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20% time is officially alive and well, says Google

After assertions by ex-Googlers that 20% time is effectively dead, and rejoinders by Google employees that the situation is a bit more nuanced, a spokesperson from Google has finally weighed in: 20% time at Google is “alive and well.”

Google, it seems, is a place where engineers are encouraged to work on projects outside their main focus. And while the growing size of the company and its tighter focus under CEO Larry Page may mean that it’s more challenging for employees to carve out time for those outside projects, the company is continuing to put out products based on engineers’ extra-curricular efforts.

Recent products of Googlers’ 20% time include both Google Now and Google’s Transparency Report, notes Google’s spokesperson. Here’s how Andrew Kirmse, an engineer at Google, describes the genesis of Google Now:

Google Now started when a few of us on the Maps team thought there was some really useful information we could show you on your phone based on where you are, and so we started working on it in our spare time, as a 20% project (as many projects at Google start). The further we got on the project, the more compelling it became, and everyone saw the potential of it.

Surveying all that’s been said on this subject—and there has been quite a lot of back and forth about it in the past week—it seems that Google continues to make its vast computing resources and stores of data available to its engineers for any project they might care to launch. However, in a work environment as demanding as the one at Google, it can be challenging to carve out the time to launch projects outside of an engineer’s “day job.” Perhaps it’s simply the case that, as the joke at Amazon goes, work-life balance is for people who don’t like their work.

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