David Heinemeier Hansson

April 19, 2024

We are a place of business

After the disastrous launch of their Gemini AI, which insisted that George Washington was actually Black and couldn't decide whether Musk's tweets or Hitler was worse, Google's response was timid and weak. This was just a bug! A problem with QA! It absolutely, positively wasn't a reflection of corrupted culture at Google, which now appeared to put ideology over accuracy. Really, really!

Anyone watching that shit show would be right to wonder whether one of America's great technology companies had fallen completely into the hands of the new theocracy. I certainly did. 

But now comes evidence that Google perhaps isn't totally lost, even if an internal war over its origin principles is very much raging. One pitting the mission of organizing the world's information and making it useful against the newspeak Trust & Safety goal of controlling narratives and countering malinformation (i.e. inconvenient truths).

This played out in stereotype as 28 Googlers occupied the CEO of Google Cloud's office for 10 hours this week, defaced property, and prevented other Googlers from doing their work. Because Google provides cloud services to Israel, said the occupiers. And thus The Current Thing demanded it be stopped by whatever means possible. (Remember when The Current Thing was that GitHub shouldn't offer its technology to ICE because "kids in cages"? Same thing).

But then the most amazing thing happened. There was no drawn-out investigation. No saccharine statements about employee's rights to occupy offices, preventing work from happening, or advance their political agenda at work. Nope. They were just fired. Immediately. All 28 of them.


Google's bottom line? "This is a place of business". And while employees have the lawful right to protest their working conditions, they do not have the right to prevent a business from carrying out its normal course of commerce over a disagreement in politics. So that was that.

But it gets better. Google followed up the unceremonious firings by calling an end to employees bringing their politics to the office. Just like Coinbase did, just like we did. The language was spot on:

"But ultimately we are a workplace and our policies and expectations are clear: this is a business, and not a place to act in a way that disrupts coworkers or makes them feel unsafe, to attempt to use the company as a personal platform, or to fight over disruptive issues or debate politics. This is too important a moment as a company for us to be distracted."

Three years ago, taking a common-sense position like this would have been met with drama and outage in the media and on Twitter. Today I doubt it'll bring more than a ripple outside of a few activist echo chambers on Mastodon. Amazing progress!

Note, none of this pertains to what you think about The Current Thing that provided the trigger this time. It could just as well had been BLM, Russiagate, climate change, or a million other hot-button topics that have occupied the role as The Current Thing, and been used to justify these kinds of insufferable activists yelling at their boss.

We've not just passed the peak of the nonsense that nearly swallowed corporate America whole, but we're now seeing them repudiate it head on. If Google, with it's employment roster still packed with people sympathetic to the new theocracy, can put its foot down, so can the rest of the Fortune 500 and beyond. It's time they all say: "This is a place of business".

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.