Why Google?

Last October I accepted a role at Google. I wanted to write about why I made that decision, mostly for me to look back on and hold myself accountable to, but perhaps it will also help anyone else going through a similar decision.

On the surface working at Google might seem like a no brainer. The company has been ranked first on Fortunes top 100 places to work eight of the past 12 years. The perks are legendary, the company has made some of the most used and impactful products in the world (Google search, Google Maps, Gmail, Chrome, Android, Youtube, etc.) and teams of Googlers are working on some of the coolest projects of the future (self driving cars, food delivery drones, cancer detection, etc.). Google known for fun offices and giving employees freedom to tackle big problems in innovative ways, of which there is a long history of doing very well.

The company is so well regarded that millions of people apply for the few thousand open positions every year. The acceptance rate is cited as being lower than getting into Harvard, Goldman Sachs, the Secret Service or the Navy SEALs. Getting a job with Google is highly coveted.

But for me it wasn’t a no brainer. I had actually turned down offers from Google twice before.

One of the big reasons is that Google is a really big company. Before Google, the largest company I had worked for was 200 people, which is three orders of magnitude smaller than Google. Big companies often come with extra process and overhead that slows things down and it is hard to get recognition when you’re working on a very small slice of a very big pie. In contrast, at my last startup, my project was on the front of the company website, I knew the C-level executives and board members and they knew what I was working on. At Google, even if I deliver 10X the results I’m expected to this year, Larry, Sergey or Sundar will never hear mention of my name.

Another big reason Google wasn’t a no brainer is that there are compelling alternatives. When it comes to awesome culture, compensation and perks offered to employees, Google is no longer singularly unique. My last startup also offered free food, generous insurance and a fun culture. Meanwhile, while I was interviewing with Google, I was also exploring positions with Dropbox, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon, all companies that take care of their employees well.

In the end I decided on Google though, here are some of the items my decision came down to.

1. The Google Halo

Google has long been regarded by many people as a top tier company – a place where the best and brightest go to tackle the biggest challenges. This is especially true for certain roles like engineering and product management, my role. I believe that notion is largely built on truth, but it has reached the point where even if things were to change, the perception would live on for a while.

That halo is beneficial for me as it allows me to associate myself with that perception which will likely create residual benefit for the rest of my career.

Google’s brand is particularly valuable because of the near universal recognition. Consider in contrast Palantir, a company that may be worth nearly $50B, employs some very talented people, and is generally regarded as a high caliber company. Most of the general public has never heard of it though, and so the chances of that association opening the door with anyone not highly involved in tech, seems less likely.

Association with a well known and well regarded brand name is particularly important to me because I went to a small unknown college and have only worked for small companies whose names never became recognizable. The impact of that is that it is harder for me to open doors because it is harder for people to quickly calibrate if I am legitimate. Having a familiar name to associate with is one way to do that. If having Google on my resume increases my ability to get a human to respond to me, that will result in a material difference to the number of opportunities I have to select from in the future.

Applying for jobs isn’t the only place it matters though. If I decide to start a company, being a Xoogler (term for former Google employees) carries a huge value. I believe investors value that name, as do reporters who know that writing about new startups from former Googlers gets clicks, as do potential customers who I believe are more likely to trust a startup if the person pitching the new product used to work for the company that built many of the tools they use daily. Being able to more easily build trust with investors, generate press attention (and thus customers and employees), and acquire potential customers could be the difference between success and failure for a startup.

I believe that today there are few company names that carry more value in terms of impact and breadth than Google, especially in the areas I foresee my career going in. There isn’t much of an action item needed for this halo to be beneficial, once you start, you get it, though I’m sure the longer you are at the company, the more senior you become and the more high profile of a project you work on, the more benefit you will receive.

Action Item: Learn to effectively take advantage of this halo. It adds no value under a rock but at the same time, it is probably counterproductive to rely on it too much, as many people are tempted to do with the various halos they accumulate.

2. The People

Google has a lot of very bright people working in the company – the types of people that build world changing technology, start exciting companies, hack on things related to their hobbies, etc. Over time these people will branch out to new companies and projects, and those new projects can become your potential opportunities if you know those people.

One of the best ways for me to increase my awareness of and chances of getting offered amazing opportunities is to work with the types of people that are amazing and looking for amazing opportunities themselves. One of the best ways for me to get to know those people and earn their respect is to work with them on projects. Working for the same company is a great way to do that.

