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Ram Shriram on Google, Mistakes

By - October 29, 2004

ram1Silicon Beat has an overview of a recent talk given by Ram Shriram, early Google investor and Board member.

– It’s all in the grooming. Shriram set out to made sure Page & Brin hired only the very best, or “A” people. He cited the well-known Silicon Valley tenet: Hire only A people, and they’ll hire other A people. If you hire the B person, they’ll hire C or D people. Someone asked a good question: How did Shriram decide who are a so-called “A” people? Grooming is a part of it. “I try to find out who their mothers are,” he said. If they are raised well, they’re more likely to make good citizens, employees and entrepreneurs.


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10 thoughts on “Ram Shriram on Google, Mistakes

  1. K says:

    Not that I necessarily disagree with this tenet:

    Hire only A people, and they

  2. steve macbeth says:

    A’s hire A’s because they are focused on success, doign the right thing and not focused on how they look, how quickly they can climb the corporate ladder, etc. They hire people that do great work.

    B’s hire C’s because they have a lower self-worth, they are often just as capable on the outside, but lack emotional intelligence. They hire people that make them look good.

  3. K says:

    So how do B people ever get a job if A people don’t hire them and other B people don’t either? Are they just freelancers?

  4. I personally think that the A students end up working for the B students, and the C students – the ones who knew better than to waste their valuable youth studying too much – end up becoming CEO’s.

    Anecdotally, I’ve found the people working for me to be smarter, for the most part, than the people I work for.

  5. That’s funny, your employees were telling me they felt the exact same way… :-)

    While it does feel like there’s a kernel of truth in there, we’d have to also say that some A people (for various A domains, e.g., the sharpest mathematician in the world) couldn’t make a personnel decision to save their lives. Smart is orthogonal to wise, as well.

    And some of the best working environments I’ve experienced depended not on some monoculture of “A” people, but on collaborations that produced excellent results. One of the better ones was working for a senior boss who I’d have to say was seriously flawed, and who had a deputy who was incredibly anal, BUT… tons of useful work got done because the latter was so attentive to process, and kept things moving, such that it was vastly easier to work with the flawed senior boss. (Yes, it could have been truly wonderful if they’d swapped out the big boss for someone else, but that team was more effective than many others I’ve seen.)

  6. Alpha children wear grey. They work much harder than we do, because they’re so frightfully clever. I’m really glad I’m a Beta, because I don’t work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid.

    (And that’s Aldous Huxley, for all you filthy Gammas.)

  7. Greg Cohn says:

    “Built to Last” (Collins, et al) has good discussion of this, for anyone who’s interested–it’s one of the points that stuck with me from the book. I can’t remember offhand if there’s much empirical data on this particular issue, but the authors’ approach is generally observation-driven.

  8. Tom Norian says:

    Not sure that “A” people necessarily relates to “alpha” or type “a” people. I understand how people might surmise that, but I read Shirams comments more in the order of “first class worker” or “solid guy’ sorts of comments.

    If you’re hiring a receptionist or a plumber you’re scaling their abilty to consistently and efficiently do what their job will entail. The “A” receptionist or “A” plumber might have personality attributes that allow focus and poised attention even while being demanded by their job to do many of the same tasks over and over and over again.

    An organization that highers the best consitently probably has created a culture where “can do” efficient people feel they are surronded by other similar people, who are adequately compensated and generally appreciated (at least never made scape goats) and where they feel less burdened by what they might regard as “make work” beraucracy”.

    Highering the best doesn’t mean a “mensa” convention. Certain jobs certainly benefit from abstract thinking “genius”. Certain jobs top priority would be “leadership skills” and the abilty to manage personalities to work best together. Highering an “a” manager might not include more technical skills than necessary to communicate and have marginal support from the teams he directs.

  9. Mike Levin says:

    If A’s hire A’s and B’s hire C’s,
    The question’s at hand — “Who let in the B’s?”
    The B’s will take over — they’re killers, you see!
    “Aye!” shout the A’s. “We can’t let it be!”

    But the damage is done — the B’s have a hive.
    All’s left is to run — while the place takes a dive.
    “No!” cry the A’s. “Our dreams are in there!”
    “Oh?” say the B’s. “Show us just where.”

    There, the A’s falter, for B’s have a knack
    To swarm like a bastard and drive the A’s back.
    B’s win in the end — as every A sees…
    At root is the problem: some A’s let in B’s.

  10. I think there is a misunderstanding in many of the comments. A is neither about intelligence or about type-a personality. It is about quality of employee. A employees are the very best at what they do, for that specific job. So an A receptionist might not have the intellectual horsepower of a C software engineer, but is still the very best at doing the specific job. Generally being an A is about an appropriate mix of intelligence, emotional intelligence, skills, experience and attitude.

    Many people have asked “Well how do B’s get into the organization?”. Usually they get in during times of either limited availability (there aren’t enough A candidates available so we hire the best person we can find at a specific time, which might be a B or even a C) or during times of hypergrowth (where we often hire as fast as we can, with out taking appropriate time to determine if a candidate is really an A). As it turns out it is very difficult to hire all A’s, I’m not even sure if it is advisable and it most certainly isn’t cost effective.

    The key is to make sure that you have sufficient A’s and that they are intimately involved in hiring.