When Ben Fried left his post as IT managing director at Morgan Stanley and took over as Google Inc.'s CIO in May 2008, he knew what he was getting into: He would have to support a user base full of technology experts and computer industry stars, like co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, CEO Eric Schmidt and Vice President Vint Cerf. In a recent interview, Fried spoke candidly about his job and shared tips for fellow CIOs, including a call to "think hard" about tablets and develop strategies for using them at work right away.
What are the challenges and satisfactions of being CIO of a company with thousands of computer engineers, as opposed to being CIO of, say, a fast-food or retail chain?
Some things about it are really hard because many brilliant technologists are my customers. You have to have a thick skin. That's also true for people in engineering who build Google products, because we test the products internally. What's different about Google is that we produce astoundingly high-quality products and we have an ability to use technology to shape the organization that you don't necessarily have in other companies. We have leadership that fundamentally and deeply understands what me and my people do, which is awesome. So it's incredibly hard, because I have the most demanding users in the world, but there's no better way to be great than by having demanding customers. The results are incredibly rewarding. When I see the work that my people produce, I'm just awed by it.
What have been your biggest accomplishments as Google's CIO?
Every manager I know hesitates to answer that type of question because it's the things you don't put in the answer that will cause you problems, and I'd risk offending a lot of people. At a high level, there's this really neat value at Google that we don't create the processes that our technology allows, but rather we decide what we want Google to be and we create technology to enable that.
I'm proudest of things where we've allowed Google to be different. Google hires people, promotes people and rewards people in ways that are unique. All of those things and many other things that [Google does] that are unique are also supported by software that my organization does, builds and writes. I'm also proud that we give our users choice in personal technology and that we've built an astoundingly good customer support organization: The first responder to your problem will solve it about 90% of the time.
How do Google's marketing and business strategies and principles limit or expand your technology choices?
There is a very specific answer about our philosophy regarding what the role of IT needs to be at Google. Obviously, we're part of Google, and making sure that Google tries out its products and that its users make those products better is incredibly important. That's clearly part of our job.
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