Along with general awareness and referrals, the people I work with now might end up being people I work with directly again later. This is particularly important as you think about leadership roles where your ability to attract a team is critical to achieving success. It is very hard to be a VP or founder if you don’t have a network of talented people that trust you that you can use to jump start your team.

Mentors are another place where who you work with matters a lot. Though mentors can come from anywhere, working for the same company creates a commonality and also a motivation for the mentor to offer their valuable time – their advice might help me achieve success on a project that helps their team/stock value/etc.

The above are all possible at any company where there are great people. A company of 5 could have 5 amazing people you connect with really well. I’ve found that connections happen somewhat by chance and often over some common ground, a shared hobby or similar style of operating. I believe that working at a bigger company increases your chances of bumping into people you connect naturally with. Google’s Seattle office is of a size where there are plenty of people I don’t work directly with but might meet through a running club, social event, while riding the bus together, etc. That means there are more potential people for me to form those connections with.

Finally, there is the extended network of all former Googlers, called Xooglers that I now share something in common with. Like an alumni network from a college, sometimes even the smallest connection could mean the difference in someone accepting a coffee meeting or not. I’m not sure how many Xooglers there are, but given there are nearly 100k employees today and the company is 20 years old, I would guess it is in the 200-500k range based on some napkin math. A younger and smaller company wouldn’t be able to offer quite the same reach.

Action Item: Make sure I’m meeting people. If one of the big reasons I joined was because of the chance to meet people, it won’t do me well to hole up and talk to as few people as possible. Thankfully my role naturally requires me to interact with hundreds of people, but in addition I’m already meeting people though some shared hobbies and I even signed up for a program where I get paired for lunch with a random person periodically.

3. Believe In The Company Mission

“Well, Mr. President, I’m helping to put a man on the moon,” said the janitor when JFK asked him what his role at NASA was.

Whatever job I do, I will be contributing to the mission of the company and impacting the world in that way with my hard work. There are companies I did not consider working for at all because I don’t believe in what they do. There are other companies where I was comfortable working on some of their projects but not others.

Google has long been a company who I’ve generally liked the motivations behind most of their products. Most tech companies are motivated to get you to spend as much time as possible on their technology but Google is often motivated to do the opposite. That aligns well with my value system.

The particular product area I work within is helping make large scale computing easier and more affordable for every company out there. If we succeed, we are going to help make a lot of really impactful technology possible. Even if we don’t succeed in the way we want to, any progress we make will force others in the space to continue to improve which will raise the bar.

Action Item: Periodically evaluate if this remains true. My alignment with the company mission could change based on new developments, new information I become aware of or changes to my values.

4. Flexibility To Change Projects Without Changing Anything Else

One of the biggest benefits of a big company is the ability to change one aspect of a job without changing a lot of others.

If you are at a small startup and want to work on something different, you likely have to go to a new company, which will require changing teams, managers, salary, stock, health insurance, retirement plan, and might result in a very different culture and commute.

At Google, there are options to change teams where the only thing that will change is your team and manager. You can keep the same title, compensation, vested stock, health insurance, retirement plan, gym schedule, commute, etc. That is very attractive as projects are something I’ve found I like to change every 2-5 years where as health insurance is something I generally never want to have to think about, so long as it stays good.

Action Item: It will benefit me to become aware of other teams and opportunities that might be interesting and keep a short list in my head of alternatives.

5. Personal Financial Considerations

In my opinion, for my situation at the time, Google was a financially wise decision.

I mentioned above that in terms of compensation, there are other companies that pay the same or sometimes more than Google. One case where this isn’t often true is with startups. Often startups have lower base salaries and a larger portion of compensation depends on the upside of stock that might have no present liquidity. Worse yet, sometimes the liquidity event is a decade away, even for a very successful company – more of which seem to be waiting longer and longer to go public. Based on my current financial goals and the percent of my net worth that is still tied up in pre-liquid startup stock, it felt wise to take a position that provided liquid equity for a period.

The first consideration is the benefits which are often really hard to put a value to. It is crazy how much Google does for us. Even though I knew this going in, I’ve been repeatedly surprised. Already I’ve discovered and taken advantage of benefits that will result in tens of thousands of dollars of savings/gains for my family. I’m not sure which are publicly known, and some might not be available in all regions, so I won’t make mention of any specifically, but generally Google doesn’t want you distracted by personal issues they can help solve and the company operates at a scale where we can solve them cost efficiently, so they are just taken care of. Perhaps other companies also have many benefits like this that they don’t advertise, in my experience Google has a strong edge.

