The Man Behind the Big Tech Comics
Manu Cornet created some of the most referenced Big Tech comics, with a special focus on Google and Twitter. Today, he shares how he started doing comics and his creative process.
If you ever worked at Google, I probably don’t need to introduce Manu Cornet. And if you’re not a Googler or a Xoogler, then here’s a short recap of some of his comics. For example, if you don’t know what a Xoogler is (it stands for ex Googler) or a Noogler (this means new Googler) or a Doogler (these are the pet dogs owned by Googlers) and now you’re wondering why Google has all these terms, Manu — of course! — created a comic on this as well:
Today’s newsletter will be a lot more visual than usual. The topic will also be more lighthearted: Google, Twitter, and comics. Manu recently published his book Twitoons: one employee’s cartoon chronicle of Twitter’s accelerated descent. I read the book: it’s funny! I still can’t decide if it’s funny because of Manu’s style, or if it's funny because it’s true. Today’s newsletter closes with a full chapter from this book, but not before we touch on a mix of Google’s and Twitter’s tech stack, and how to draw cartoons. We cover Manu’s story:
The motivation to draw caricature comics
Fourteen years at Google as a software engineer
Comics at Google
Working at Twitter
The best and the worst of “old Twitter”
How to draw cartoons as a software engineer
Code review on printed paper: an excerpt from the Twitoons book
1. The motivation to draw caricature comics
From here on, my questions to Manu are in italic, and his answers are in regular text.
How did you start to draw comics?
I grew up in France, and here, there is a stronger tradition of political cartoons than in the US. No big newspaper feels complete without at least occasional cartoons making fun of leaders and current affairs! Some large tech companies are becoming more and more like small countries, in terms of size and influence. When I was hired by Google as a software engineer in 2007, it felt like the role of a “court jester” and cartoonist would be interesting to fill.
Initially, I just wanted to make my coworkers smile. For example, this was my third comic at the company:
However, I also felt the need to scratch that “must laugh about power” itch. So I started drawing comics about life at Google in 2010, and I kept releasing new ones regularly until I left in 2021. I then carried this on Twitter as well.
How did you come up with the “famous” organizational chart comic that you are most known for? This one.
Initially, the punch line was meant to be Oracle. At the time, this company was suing Google over its use of Java, and I decided to make fun of how Oracle has a much larger legal department than engineering, so I drew this:
To make a good punchline, you need a buildup. So to make this a good comic, I needed to draw other companies for a comparison. So I drew four more:
I still needed one last one, to make it six and make it symmetric. Microsoft was, of course, the obvious missing one. So I researched the culture at Microsoft a little bit and came up with that — now famous — gun drawing:
After you’ve been working on an idea for a while, you completely lose track of whether it’s actually funny or not. After I finished it, I didn’t find it funny. I showed it to my partner at the time, and she didn’t find it funny either. I was very close to not releasing this cartoon, in the end! Then I just published it.
It’s ironic because this comic became probably my most popular comic, and the Microsoft drawing with the guns was the one that people found the most funny. It shows you how clueless I am about predicting what will work!
2. Fourteen years at Google as a software engineer
Getting into Google
You worked for 14 years at Google (!). How did you get hired at the company?