Page and Brin knew that users would flock to a service that delivered answers instantly. The problem was that speed required computing power, and computing power cost money. Jeff and Sanjay threaded the needle with software. Alan Eustace became the head of the engineering team after Rosing left, in Jeff and Sanjay understood computers at the level of bits. Even as its parts wore out and died, the system thrived. At the bottom are the I.
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Getting to Level 4 takes several years, or a Ph. 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. The Google campus, set beside a highway a few minutes from downtown Mountain View, is a series of squat, unattractive buildings with tinted windows. Sanjay, who is tall and thin, wore an ancient maroon Henley, gray pants, and small wire-frame glasses. He spied a table outside and walked briskly to claim it, cranking open the umbrella and taking a seat in the shade.
He moved another chair into the sun for Jeff, who arrived a minute later, broad-shouldered in a short-sleeved shirt and wearing stylish sneakers. Like a couple, Jeff and Sanjay tell stories together by contributing pieces of the total picture. They began reminiscing about their early projects.
His glasses darkened in the sun. He has the fingers of a deckhand, knobby and leathery; Sanjay, who looks almost delicate in comparison, wondered how they ended up as a pair. Sanjay, who is unmarried, joins Jeff, his two daughters, and his wife, Heidi, on vacations. After the Google I. Sanjay lives in a modest three-bedroom in Old Mountain View; Jeff designed his house, near downtown Palo Alto, himself, installing a trampoline in the basement. They pushed back from the table and set out in search of soft-serve, strolling through Big Table and its drifting Googlers. Of the two, Jeff is more eager to expound, and while they walked he shared his soft-serve strategy.
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Sanjay, pleased and intent, swirled a chocolate-and-vanilla mix into his cone. Farrell made a study of close creative groups—the French Impressionists, Sigmund Freud and his contemporaries. It took Monet and Renoir, working side by side in the summer of , 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.
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They are bounced from partner to partner. They are grafted onto each other, like branches on a tree.
And in the process, illusions are sooner nipped in the bud. After years of sharing their working lives, duos sometimes develop a private language, the way twins do. A sense of humor osmoses from one to the other. Apportioning credit between them becomes impossible. But partnerships of this intensity are unusual in software development.
Jeff and Sanjay, by contrast, sometimes seem to be two halves of a single mind. Some of their best-known papers have as many as a dozen co-authors. In , researchers at the System Development Corporation discovered that the best programmers were more than ten times as effective as the worst. The idea venerates the individual, when software projects are often vast and collective. In programming, few achievements exist in isolation. Even so—and perhaps ironically—many coders see the work done by Jeff and Sanjay, together, as proof that the 10x programmer exists.
Jeff was born in Hawaii, in July of His father, Andy, was a tropical-disease researcher; his mother, Virginia Lee, was a medical anthropologist who spoke half a dozen languages. They soldered upgrades onto the machine, learning every part of it. Jeff and his parents moved often.
At thirteen, he skipped the last three months of eighth grade to help them at a refugee camp in western Somalia. Later, in high school, he started writing a data-collection program for epidemiologists called Epi Info; it became a standard tool for field work and, eventually, hundreds of thousands of copies were distributed, in more than a dozen languages. He was born in West Lafayette, Indiana, in , but grew up in Kota, an industrial city in northern India.
His father, Mahipal, was a botany professor; his mother, Shanta, took care of Sanjay and his two older siblings. He is now a professor at N. Pankaj went to the same school as Sanjay and had a reputation as a Renaissance man. As an adult, he retains a talent for self-effacement. In graduate school, at M. His close friends have learned not to bother him about it, and his parents long ago accepted that their son would be a bachelor. He is known for being quiet but profound—someone who thinks deeply and with unusual clarity. On his desk, he keeps a stack of Mead composition notebooks going back nearly twenty years, filled with tidy lists and diagrams.
He writes in pen and in cursive.
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He rarely references an old notebook, but writes in order to think. In her view, the best code is like a good piece of writing. It needs a carefully realized structure; every word should do work. Programming this way requires empathy with readers. It also means seeing code not just as a means to an end but as an artifact in itself. At Google, Jeff is far better known. There are Jeff Dean memes, modelled on the ones about Chuck Norris.
One screen of code has very little information on it. I feel like Salieri. I understand the greatness.
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Behind them, a whiteboard was filled with matrix algebra; a paper about unsupervised adversarial networks lay on a table. Jeff, wearing a faded T-shirt and jeans, looked like a reformed beach bum; Sanjay wore a sweater and gray pants. The bright windows revealed a stand of tall pines and, beyond it, a field. Wherever Jeff works at Google, espresso machines follow.
It was eight-thirty-two. After cappuccinos, they walked to their computers. He rested a foot on a filing cabinet, leaning back, while Sanjay surveyed the screen in front of them. There were four windows open: on the left, a Web browser and a terminal, for running analysis tools; on the right, two documents in the text editor Emacs, one a combination to-do list and notebook, the other filled with colorful code. This was a major new software project related to machine learning, and Jeff and Sanjay were worried that it was bloated; like book editors, they were looking for cuts.
Sanjay began to type, and Jeff was drawn into the screen. When Sanjay drives, he puts his hands at ten and two and stares attentively ahead.
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He is the same way at the keyboard. With his feet spread shoulder-width apart, he looked as if he were working on his posture. His spindly fingers moved gently across the keys. A few younger programmers began to trickle in. Soon they reached a minor milestone, and Sanjay typed a command to test their progress.
Seeming worn out, he checked his e-mail while it ran. The test finished.