The next consideration is future earnings potential. My impression is the sky is the limit at Google and that high achievers are rewarded handsomely and disproportionately compared to average performers. I don’t yet have any personal experience with this or comprehensive data, but I have read public articles about employees who started big projects and were rewarded to the tune of nearly $100MM. I’m sure those are the extreme long tail, but even the part of the tail I hope to be in is rewarded handsomely for performance. Some companies do their best to match starting salaries so they can attract talent, but that doesn’t mean things will increase at the same pace.

The final item I will touch on is stock performance. At tech companies it is common to receive stock as a large part of a compensation package. For stack rank tech employees, 30-50% of total compensation might come in the form of stock grants. For executives is might be closer to 90%. With that in mind, the performance of the stock has a huge factor on how much money an employee takes home. If the stock price goes up, the employee ends up being able to sell the shares for a higher price but if it goes down, by the time the employee gets the stock, it isn’t worth as much as they originally thought. In that sense, accepting a job at a company is essentially making an investment in that company’s stock on the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars. When I made my decision, I looked at the fundamentals of a few companies. I looked at their stock price, their revenue and their business model and I felt Google was a company I wanted to make a big investment in.

Action Items: Take advantage of the benefits. Work hard to reach the percentile of employees that are highly rewarded.

6. Seattle Campus Size

I’ve found that different sizes of campus come with their own pros and cons. Larger campuses are often able to offer more perks an amenities than smaller ones because the cost of those is split among more people’s overhead. Smaller campuses tend to be more personal and you have a bigger say in the culture.

Google’s Seattle office is at a large enough size that it offers some perks that I find really useful. Specifically cafeteria options, commuter shuttles (including one that picks up a few blocks from my house) & a gym with showers & towel service. I’ve also been known to use one of the massage chairs or the nap room on occasion.

The campus is also big enough that you can find hobby groups. I’ve found a group of runners I join a few days per week and another of board game players I play with once or twice a week. For any group like that to be sustainable you usually need a certain volume of people so that you can have some regulars and a few periodic participants. In a 10 person office, or even 100, you’re less likely to get something like that.

Going along with my second point above about people, a bigger campus gives you more chances to bump into people that become acquaintances, even if you don’t work with them directly.

Action Item: Continue to take advantage of the perks of this size campus.

7. Ability To Gain Knowledge About Specific Topics

My final big reason to join Google was the ability to learn.

First, I am going to learn a ton about cloud infrastructure. Seattle is really the epicenter of the cloud industry with Amazon and Microsoft both based up here and Google having a large presence. I realized that if I’m going to live in Seattle, it was very likely that I was going to work in the cloud at some point, and I would probably do well to figure out early if it was a space I enjoyed. The team I joined is at the center of Google’s cloud and works with all of the other teams, so this felt like a great place to learn a lot very quickly.

Second, I want to get better at running a software company. One way to do that is to keep trying and to learn from your mistakes. Another is to take a company that has done a pretty good job doing that and learn from their best practices. I’ve done a lot of the former and figured a bit of the latter would be nice as well.

Third, Google is a really big company, and I wanted to learn if I liked working at a really big company. All of my past experience is at companies of 200 or fewer people and I don’t have a great datapoint for whether I would like being at a bigger company. This felt like it was worth finding out.

Outside of my main responsibilities, Google felt like a really good place for me to learn a lot about some of the other topics that interest me. There are a number of opportunities to do so including attending internal talks, reaching out to other employees for coffee or doing a 20% project, a practice where you get to spend one day per week working on something of your choice. For almost anything you can imagine in the technology space, Google has people thinking about that problem and generally has a culture of openness amongst employees. Being able to learn about topics that interest me from leading experts was very attractive.

Action Item: Learn as much as I can about the cloud business, Google’s cloud teams & the key people in this industry. Surround myself with capable people and soak up lessons on how to build software & run teams effectively. Make time to learn about topics outside of my primary role.

2019 Focus: Quarter Year Update

With the start of a new year, I take the time to set my focus for the coming year. I believe that by being selective about where I direct my energy, I can achieve results that are exponentially greater than if I split that energy across many different goals.

