Google gets bad grade for spilling the secret of schoolwork's value

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Thanks loads, Google, thanks loads.

I just read how Laszlo Bock, your senior vice president for people operations, spilled the beans out of the cat bag. (That's an old Ricky Ricardo line. Google it.)

Mr. Bock told The New York Times that a job candidate's college grades "are worthless as criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. ... We found that they don't predict anything.''

Well, Mr. Laszlo Bock, you may have a ridiculously cool name -- seriously, it's awesome -- and you may even have crunched your data correctly, but you're obviously not the father of teenagers.

If my 13- and 15-year-old ever get wind that the already flimsy connection between good grades and success in life has been severed, neither will ever pick up a math book again.

"Academic environments are artificial environments,'' Mr. Bock said. "People who succeed there are ... conditioned to succeed in that environment.

"It's much more interesting to solve problems where there isn't an obvious answer.''

Well, no kidding, but did you have to say that out loud?

Both of my girls had A's and B's sprinkled across their report cards this past year, but got D's in math. (I feel safe sharing that, gentle reader, because my daughters are as likely to read their dad's column as they are to ace an algebra test.) When their mother and I took them to task, they responded with the ol' dodge, "When are we ever going to use algebra or geometry?"

That's always kind of a stumper for me, but, in the age-old tradition of parents since the dawn of D's, we pretended it was a ridiculous question.

We told them, even believed, that the point was to discipline their minds. They may never confront a geometrical problem other than a tough bank shot on a pool table, but learning spatial relationships, computing with variables, all that will help them learn to confront and solve problems.

They could see we were grasping at straws, or maybe polynomials (whatever they are), so we found ourselves falling back on the equation that good grades = good college = good job.

Now the googlemeister has torched that argument. Word is going to filter down to high school students. You know it will. By the time it gets there, it will have been chewed into even more inviting shapes for teenage consumption.

"Didja hear that Google doesn't want kids with good grades? No, yeah, seriously. You come there with an A from like, Harvard, and you'll never get hired."

"Who do they want then?"

"Dumb kids. Stupider the better. They're more used to thinking on their feet because they've never known the correct answers for like forever."

Perhaps I exaggerate. But I know our girls will revel in the news that Google is hiring more and more people who never went to college at all.

I confess that there's a large part of me that's thrilled by that. There's probably too much credentialism in hiring. I've known Ivy Leaguers incapable of coming up with an original thought and have known others without any college who have more wit and intellectual sparkle than can be found in most rooms in the Cathedral of Learning.

Just don't tell my kids that.

I may have risked something by writing this. My girls won't read this column today, but someone may tattle on me. Or, six or eight years from now they may Google "Google'' and "hiring'' and this will pop up.

By then, I expect I will have forgiven Laszlo Bock. How can you stay mad at a guy whose name is derived from King-Knight Saint Ladislaus I of Hungary and means "one who commands glory"?

Google is always good for something.


Brian O'Neill: or 412-263-1947.


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