- DuckDuckGo, a ‘privacy first’ search engine, is completely remote and plans to stay that way.
- Engineering director Cate Huston says remote work helps working parents juggle and developers excel in a male-dominated field.
- Huston’s developer team has grown nearly fivefold since June 2020 as DuckDuckGo expands its user base.
Even as Alphabet, Apple and Microsoft permanently shift to a hybrid working model, some tech executives believe their employees are better off in an office.
“We’ve spent decades having these conversations about people close to us… the coffee table discussion and going to coffee,” Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, recently told CNBC’s Make It. “Remember all that? Was it all wrong?”
The woman who runs engineering at one of Google’s biggest search rivals disagrees.
Remote offices promote transparency and help ensure that engineers in male-dominated fields are promoted based on merit rather than a “brother culture,” according to
Ireland’s director of engineering, Cate Huston, who previously worked at Google.
“One of the things I really like about distributed work as a woman in a male-dominated field is that everything is in writing, so I always have my receipts,” Huston said.
DuckDuckGo, founded in 2008, presents itself as a search engine that prioritizes privacy. The company was remote before the pandemic and is sticking to the model. Others, including DropBox,
and Spotify, have also been remote indefinitely.
Google called employees back to the office three days a week and implemented pay cuts for remote workers based in cheaper cities than San Francisco or New York. Former CEO Schmidt has emerged as an outspoken advocate for the return to office.
“If you lose because you’re sitting at home on the couch while you work, I don’t know how you build great management,” Schmidt said in an interview with CNBC.
Huston – who worked at Google between 2011 and 2014 – thinks that attitude can cost a company its talent. DuckDuckGo has positioned itself as the antithesis of Google, which has proven effective in attracting tech workers.
“I literally never met anyone I worked with for like a year and a half,” Huston said. “But we still managed to build a very good team environment despite the majority of the team being in that position – but that requires a level of care and intention.”
DuckDuckGo says it pays off equally depending on the position and regardless of the employee’s location or time spent at its Philadelphia headquarters.
Employees are spread all over the world and many only sync up for a video team meeting once a week.
“Something I hear constantly in interviews is wanting to work on something that’s a network asset in the world,” Huston said, “which I don’t think is true for all tech companies.”
Remote work can be more difficult for junior developers
A big difference between Google’s and DuckDuckGo’s working strategies is that DuckDuckGo only hires experienced developers. Meanwhile, Google hires hundreds of junior developers and offers internships.
Schmidt, in his CNBC interview, may be right when he says that younger employees learn professionalism and management skills better in an office environment. “
“In terms of age, that’s when they learn,” he said. “If you lose… because you’re sitting at home on the couch while you work, I don’t know how you build good management. Honestly, I don’t.”
JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon and WeWork CEO Sandeep Mathrani made similar comments – and the data indicates that younger workers feel less productive at home. Airbnb just told employees they can work remotely forever, but acknowledged that some jobs are better in person.
Huston says juniors can succeed remotely if they cultivate good work habits and ask for help when they need it.
Working from home doesn’t offer the same free breakfast and dinner framework that Silicon Valley campuses do, but junior developers who can learn to set consistent daily rituals and motivate themselves even when their code contains bugs can succeed remotely.
In the office, “you would sit your junior developer next to you and notice when they were struggling, and you would help,” Huston said. In remote workplaces, there is more of a “pull culture”.
Junior developers “have to learn how to get the help you need,” Huston said, but added that it can be done.