Sometimes I hear from Google's staffing department -- they found my resume (on Google, of course, where it ranks well) and think I might be a good fit for their Software Engineering team. If people were smart, they'd all use Google to find candidates, but instead recruiters keep trying to squeeze blood from the stones that are crummy job boards. My first question, to a #perl, was whether they knew of anyone who worked there, or if they knew of anyone who worked there, and if it was a really big geek party like it kind of looked like it might be. No -- no one even knows of anyone who works there doing Perl.
Google is supposed to be a different breed (an iteresting idea that I have no direct knowledge of), but I can't get past the stripes being the same. The Perl programmers I know have modules on CPAN. They go to YAPC, or at least want to and try to. They're on IRC. They dabble with creative little ideas, the constructive counterpart to taking things apart to see how they work. I run into them unexpected at places like DEFCON and Desert Code Camp. They come to meetings at Perl Mongers.
But in all of these venues, employees of large corporations are underrepresented almost to the point of non-existance.
Here's the associations my subconcious made, which may or may not be valid, and which I've tried and failed to vanquish:
I've seen inside a few companies in town that heavily hire Perl programmers. The Perl programmers in these places tend to be poor, or else have seriously bad attitudes (probably justified), where their employer gets little if any of their energies. So you have thousands of people in suites of large rooms, accomplishing very little. They've either moved up from the ranks of blue-shirts at Best Buy and feel like they've finally made it, working IT in a corperate setting, and have no further ambition, or they've trained and studied in school to be a career programmer, and are a career programmer. They have low expectations of themselves, of computers, and their jobs. In short, they're cynical and unimaginative. Smart perhaps, but neverless, corporate drones. Motorola had some extremely smart people, but you couldn't cut the discontent with a knife. If any of these people loved to program when they went in, they quickly gave that up.
The people I hang out with tend to work at small companies, and while their duties are expansive, it's in their free time they really shine. Working 9-5 actually gives them more energy -- rather than having their soul robbed, it's conditioning them to be super-programmers. So they go home and write CPAN modules, help novices on #perl, present at Perl Mongers, and get psyched up for YAPC.
I wrote once about what it takes for me in particular to do a project. I have to absolute silence, large chunks of time, promise of continued time until its done (no matter how long that might be), the ability to walk away from it and come back later (if I get stuck or inspiration temporarily departs for whatever reason), freedom to skirt any of the requirements at least for the demo version, no one else throwing monkey wrenches into the works (I'm bad enough), and the freedom to scrap the whole effort if something more interesting comes along. That's a lot to ask for -- an absurd list of demands, in fact -- but my subconcious won't ever revolt as long as it thinks its doing exactly what it wants to be doing -- and that's almost never making money for someone else or even myself. Heck, making money seems to be the polar opposite of "interesting problem".
Are people discontent at Google? I don't know. Probably not in any way they can put their fingers on (or else it would be taken care of). They're getting those things I demand to a much larger degree than anywhere else but not to the absolute degree of someone working out of their basement, or to the degree of being the entire IT department for a company that's so happy about getting what they need that they forget to manage you.
I have no doubt that working at Google is better than working at any other large company, and that R&D is the greatest place on Earth. But I can't help feeling that it would consume me and leave little of me left for the things that I presently really care about, even if it maybe replaced them with other interesting puzzles. I don't think I could go in and still be the same person.