Why the Google Walkout Was a Watershed Moment in Tech

Why the Google Walkout Was a Watershed Moment in Tech

“We have an incredibly engaged group of people, and we aren’t going to stop escalating this,” she continued. “The group isn’t really going to back down from this or a host of other things. The walkout was not like a blowing-off-steam exercise.”

The walkout was sparked by a specific grievance: a report in The New York Times that Google gave a $90 million exit payment to Andy Rubin, the creator of Android, after he was accused of coercing a woman to perform oral sex in a hotel room (a charge that he denies but that the company found credible).

The organizers said their aims were far larger, though, than sexual harassment and abuse.

“Our discussions expanded very quickly,” Ms. Stapleton said. “What is it that we want the company to be, and what should we do with the power that we very quickly see we are harnessing? Is Google for good? Do we think that technology is toxic? Are we navigating through a host of complex issues online in a positive way?”

Speaking to Ms. Stapleton and several of her fellow organizers, I was struck by their intoxicating optimism. They brimmed with confidence about their capacity to push for a new moral, ethical and social framework in tech. And because Google’s culture is a model for the industry and much of corporate America, they saw the idea of changing the company as part of a larger social and political struggle to make a dent in the universe.

“I think what we did was disprove the myth that it’s too hard to take collective action,” said Celie O’Neil-Hart, who works in YouTube’s marketing department. She described the meticulous way that she and other organizers of the walkout distilled the thousands of discussions flowing through their group into a list of demands. Their secret? Google’s own technology.

“I was getting hundreds of pieces of feedback on these demands, but ironically thanks to Google’s products, like Google Groups and Docs and comments, I was able to get this constant stream of real-time feedback from a collective group of hundreds of Googlers, all while doing my day job,” Ms. O’Neil-Hart said. She noted, too, that many Googlers had been hired for their work-endless-hours drive; now that drive was marshaled in the service of a movement.

Stephanie Parker, a policy specialist at YouTube, described organizing the protest as something like designing and releasing a new Google product, only with a group that was more passionate and personally invested.

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