How Did Google Decide Who To Layoff?

How Did Google Decide Who To Layoff?


Many have become shocked by the recent mass layoffs at Google. Moreover, a company as fiercely profitable as Google would appear to become the last firm needing to enact layoffs. In addition, Google hired tens of thousands of employees in 2022. As a result, many wonder how Google’s management could have such vastly different hiring moves within 12 months. Are they this poor at forward planning?

Indeed, the economy has softened. But, absolutely no data points to a harsh recession. So, is Google just enacting these layoffs to appease Wall Street as many suspect?

A Tour Of Google’s Manhattan Headquarters

We found one former Google employee who had some very opinions we wanted to share:

Mike Knell, who worked at Google for a decade from 2006 to 2016, as a Technical Program Manager, Site Reliability Engineering wrote on Linkedin:

“2004: “Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one.”

2022: Google institutes mass layoffs accomplished by the utterly craven and cowardly route of simply cutting off corp access and disabling people’s badges because heaven forbid that senior managers should have to look the people whose livelihoods they just destroyed with a spreadsheet exercise in the eye, or allow them the simple human dignity of being able to take their leave of people they might have worked with for a decade or more. How unconventional!

I don’t really care how good the severance deal is (although if you were thinking of quitting and just got laid off instead, lucky you!). Mass layoffs are a sign of failure at the highest levels of a company. C-suite people should be resigning in shame. Instead the ineffectual Sundar and the faceless crowd of nobodies at the top table will get extra equity grants and bonuses from their Silicon Valley in-crowd buddies on the board and a round of applause for cutting outgoings by pouring human beings into the shredder. Trebles all round! How unconventional!”

Furthermore in a longer post Mr. Knell wrote about how Google decided who to fire:

“Have been trying to figure out exactly how Google decided who it was going to fire. The pattern doesn’t seem particularly clear – people got let go right up to VP level, including some very long-standing employees who were well known as admired thought leaders. Some people who got promoted in the last cycle got fired. At least one SRE got fired while they were oncall for production stuff.

I believe this was an attempt at some kind of “double-blind” exercise where nobody inside the company saw the list before the exits happened. This is beneficial to the company as individuals can’t be accused of (for instance) discrimination or retaliation against individuals if they didn’t know who would be going. It sidesteps a whole lot of potential legal problems if you can just say “It was the algorithm!”.

Even more importantly this protects the feelings of those senior executives as they don’t have to make the painful decisions on who to cut themselves, especially if some of those being cut are former colleagues, or ex-managers, someone they slept with under slightly inappropriate circumstances or one of the various people who they stabbed in the back with a well-aimed peer review at perf time on their way up the greasy pole.

And it can’t have been about preserving the element of surprise. What the press has not been clear about is that the axe has yet to fall in EMEA and APAC – in other words, tens of thousands of workers there get to spend the next weeks in suspense waiting to hear if they’ll still have a job at Easter. (As an aside – this is a *terrible* thing to do – people who are prone to depression or have other health issues will be hit particularly hard by this wait and they should expect the number of people off sick to skyrocket as a result.)

Best theory I have is that an outside company was hired and given a “clean room” export from the HR systems to work with.

Stripped of identifying information and any demographic data that could incur a *direct* disciminatory bias in the results. They were then told to write code to determine which rows to cut from the dataset based on the output of some weighted formula designed to determine the “fireability” of that employee while maximising the savings achieved by the exercise. They then took the output of that algorithm, stack ranked the results (because Google just LOVES to stack rank things, especially people) and returned the top 12,000 employee IDs.

This also meant the smallest possible number of people at Alphabet knew about the exercise, and meant they only needed to find a couple of people who knew the HR systems well enough to be able to act as “executioner” as Google’s internal hiring-and-firing systems are very well integrated and can take care of everything to do with offboarding an employee by magic without needing assistance from those troublesome argumentative engineers. Just feed it the employee IDs and off we go.”


How Did Google Decide Who To Layoff?