Earlier this year I walked out of Google for the last time as an employee, after almost 9 years, tens of thousands of changelists and code reviews, and – sigh, of course – countless free meals.

I recently had to give a friend some advice about whether to join Google. Instead of writing the typical (and boring) “My genius is too big for the place!” resignation post, I thought I’d focus on all the good stuff about Google.

The People

I lived in Los Angeles for over 5 years, so I can say fairly strongly that quality people can make almost any place fun and exciting!

The people at Google were almost uniformly friendly, smart, driven, inventive, and fun. Of course this was true of my engineering colleagues, but also lawyers, product managers, marketing folks, recruiters, and virtually everyone I crossed paths with. Professionals thriving in controlled chaos.

Google engineering has its share of celebrities, but some of the most amazing folks there were completely unknown (in comparison) outside of Google. Quiet, high signal-to-noise people like Jason S., Joon O., or Rob T. You’ll make a lot of great connections (though they may never leave Google!)

Promotions and Recognition

Others have written exhaustively about promotions at Google, so I’ll simply summarize the process:

  • Every 6 months, you write a self-assessment, get a handful of peers to review you, and your manager does the same.
  • You or your peers may nominate yourself for promotion. If you do, this packet goes to a promotion committee a week or two later. If not, it’s saved for next time. In either case, you see almost all of it eventually.
  • At promotion committee, a group of 4-6 peers that are 1-2 levels senior to you decide whether to promote.

Some of the most rewarding experiences I had at Google were serving on the semi-annual promotion committees.

Though I’ve never served on a criminal jury, my impression of the promotion committee was always similar to how friends have described jury duty: Deeply inspiring to see peers step up and take their job incredibly seriously.

Aside from deciding someone’s professional fate, you have complete carte blanche to dig in to the person’s past performance reviews, call their peers and managers, peer through their code – basically get whatever information is needed to make the right decision.

The level of impartiality, professionalism, and thoroughness I saw in all of my committees always impressed me. We promoted many people who clearly had shitty jobs, shitty managers, or both – but were obviously good workers.

The process made me confident the “right” traits deeply ingrained in the culture, and rewarded.

The Reach

Building products at “Google scale” can be a blessing and a curse; you have unlimited resources at your disposal, but you also have to architect systems to use them whether or not you’ll need them on day 1 (or even year 1).

In other words, it’s hard to build quick hacks. But there’s a tradeoff: reach. Build the right product, and a billion users will have access to it.

Success under this model isn’t guaranteed, and takes a lot of work, but the reward can be huge.

Exceptions

There will always be exceptions at Google’s size. Assholes, slackers, and malcontents. Promotions that shouldn’t have happened – or should have. Executive bungling and misplaced vision.

That’s life at a huge company.

What matters about the exceptions is whether they’re truly outliers, or becoming the norm, and in each case I never felt the line was being crossed.

So Why Leave?

To be honest, I never thought I would stay so long; enough time in any one place and I’ll get restless.

Moreover, the allure of doing some smaller and more entreprenurial was too much. I never felt I’d succeed on the meal plan. I learned an incredible amount at Google, but two things it never taught me were how to have a modest appetite, and how to grow a business.

What’s wrong with Google? Plenty, but we’ll save negativity for another post; the great parts outweigh the negatives, and I’d encourage anyone with the opportunity and interest to work there at least once.

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