Sunday, August 06, 2017

An internal screed circulated inside Google complaining about its "diversity" policies has generated an enormous amount of noise, both for and against (including by some opponents who seem determined to prove it accurate).  Most interesting to me is the document's claim that dissenting views about these policies are actively suppressed within Google.  As I pointed out a couple of years ago, such suppression is usually a symptom of an unaccountable organization, insulated enough from performance standards that it can be hijacked by political agenda-pushers with impunity.  One wouldn't normally think of Google that way, but in fact it makes almost all its money from its Internet advertising business, and many of its other technologies--employing the majority of its employees--may therefore be developing an unaccountable culture similar to that of nonprofit organizations, where various abstract ideals--including political ones pushed by internal factions for their own reasons--compete to replace the bottom line as the primary decision-making factor.

As for the public reaction to the episode, I'm frankly amazed at the number of people--on both sides of the issue--who seem to think that how Google evaluates its current and prospective engineers is a public policy matter, subject to political approval in the same way as, say, oil pipeline proposals.  One could argue that this is a natural extension of non-discrimination law, which first gradually expanded to include such concepts as "disparate impact", which effectively restricts how employers may evaluate job candidates in the name of achieving racial parity in hiring.  But I can't recall a previous instance where such concepts were applied in a white-collar professional context, where evaluation of talent is so crucial to success.  (Imagine, for instance, if medical practices were required to tailor their hiring and evaluation standards to suit current political conventions.)  I personally don't care whether Google adopts an outstanding, average or catastrophically bad set of hiring criteria for its technical employees.  But I shudder to think what will happen to the US economy if companies in general are forbidden to focus on competence in hiring even for positions requiring advanced skills and training.