Sign In

Communications of the ACM

ACM News

The Friendship That Made Google Huge


The companys top coders seem like two halves of a single mind.

Jeff Dean and Sanjay Ghemawat changed the course of Google.

Credit: David Plunkert

One day in March of 2000, six of Google's best engineers gathered in a makeshift war room. The company was in the midst of an unprecedented emergency. In October, its core systems, which crawled the Web to build an "index" of it, had stopped working. Although users could still type in queries at google.com, the results they received were five months out of date. More was at stake than the engineers realized. Google's co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, were negotiating a deal to power a search engine for Yahoo, and they'd promised to deliver an index ten times bigger than the one they had at the time—one capable of keeping up with the World Wide Web, which had doubled in size the previous year. If they failed, google.com would remain a time capsule, the Yahoo deal would likely collapse, and the company would risk burning through its funding into oblivion.

In a conference room by a set of stairs, the engineers laid doors across sawhorses and set up their computers. Craig Silverstein, a twenty-seven-year-old with a small frame and a high voice, sat by the far wall. Silverstein was Google's first employee: he'd joined the company when its offices were in Brin's living room and had rewritten much of its code himself. After four days and nights, he and a Romanian systems engineer named Bogdan Cocosel had got nowhere. "None of the analysis we were doing made any sense," Silverstein recalled. "Everything was broken, and we didn't know why."

Silverstein had barely registered the presence, over his left shoulder, of Sanjay Ghemawat, a quiet thirty-three-year-old M.I.T. graduate with thick eyebrows and black hair graying at the temples. Sanjay had joined the company only a few months earlier, in December. He'd followed a colleague of his—a rangy, energetic thirty-one-year-old named Jeff Dean—from Digital Equipment Corporation. Jeff had left D.E.C. ten months before Sanjay. They were unusually close, and preferred to write code jointly. In the war room, Jeff rolled his chair over to Sanjay's desk, leaving his own empty. Sanjay worked the keyboard while Jeff reclined beside him, correcting and cajoling like a producer in a news anchor's ear.

Jeff and Sanjay began poring over the stalled index. They discovered that some words were missing—they'd search for "mailbox" and get no results—and that others were listed out of order. For days, they looked for flaws in the code, immersing themselves in its logic. Section by section, everything checked out. They couldn't find the bug.

 

From The New Yorker
View Full Article

 


 

No entries found