It has been rare for Matt Cutts to talk about working at Google. Matt was the search spam guardian at Google, he went on a leave a while back and was replaced in March 2015 and now is temporarily at the Pentagon working on projects with the Defense Digital Service team.
The interview was by Anil Dash and posted on Medium. It was a weird format because they used an app for the interview and Matt was asked a question on a mobile app and he had to reply quickly typing on his mobile phone. But the questions were solid and not just about his work with the Defense Digital Service team. Anil has known Matt for years and asked him some solid questions around his work at Google.
Here are the most interesting ones about his challenges while working at Google in the unique position of doing webmaster communication, when there was no such role for that early on.
He told Anil that he "was always amazed that more engineers didn't want to step out in front of the curtain." I know he tried, he brought many engineers to conferences, brought them into videos and forums but very few lasted. So he decided to help make a team just for this, named the Webmaster Trends team.
When asked about the stresses around how SEOs can get a bit extreme, Matt said "occasionally someone would be stressed and threaten something." Yes, he received threats. In fact, he said he "did get a credible threat at a search conference." He added that since then his "wife insisted that I had to carry a cell phone after that."
But when he was asked if that was unusual, he shrugged it off explaining that "even then the kernel of there reaction was trying to set things right." He explained "well, it is there livelihood in many cases," "so I understand the stress that people would be under," Matt added.
I then was able to ask a few questions and I asked if he ever considered a body guard and he said "nah. Most people even when stressed are still reasonable and nice." Yea, most people are, but it only takes one, I thought.
Matt did add "folks would occasionally send a big cookie or a fruit basket. We always joked whether it was safe to eat them."
So what was the tricky part I asked Matt?
The knowledge from one area helped in the other. But at times, it was frustrating because I wanted to shut down some loophole faster, and I wasn't going to recommend things that would make the web worse. On balance though, I am so grateful for my time doing communication and outreach.
He never once said he left Google because of these challenges and technically, he is still on a leave and with Google. But I assume he is somewhat relieved and thankful not to be getting as many threats these days.
Forum discussion at Twitter.