I detailed my 2019 focus here (read that first if you want more context). Here is how I’m progressing.

2019 Theme: Long-Suffering

2019 Challenge: Fasting in the Wilderness

No progress yet except a few potential backcountry permits acquired.

2019 Habit: Minimizing Digital Entertainment

This habit has started out strong. I stayed under the threshold for 11 of the 13 weeks and my average so far is 2.27 hours of digital entertainment per week.

I actually decided to adjust my 2 hours a week goal to be different for each quarter. Q1 was set at 3 hours per week, Q2 at 2 hour, Q3 will be way down at 1 hour and then back to 2 hours per week for Q4. The reason is seasonality – winter months bring more reason to be inside.

This has come in the form of 4 movies, some time playing 2 different video games and a smattering of episodes from various Netflix shows.

Right off the bat I noticed I had to change some habits to make this work. Airplanes used to be near-guaranteed screen time for me but lately I’ve had to find other things to do when in flight. Some flights I read, others I go through and organize things on my computer and once I actually spent most of the ride talking to a stranger. I’ve also been finding other ways to be entertained. So far I’ve read 2.25 books and played 26 boardgames this year both well above my pace from last year.

2019 Exemplar: Nelson Mandela

Mandela wrote a pretty thick autobiography so I figured I would start there. I’m 25% of the way through it, which is a good bit farther than I usually am this time of year.

2019 Bucket List Item: Run the Wonderland Trail at Mt. Rainier

I’ve gone so far as to buy a running vest, some trail shoes and a set of poles. The rest pretty much comes down to seeing how much my body can take.

As a secret double-bucket-list I also signed up for a 150 mile bike ride around Mt. Rainier. I don’t plan to train for that much either.

Ting Review (2019) – Five Years With Ting’s Cell Phone Service!

It is now 2019 – I first signed up for Ting in March 2014 – that means I’ve been a happy Ting customer for over five years now! 5 years! During that time we’ve used the iPhone 5, iPhone 6, iPhone SE, iPhone 7 Plus and an Apple Watch.

I thought I’d share a Ting review to shine more light on why I switched to them in the first place and why I’m still happy. I also have experience with Verizon and Google Fi, which I can compare the service to.

Because I’ve been a longtime Ting customer, they recently gave me a coupon to share with my readers that will save you $25 off your first bill. If you’re interested in switching, here it is: http://www.gregkroleski.com/click/ting

The Switch from Verizon

I had long been a happy Verizon customer when in 2014 I opened a bill to find I owed over $200 for our three phones. That was above my limit of acceptability. I decided I needed to look for options.

I looked at the plans of the major carriers – AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile. I also came across a few alternative plans; Republic Wireless, Tracfone, Cricket, Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile & Google Fi.

Selection Criteria

As I began to look at those companies, I came up with a list of criteria that was important to me.

  • Device Options
  • Cell Service Quality & Speed
  • Customer Service & Experience
  • Price
  • Flexibility

I ultimately selected Ting, obviously. I’ve actually reevaluated every year since then and reselected Ting each time for these reasons.

How Ting Compared

Device Options

We’re iPhone folks and making a switch to another phone would be a difficult undertaking. I actually love Google products and my phone is mostly using the Google alternatives to Apple default software. The effort involved in retraining my wife & mom to use a new OS & phone made it hard for me to consider switching, and so compatibility with iPhone became a strong criteria.

I did try to keep an open mind to other options, but it was going to take a lot to convince me to be on something other than iOS.

On top of that, even if I went with Android, I would want a pure Android OS and not some reskin. I got burned pretty bad by Android fragmentation in the early days where my phone stopped getting text messages suddenly because of an unknown defect that lay between the OS, carrier and phone manufacturer’s reskin. A fix never came. A few of the companies I looked at ran a very custom version of Android and that made me very nervous – unless they had limited their supported phones dramatically, that would likely eventually result in me having a phone that didn’t work and an unplanned need for a new phone.

Ting allowed the iPhone – back in 2014 when I signed up, you had to use the iPhone model that was one year old, but that is what I happened to be using at the time anyhow, so I was ok with that. Recently they’ve allowed the most recent version of the iPhone to be used – something I’ve taken advantage of by upgrading to the iPhone SE the day it came out. I legitimately might have been the first Ting customer to use the iPhone SE.

