Gmail Gives a Peek Behind the Scenes

Showing how the team is organized and how big the service has grown

By on March 15th, 2010 08:56 GMT
The SXSW festival was underway in Austin, Texas over the weekend with plenty of startups there to strut their stuff and geeks to drool over the latest hyped service. But, among the struggling newcomers, some pretty established players were also there to show off their products or just to be there. The Gmail team was there holding a panel dubbed Behind the Scenes of Gmail where some key people working on the webmail service gave us a peek at how everything worked internally.

There wasn't anything ground-breaking in there and very little talk about upcoming features or changes, but there were some interesting tidbits of info. One was how the Gmail team, which is spread over several offices around the world, was structured internally. There are 30 engineers for every one product manager, which, apparently, is one of the biggest ratio at Google.

There are about 100 people working on Gmail, a service with hundreds of millions of users by Google's own account, so you can imagine that there's a lot of feedback coming from users and various other sources most of which isn't really that valuable. This is where the product managers come in, as Todd Jackson, himself a product manager at Gmail, explained. He believes that the PMs need to be more than just a funnel, they need to be a junk umbrella to protect the engineers from all the useless data hurled at them. Of course, he used more colorful words in the description.

Gmail is already the third email provider in the world, after Yahoo Mail and Microsoft's Hotmail, and is still growing at a healthy pace, especially internationally, Google says. It is the largest email provider in the world with hundreds of millions of users, though the exact number wasn't disclosed.

On the technical side, Gmail is written in Java, JavaScript and C++ with the bulk of the client being written in JavaScript, several hundred thousand lines of code actually, one of the biggest JavaScript projects in the world. Finally, power users, meaning real heavy-duty users who are getting close to the 7.5 GB storage limit and may have hundreds of thousands or even millions of emails, should have something to look forward too. Apparently, Gmail can be a bit slow for these users, but the development team is already working on a fix that should be "coming soon."

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