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Le Monde.fr : Sans théorie de la relativité, pas de GPS, par Cédric Foellmi

Le Monde.fr : Sans théorie de la relativité, pas de GPS, par Cédric Foellmi: excellent article about the need for fundamental research.

Reading the article made be looked back on the various “forms” of research I have encountered in my life. I don’t know which one is better, I am just listing them.

  • taking a problem and looking for a solution
  • taking a solution and looking for a problem
  • trying to understand nature

The main criticism I have about research in general is when people decide to invent a problem to solve.

Come on guys, look around. Problems are everywhere. Pick one and solve it. No need to come up with one.

So many times, researchers refuse to tackle real problems, because they look to “commercial”. If finding a solution has a slight chance to have commercial implications, then somehow the problem is tainted. That’s stupid.

When you look at the best places to do research (I am taking my field of computer science as a example), it should not be a surprise that AT&T and Bell Labs where the best places. They had so many practical and unpractical problems to solve.

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My first week at Google

I started at Google (New York office as a product manager) over a week ago and I really like it.
A lot of my friends are asking about it. So, instead of repeating myself, I will try to share with you — my dear readers — some thoughts about it on a regular basis.

You will understand that there are a lot of details that I cannot disclose (not on that side of the firewall at least). I have to be a little careful here. The last thing I want is to end up like the poor fellow mentioned in the story "Google blogger has left the building".

The first thing I would say about Google is great people. This should not be a big surprise when you look at all the smart guys they have hired. A colleague of mine posted today a question about Python on the internal mailing list and got an answer from Guido van Rossum himself, the inventor of Python.
Also, if you have been through the interview process (successfully or not), you have realised that the people there — interviewing you — are passionate and super sharp.
I don't know much about the Mountain View offices (I will visit there soon), but here in New York, this is Google quality times New York diversity: a dynamic cocktail!
Still on the people side, it is not very often that you meet people who are so enthusiastic about their work and would not work anywhere else.
And I am not just talking about engineers: product managers (I am one of them), sales, human resources, tech sypport, etc.: everyone.

The second thing that strikes me is the company DNA. Before joining and based on some past experiences (university, research lab, etc.) , I had some thoughts about how a company should be run (or at least about how I would like to run it), how information should flow, etc. So far, things have been pretty much how I would have dreamt them. I am sure it is way too early to draw such conclusions, but it is a good sign.

Just to illustrate my point, I would like to give two examples: (1) continuous education and (2) information sharing.
The day you join, you start learning about how things work: coding practices, version control, design documents, software patterns, etc. And as you evolve, you keep learning. This is a continuous process that is faciliated and encouraged internally (if not made mandatory).
Same for information sharing. As a Google employee, you are trusted from day one and are given access to the knowledge of the company. Some people explain to you how things work, how Google makes money.

A lot of attention has been paid to so-called Google perks such as free
food, drinks, shuttle service with Wifi, massages, etc. I don't mind free Snapples and Milano biscuits. But for me, this is just cosmetics.
Knowing that your employer is continuously investing on you and is giving you its unconditional trust, what else can you ask for?

Of course there are things that could be improved.

  • I am a bit disappointed by the NY office cafeteria. I guess it does not match my very high French standards.
  • The NY offices are not — yet — soccer friendly enough. Big screens to watch Champions' League games are urgently needed. Not to mention the upcoming World Cup in Germany in June. Clock is ticking, so hurry.

But since there seems to be some change in the air, things might get better on this side.

to be continued …

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