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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jul. 7, 201112:00 PM EST

A lucky search: Jacksonville native Douglas Edwards finds Google


by Karen Brune Mathis

Managing Editor

If you Google “Douglas Edwards,” the first entry is a Wikipedia entry about America’s first network news television anchor.

But if you Google “Douglas Edwards Google,” the search yields information about the Jacksonville native who worked at the Silicon Valley startup that grew into an Internet giant.

Edwards committed his memories to print in “I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59,” a 432-page book released this month by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

“There was never a day I was bored at work,” Edwards said in a telephone interview from his Los Altos, Calif., home. “Every day that I woke up, I was excited about going to the office. There would be new things to do every day. I would go in with a list of things to do that day and when I got home at 8 o’clock, I would have a different list.”

Edwards left a marketing position at the San Jose Mercury News to join Google, where he worked from 1999-2005. He was the 59th employee, or thereabouts, hired soon after founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin launched the venture in 1998.

“My expectation was that Google would probably last about a year,” said Edwards.

“I didn’t really see how they were going to make money. I didn’t see how they were so vastly different from other search engines out there. I thought ‘I will get really good experience. I will learn a lot about the Internet. And when it goes under, I will go back to a media company and be their Internet expert.’”

Google made money, was different and didn’t go under. Edwards gained experienced, learned a lot about the Internet and didn’t need to return to a full-time job.

Google went public in 2004 in its initial public stock offering, making Brin and Page “very rich,” as The New York Times reported. Others fared well, too, although Edwards declines to say how much he made.

“Everyone seems to ask that question,” he said. “That’s between me and the IRS.”

However, he did earn professional freedom and security.

“I made enough that I could afford to be very selective about what I wanted to be involved with,” he said.

Edwards will donate his proceeds from the book to charity and works through the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

Edwards turns 53 this weekend. He’s married with three children: a 22-year-old son who graduated from college, an 18-year-old son who is a college sophomore and a 13-year-old daughter in eighth grade. His wife, Kristen, is a college professor. They have been married 26 years.

If his name seems locally familiar, it should. His parents are Marvin and Helene Edwards and his brother is Jeff Edwards. Marvin Edwards is a well-known investment adviser, economics commentator, writer and civic activist who just turned 90. Jeff Edwards is CFO of Beaver Street Fisheries Inc.

Doug Edwards was the middle child, behind Jeff. A younger sister, Carolyn, lives in Boston. The three siblings, spouses and children gather with their parents at least every other year for a mutual reunion-vacation in Orlando.

“My parents have always been very proud of all their children. They have always made us feel like a success. I would not have been able to do the things that I did if I had not had my parents supporting me financially and emotionally,” he said.

Edwards attended Hendricks Avenue Elementary School, The Bolles School for middle school and Wolfson High School.

He attended Brown University, where he met Kristen, and said he was “lucky to get a B.A.” in English and American literature.

After that, Edwards worked and traveled, including a trip to Japan on a Rotary Club scholarship and a trip to Russia. He ended up in California, where Kristen was attending Stanford University.

He worked for an ad agency and in public broadcasting. He joined the San Jose Mercury News in marketing and spent more than seven years there before leaving for Google.

“I loved working for the newspaper,” he said. “I really liked working with reporters, a lot of different personalities.”

Those reporters were covering Silicon Valley during the boom years, and Edwards “kind of caught their excitement.”

His book picks up from there, divided into 26 chapters among four parts. Part one is “You are one of us.” Part two is “Google grows and finds its voice.” Part three is “Where we stand.” Part four is “Can this really be the end?”

There’s roller hockey, a bread machine, parties, costumes, free-flowing M&Ms and booze and the busy hot tub, among the many stories.

Edwards’ youngest child was born right before he left the newspaper for the nascent Google.

“My wife could tell you it was pretty nerve-wracking for her,” he said. But he needed to do it and was willing to take the risk, despite the pay cut.

“The chances for success were not statistically all that high, but it was a very exciting time. It just felt like a reasonable thing to do,” he said.

Edwards left the traditional newspaper industry, where he had moved from being a marketing manager to heading up its online product development group, to a startup environment where “people were not shy about expressing their opinions.”

“Every day there was something completely different,” he said. He started as Google’s first director of consumer marketing and brand management. “Google” refers to a googol, a number that is equal to 1 followed by 100 zeros.

Edwards spent half a decade at Google. “But after five years and three months, the company had started changing. I was kind of burned out. You can only maintain that pace for so long,” he said.

Also, his boss left in 2004, “so things changed for me in terms of my job. It was clear to me that Google wasn’t quite sure what to do with my role.”

“It was more a question of where to put me. Where I would end up was not as enticing to me,” he said. “When the company went public, it meant I didn’t have the same urgent need for a salary.”

He blogged for a while and then decided to “just write the book.” It was a full-time endeavor for 2 1/2 years.

“Google was very forthcoming. They allowed me to interview people on staff, and they did not have to do that,” he said.

He began with a spreadsheet, putting together a timeline and determining who to interview and what to include.

With a house not large enough to accommodate the huge whiteboard or the work space he needed, he rented an apartment for the project.

“One thing you learned at Google is you can never have enough whiteboards,” he said.

Asked what he might have left out of the book, Edwards said it was edited by 100 pages.

“It was actually kind of therapeutic. All that stuff was bouncing around in my head and I was happy to get it out,” he said.

Edwards is traveling and promoting the book.

He’s pondering another book, although he is leaning toward fiction rather than nonfiction, and is also involved in the nonprofit research organization that tracks “money and influence in the U.S. Congress and the California legislature, with more states to come,” according to the website.

He’s also interested in becoming more involved in drawing and painting. And in another change, the family bought a four-bedroom house.

Edwards said the title, “I’m Feeling Lucky,” stems from his personal good fortune.

“You cannot predict when an opportunity is going to come and you just have to be open to things,” he said.

“You have to be willing to try different things and take some chances.”

Edwards didn’t prepare for Google. No MBA, no economics, no statistics. “I didn’t take any business classes at all,” he said.

“What helped me was random,” he said. For example, his time in Russia, where Google founder Brin was born. That formed a connection.

“I would encourage people to do the things that are interesting to them and find out how those things that are interesting to them can apply to the jobs they want.”

Looking ahead, Edwards considers gaming as a growth area, “not in a traditional sense, but in the sense of using gaming as a way to learn things, to organize information. I think that it’s going to be a fairly large industry for many years to come.”

Edwards closed his interview with advice to everyone. “Appreciate your teachers.”

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