As the company grew and the people he worked with day to day in the beginning became more geographically dispersed and absent from his everyday work life, it became "harder keep that same level of excitement you had when it's you and your friends working late at night," Kniaz said.
Google is aware of the challenges to its culture as it grows and is doing its best to meet them, said Craig Neville-Manning, engineering director at Google who joined the company in 2000 when Google had only about 200 employees.
"As companies grow larger, it's more difficult to allow people to be creative," he acknowledged. The key, Neville-Manning said, is to "give people autonomy" even as the company adopts more of a corporate structure and culture.
Google tries to do this by allowing teams working on certain projects the same creative and development freedom they might have if they were still working for startup, he said.
Neville-Manning cited Google's recently released Internet browser Chrome and the Android mobile platform as examples of these types of projects. Those teams "have a pretty clear mission and have been given more or less carte blanche" to do what they need to achieve that mission, he said.
There are downsides to this approach, even though it is an attempt to emulate the startup culture. Some former Googlers said privately that this autonomous culture left them feeling directionless. While they appreciated the ability to create their own projects and duties for their appointed positions, it was difficult to gauge how well they were performing without specific direction or feedback from managers, they said.
However, this experimental approach will remain in place at Google, and the company plans to tweak its organizational structure in a similar way as it grows, Neville-Manning said. This inevitably will lead to a lot of trial and error, he acknowledged.
"Since we are growing so quickly, we've had to sit back every six months and redesign processes as they've become too unwieldy," Neville-Manning said.
For example, when Neville-Manning was given the task of opening up the first Google engineering site in New York in April 2003, the company let the engineers at the new site figure out on their own what they would work on, merely by communicating with other engineers at the company to ensure they were not stepping on anyone's toes.
As the company grew, however, "we had to rethink this," he said. Eventually, Google had to set up a global database of projects that gave engineering teams a view of what all the engineering teams were working on.
"It's really important to leave people with some degree of autonomy," Neville-Manning said, "but at the same time, you don't want duplication of effort and you want to make sure people are communicating effectively."