No, this is not about Sergei Brin and Larry Page. James Somers, in this lovely piece in The New Yorker, talks about how Jeff Dean and Sanjay Ghemawat, two Google engineers who “changed the course of the company – and the Internet”. Part of the piece talks about how Larry Page’s idea to index the web may well have been just another idea but for the genius of these two engineers who resolved the bottle neck over what would now be considered historic four days given the impact Google has had on mankind.
“Today, Google’s engineers exist in a Great Chain of Being that begins at Level 1. At the bottom are the I.T. support staff. Level 2s are fresh out of college; Level 3s often have master’s degrees. Getting to Level 4 takes several years, or a Ph.D. Most progression stops at Level 5. Level 6 engineers—the top ten per cent—are so capable that they could be said to be the reason a project succeeds; Level 7s are Level 6s with a long track record. Principal Engineers, the Level 8s, are associated with a major product or piece of infrastructure. Distinguished Engineers, the Level 9s, are spoken of with reverence. To become a Google Fellow, a Level 10, is to win an honor that will follow you for life. Google Fellows are usually the world’s leading experts in their fields. Jeff and Sanjay are Google Senior Fellows—the company’s first and only Level 11s.”
The rest of the piece is even more interesting – highlighting how the duo despite having vastly different personalities complement each other and continue to solve some of the world’s most complex problems. It is intriguing that in a field seemingly as individualistic as software coding, working in pairs can be far more effective. Indeed, the piece cites studies which have shown examples of Picasso-Braque, Lennon-McCartney as pairs which worked in unison in art and music too.
“In his book “Collaborative Circles: Friendship Dynamics and Creative Work,” from 2001, the sociologist Michael P. Farrell made a study of close creative groups—the French Impressionists, Sigmund Freud and his contemporaries. “Most of the fragile insights that laid the foundation of a new vision emerged not when the whole group was together, and not when members worked alone, but when they collaborated and responded to one another in pairs,” he wrote. It took Monet and Renoir, working side by side in the summer of 1869, to develop the style that became Impressionism; during the six-year collaboration that gave rise to Cubism, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque would often sign only the backs of their canvases, to obscure which of them had completed each painting. (“A canvas was not finished until both of us felt it was,” Picasso later recalled.) In “Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs,” the writer Joshua Wolf Shenk quotes from a 1971 interview in which John Lennon explained that either he or Paul McCartney would “write the good bit, the part that was easy, like ‘I read the news today’ or whatever it was.” One of them would get stuck until the other arrived—then, Lennon said, “I would sing half, and he would be inspired to write the next bit and vice versa.” Everyone falls into creative ruts, but two people rarely do so at the same time.”
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