Life Without Google?

As a systems engineer, I pride myself on knowing “a lotta things about a lotta things”. One of the questions that I was asked in the interview for my current position was “What do you define ‘engineer’ to mean?” My response was something along the lines of, “Someone who is capable of solving the problem at hand, who either has/knows the proper solution or has the capability to find the tools to solve the problem.” I still think this is as reasonable a generic description as any, although there are obviously other more formal descriptions available.

In this context, I’ve often found it interesting to observe the work habits of the people I work with. Most of them are older than I am, and most if not all of them are equally capable of solving problems just as I am. However, there are a couple of major differences that I’ve noted. One is a dependence on books as reference materials. I think I have one book in my office at work – an old and dusty book on C data structures that was likely left there by one of my predecessors. Don’t take that in the wrong way; I’m not undermining books as a useful training and/or reference tool, they simply aren’t generally a part of my daily workflow.

Another interesting phenomenon that I’ve noticed – particularly with those employees that used to be in consulting – is an emphasis on professional certifications. Personally, I don’t put a whole lot of stock in professional certifications. Perhaps that’s because I don’t have any, but with few exceptions I see them more as “gold stars” to put on one’s resume than as being indicative of one’s capabilities as an engineer. The people who I work with are good at what they do because they’ve got good heads on their shoulders and because they have been doing what they do for several years, not because CompTIA said they were good at it. (As an aside, I would like to become a Certified Beer Judge…but that’s a subject for another post).

So, if I don’t use books and I’m not “certified”, how do I get things done? Well, there’s the aforementioned “know a lotta things” approach, but that only goes so far. Then, as a Unix sysadmin I’m fully capable of using all the tools therein – man pages, grepping through files in /usr/share/doc, etc. But after that? You guessed it…Google. I would generify that last statement by saying “online search” instead, but that would make it a bit less accurate. I don’t use “online search engines”; I use Google. Exclusively. Without hesitation or reservation, and generally without even considering using some other tool or site to find the information that I need. Just Google. It’s my default page when I fire up a browser window. It’s the first link in the single bar of links and folders that I allow myself in an otherwise fairly spartan browser configuration. In fact, a fairly large percentage of is dedicated to link icons for Google’s various services.

What’s my point? Well, I was contemplating what a Day Without Google would be like for me. What if Google just ceased to exist, or (horrors!) started actually trying to charge me for the invaluable services that they’ve graciously provided thus far gratis? No more GMail – my primary account for things not work related; back to Hotmail. No more Google Notebooks for tracking ToDo lists, certain contacts, and progress on various projects; back to pen-and-paper or Notepad, or the ever-popular “I’ll just remember it”. No more Google Reader for aggregating feeds for my daily news fix; back to Bloglines (which is less-than-terrifying) or *shudder* simply refreshing /. 200 times a day. No more Google Docs – perhaps the most useful app that Google has released thus far (and as yet one of the more underused…by me, at least). And, of course, the most important loss of all if Google were to disappear overnight: no more Googling.

Terrifying, no? It is for me. I don’t know what’s scarier, actually – the thought of Google going away, or the fact that I’m so completely dependent upon a single company for providing so many of the useful services that I use every day. They don’t have all of my data, but they sure have a lot of it, and that’s a bit troublesome for those of us that worry about these kinds of things on a day-to-day basis. Thus, I’ve thought it would be an interesting experiment to try living for a day without using any Google services. Don’t hold your breath – I’m not sure I’m even going to do it yet, let alone going Google-less any time soon. it’s just an idea that I’ve been kicking around in my head. If you know of anyone who’s done this (and lived to blog the tale :-)) be sure to let me know in the comments so I can figure out what I’d be in for…


4 Comments on “Life Without Google?”

  1. >> I’m not undermining books as a useful training and/or reference tool, they simply aren’t generally a part of my daily workflow.

    I think that sentiment is more and more common among younger engineers, especially those of us in the computer science/programming arena. Jeff Atwood even went so far as to recommend NOT buying his new co-authored book because he believes highly technical books to be useless today. The technical details of what we do change too rapidly for books to keep up.

    I’ve got a shelf full of techy books, but most of them just sit there gathering dust. They serve more as a “look at what I’ve read” status symbol than a true resource. The only ones that I still use are the more general ones like “Pragmatic Programmer”, “Bullet Proof Web Design”, etc…

  2. cliff says:

    I figured I probably wasn’t the only one who felt that way. I, too, have a modest collection of tech books (at home)…and they, too, are collecting dust. Almost all of them fall into one of two categories: extremely low-level pragmatic “HOWTO” sorts of books that I at least considered referencing at some point when I bought them (e.g., a C++ primer), and extremely high-level theory and algorithm books that, to a certain degree, contain fundamentals that will likely never become outdated (e.g., Introduction to Algorithms).

  3. […] Read the rest of this great post here […]

  4. […] Finally, in a fitting follow-up to my last post, Google has found a way to burrow even deeper into my daily routine. To be more specific, GMail now supports IMAP. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time, folks, (as have a lot of other nerds who actually know what IMAP is) and it’s finally arrived.   […]

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