The Library in Building 42

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In the center of Google’s campus lie a cluster of four buildings: 40, 41, 42 and 43. Contained within building 42 was the epicenter of product management: Jonathan Rosenberg’s office. Immediately next to his office stood a collection of three bookcases containing a library of different books on various topics that JR curated.

I used to pass that library every day on my way to meetings and each time I walked past, I would pause to see which new volumes had arrived.

Edward Tufte might have spoken at a Google Tech talk and left behind 15 copies of his work. Or a new shipment of linear regression textbooks may just have arrived. Or some new studies on machine learning might have popped up.

Of all the perks at Google, the access to continuing education is perhaps the one that receives the least press and most undeservedly so. Tech talks, negotiations seminars, sales training, all the education you needed was there.

It is a great feeling when someone takes interest in your education. Sometimes that interest can be a grand gesture but more often than not it is a combination of small ones, like a new book in a product management library or a ticket to a deeply relevant conference.

I firmly believe that every startup should have a continuing education program, formal or informal. As founders and investors, the best investments we can make are the ones in our teams.

Those investments provide compounding benefits to the company. First they engender tremendous feelings of goodwill. Second the education improves our performance and helps us better achieve our potential. Third they serve as fantastic recruiting differentiators.

A sticker graced the spine of each of those books: Property of the Google Product Management Library. I must sheepishly admit about a third of the books on my bookshelf at home today have that sticker. Those books have been permanently borrowed and put to good use: dog-eared and weathered and battered. And each time I look at them, I remember that bookcase outside of JR’s office.

Jun 6, 2013

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