ed Bott says:

    ) “The engineers pretty much run it.” – Google. I see no sign of actual management anywhere outside of engineering.
    2) “Marketing really drives it.” – Apple. It’s why they’ve been so successful.
    3) “It’s pretty much run from the top.” – Microsoft. Doesn’t mean it’s run well, mind you…

    1) “There’s definitely more of a rah-rah approach there than at the others.” – Google. By process of elimination.
    2) “It’s really difficult to move between teams.” Apple. From my understanding of how recruiting is done, and the nature of their very small teams.
    3) “It’s really easy to move between teams.” Microsoft. From personal knowledge based on interviews with employees.

    • charlesarthur says:

      @Ed oh, I’m very disappointed. (Well, maybe the people we’ve spoken to differ a lot, and also perhaps it’s the context.) But – 2/6 on the basis of my interview…

  13. Michael says:

    1) google
    2) apple
    3) microsoft

    Second set
    1) apple
    2) Microsoft
    3) google

    Pretty confident 🙂

  14. Jack Schofield says:

    Oh go on, I’ll play….

    1) “The engineers pretty much run it.” – Google.
    2) “Marketing really drives it.” – Apple.
    3) “It’s pretty much run from the top.” – Microsoft

    1) “There’s definitely more of a rah-rah approach there than at the others.” – Microsoft.
    2) “It’s really difficult to move between teams.” – Apple
    3) “It’s really easy to move between teams.” – Google

    • charlesarthur says:

      @Jack tch, you see, it’s that trap of mistaking the external perception for the internal reality. 2/6, I’m afraid.

  15. aluthgedara says:

    Can you figure out the company from the description?
    1) “The engineers pretty much run it.” : Google
    2) “Marketing really drives it.” : Apple
    3) “It’s pretty much run from the top.” : Microsoft

    OK? Now here’s another trio (might be the same order as above, might be different)
    1) “There’s definitely more of a rah-rah approach there than at the others.” : Apple
    2) “It’s really difficult to move between teams.” : Microsoft
    3) “It’s really easy to move between teams.” : Google

  16. Aaron Sudduth says:

    I feel like the answers are
    1) Microsoft – a lot of engineers here.
    2) Apple – isn’t the way apple is marketed everything? even down to Steve’s black turtleneck?
    3) Google – I assume its Larry/Sergey’s way or no way

    1) google – rah rah – I feel like google doesnt do things subtly. trying to take over everywhere.
    2) apple – very secret
    3) microsoft – seems like people move all the time at MS

    • charlesarthur says:

      @Aaron I’m afraid that’s a strikeout – 0/6. Could I suggest that you pre-order the book when it’s at a stage to be pre-ordered? Lots to learn…

  17. Yousaf says:

    1. “The engineers pretty much run it.” Surely it is Google.
    2. “Marketing really drives it.” This has to be Apple.
    3. “It’s pretty much run from the top.” This is probably Microsoft.

    1. “There’s definitely more of a rah-rah approach there than at the others.” Sounds like Apple.
    2. “It’s really difficult to move between teams.” Again it has to be Apple
    3. “It’s really easy to move between teams.” This one has to be Microsoft

    I put together some stuff on Google’s employees today Insight into Google’s workforce

  18. Chris Lake says:

    GOOGLE: 1) “The engineers pretty much run it.”

    GOOGLE: A 2) “Marketing really drives it.”

    MICROSOFT: 3) “It’s pretty much run from the top.”

    APPLE: 1) “There’s definitely more of a rah-rah approach there than at the others.”

    MICROSOFT: 2) “It’s really difficult to move between teams.”

    GOOGLE 3) “It’s really easy to move between teams.”

    • charlesarthur says:

      @Chris a surprising 4/6. And you didn’t show your working.

      • Chris Lake says:

        I used a calculator and was rushing off into a meeting… ; )

        1. I’ve seen the test Google gives to prospective software engineers. It frightened me. Both the founders are engineers, and they DO run Google.

        2. This was a toss up between Google and MS. I actually think it’s probably the latter, having given it some more thought. But Google is so reliant on its ad business that it makes sense for marketing to influence some of the tactical decisions it makes (product-based ones). But yeah, it’s probably MS. I think I got this one wrong. MS is ALL about the marketing.

        3. DEVELOPERS, DEVELOPERS, DEVELOPERS! Ballmer isn’t going to take instructions from anybody…

        4. As reflected in the high-falutin’ behaviour of many a Mac fanboy, which put me off buying Apple for years. There is definitely a kind of elitism involved with Apple. It makes the best products, so it kinda figures. This one must be correct.

        5. A wild guess, but the MS divisions seem more segmented and distributed. I can imagine it being easier to move around internally at Google or Apple.

        6. Follows on from 5. I would have thought that Google, as the youngest of the companies, would be less structured / formal / hung up about who does what and where they do it. And Google is pretty much a software business. Both Apple and MS have a bit more going on.

  19. jameswales says:

    1) “The engineers pretty much run it.” – Google
    2) “Marketing really drives it.” – Microsoft
    3) “It’s pretty much run from the top.” – Apple

    OK? Now here’s another trio (might be the same order as above, might be different)

    1) “There’s definitely more of a rah-rah approach there than at the others.” -Google
    2) “It’s really difficult to move between teams.” -Apple
    3) “It’s really easy to move between teams.” -Microsoft

  20. Andy Thomas says:

    Here goes

    1. “The engineers pretty much run it.” Microsoft
    2. “Marketing really drives it.” Apple.
    3. “It’s pretty much run from the top.” Google

    1. “There’s definitely more of a rah-rah approach there than at the others.” Google
    2. “It’s really difficult to move between teams.” Microsoft
    3. “It’s really easy to move between teams.” Apple

  21. Sasha says:

    1) “The engineers pretty much run it.” – Google.
    2) “Marketing really drives it.” – Microsoft.
    3) “It’s pretty much run from the top.” – Apple.
    1) “There’s definitely more of a rah-rah approach there than at the others.” – Microsoft.
    2) “It’s really difficult to move between teams.” – Google
    3) “It’s really easy to move between teams.” – Apple

  22. north5 says:

    1. Google
    2. Microsoft
    3. Apple

    1. Apple
    2. Microsoft
    3. Google

    • charlesarthur says:

      @north5 a winner! 6/6 (and I’m sure this time). You didn’t show your reasoning though I’m suspecting it’s “look at who got what wrong and matrix it…” Hmm?

    • north5 says:

      Sorry, you wanted my workings:
      1. Google, more than any of the others, is a company founded on tech, at a time when tech was already king. If you want to win in a crowded market, you need to be better, not just first.
      2. I’m not sure anything drives Microsoft, but it sure isn’t run from the top.
      3. Apple clearly is. More than the other two, it has a centrally driven agenda, and it shows in their clear, crisp product range.

      1. Apple’s secrecy and recent massive media success must surely be getting to their heads.
      2. Exactly what I’d expect from a company with no clear strategy linking its products.
      3. Stuff like Google’s 20% time (I know, long gone) give the impression that they’re keen to try new things – on a small, as well as a large, scale.

      • charlesarthur says:

        @north5 yup, pretty much, though the media success thing isn’t the driver. It’s been that way for ages.

  23. Ok…

    1. “The engineers pretty much run it.”

    Google, less so recently, more so going forward. Started by engineers and now run by them again (for better or worse).

    2. “Marketing really drives it.”

    This has to be Microsoft, brand is not marketing. Apple has brand value in its trendiness and Steve Jobs and doesn’t need much marketing.

    3. “It’s pretty much run from the top.”

    Apple, because as commented before Steve Jobs likes to control things.

    1. “There’s definitely more of a rah-rah approach there than at the others.”

    Sounds like Apple. A lot. I know someone who was fired from a store for not cheering at the iPhone3 launch…

    2. “It’s really difficult to move between teams.”

    I’d say Microsoft because they operate on a closed box approach to development – and if you move someone between the teams they know how the other box works which is too much power for an employee to have…

    3. “It’s really easy to move between teams.”

    I’d go Google because they let people work part of their time on other projects anyway, so moving betweens teams would be natural (and healthy).

    • charlesarthur says:

      @Chris another 6/6, and I like your reasons. Splendid anecdote about the iPhone. (Do send details by email. I like that one.)

  24. SubtleBlade says:

    1) Google,
    2) Microsoft
    3) Apple
    4) Apple
    5) Microsoft
    6) Google

    Hmmm. Insider views…

  25. Stephen says:

    1) “The engineers pretty much run it.”

    Google: seems pretty obvious from what they do, who they hire etc

    2) “Marketing really drives it.”

    Microsoft: a very common complaint.

    3) “It’s pretty much run from the top.”

    Apple: Steve runs the show

    1) “There’s definitely more of a rah-rah approach there than at the others.”

    Google: from the Google buses and personal masseurs to Google chefs it seems Google goes all out to cosset its stars and make them feel special

    2) “It’s really difficult to move between teams.”

    Microsoft: appears to be split into rival teams, each vying with the other more than the competition. So how could you move from one team to another? You’d be a traitor.

    3) “It’s really easy to move between teams.”

    Apple. The teams are small, and fluid. One engineer might spend a lot of time on one thing, then seamlessly move over to where she is needed elsewhere.

  26. Phillip Dyte says:

    Without reading the current comments:

    1) “The engineers pretty much run it.”
    Google, has to be!
    2) “Marketing really drives it.”
    Microsoft. Listen to them talk about their Xbox strategy and look at how many billions of dollars they plough into product launches especially – albeit with a terribly squiffy hit/miss rate.
    3) “It’s pretty much run from the top.”
    Gotta be Apple, not only be elimination but also by character. Jobs may be off-stage for now but he left his fingerprints all over the shiny white surfaces.

    1) “There’s definitely more of a rah-rah approach there than at the others.”
    Could be Microsoft if they weren’t the answer to 2. But Apple are divas. They ship half-finished products because they have the brand loyalty to upgrade and cycle obsolescene more or less at will.
    2) “It’s really difficult to move between teams.”
    There are some truly horrendous stories about this. Namely, the guy who was coding the shutdown operations in Windows Vista, back when it was still called Longhorn: http://moishelettvin.blogspot.com/2006/11/windows-shutdown-crapfest.html. I’ve also met some MS engineers and boy, are they pigeonholed.
    3) “It’s really easy to move between teams.”
    Has to be Google. And again, this is partly anecdotal evidence, but also it shows in what they produce. All these little side projects that drip out of the whole speak of a lot of creative freedom. There’s a personality impressed on almost everything they do, and it’s not hokey or forced. Why else do you get all the fun, weird things like the German drum machine in Google Translate? You could argue this is more individual license than fluidity between teams, but that would be overlooking the kind of structure that allows such things in the first place.

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