So with phone selection & my iPhone preference in mind, the results were:

Cell Service Quality & Speed

In the many years I was a Verizon customer, I had very few dropped calls. Switching to something else seemed risky – I knew how miserable the lives of my AT&T subscriber friends were with all of their dropped call issues.

I did a lot of research about service areas and congestion in my area before switching to Ting. At the time they only operated on Sprint towers but now you can select between Sprint & T-Mobile. I live in a major city where there is great coverage, so congestion tends to be the biggest concern, especially during peak times.

After three years of using Ting I’ve noticed a downgrade in cell service quality from Verizon – but it still meets my bar of acceptability. I have had a few dropped calls & there are some places I’ve visited on vacation where I didn’t get great data service. But 99% of the time I am happy with the cellular signal. I’m ok with 99% of the results for ~50% of the cost.

If you’re considering switching, the best thing to do is check the coverage (use this cool tool) around where you live and ask neighbors who use Sprint & T-Mobile how those services perform in your area. From my experience, neither is quite as good as Verizon but often that is fine because the cost savings are so great.

Customer Service & Experience

I mentioned above that Ting uses other company’s towers which they essentially rent signal from.  What Ting actually provides themselves is the account tools & customer support. Those are top notch and probably the biggest reason I picked Ting.

Their website & mobile app are amazing. Here are a few things you can do really easily from either your computer or phone:

1) Settings

Control the settings on devices. You don’t need to do this often, but it is nice to be able to control and check easily whenever you need it.

2) Usage

Here is a screen you can use to see your usage during the month. Along with total usage in each of the three categories they charge for, you can see how much each person is using.

With this I can see that we are at 99 text messages so my next text message will actually kick us up a tier to the next payment level. With text messages that is only like $2 so it isn’t a huge deal. With minutes it can mean another $20, so it is great to have this info handy.

3) Usage Alerts

Along with seeing our usage, I can set automatic alerts to help us stay within our budget. You can see below that I have it text reminders at certain limits and then actually turn off the data if you exceed another limit. It is easy to turn back on if we decide we’re ok going over, but having the limits in place helps make sure you don’t accidentally blow through data when you thought you were on wifi or something like that.

Customer Service

The final part of the customer experience is Ting’s customer service which I would rate as world class.

The few times I’ve had to call them for help with something, I’ve talked to someone that was friendly, helpful and empowered. They were able to solve my problem and one time even gave me a $10 credit as an apology.

I’ve called in before on a weekend and actually talked to a human in the United States in less than 5 minutes – which is amazing. When I’ve emailed in there was great follow up thanks to their use of a ticketing system called Zendesk (which I also love).

One caveat is they don’t have store locations all over like the major brands do. Some people like going into their local Verizon store and walking away with a phone & signed contract. I much prefer doing things on my time which often is not the same time a local store would be open. Doing things with Ting sometimes means waiting a few days for a new phone to come in the mail rather than having it in hand right away – but that isn’t a big negative to me – most of my shopping is online these days anyways and part of the reason Ting is less expensive is they don’t have to pay the overhead for all of those storefronts.

Overall, I’m super happy with the customer experience with Ting – this is one area where they exceed the national providers.

Price

Ting makes it pretty easy to predict your price with this cool tool as long as you have some info about your average usage over the past months. Because of that, I knew what I was getting into and if you’re thinking of switching, you can too.

What I wondered back then was if things would drift up over time. I pulled some data and it turns out that hasn’t really happened. In fact, I’m paying less today that I was when I switched over.

I’m averaging about $85 a month for 3 iPhones – much less than the $200 I was paying to Verizon before I switched to Ting. Just to reiterate, I’m paying nearly 60% less than I was on Verizon for service I’m just as happy with.

For the observant, there are two things you might also notice in the chart above.

First, there was a time towards the end of 2015 where you can see our data usage drifted up a bit, as did our bill. We set up some better alerts (the ones I showed up above) and that helped us get things down lower than we originally were.

Second, there are a few months that are a bit lower. When I first joined I got a credit for signing up and cancelling my old contract, so my first few months didn’t cost much. The few other random dips are because of credits I received, like the one I mentioned from customer support.

I’ve kept abreast of other cell phone plans that have come out such as the recent T-Mobile unlimited plan and every time I run the math, I am still coming out on top with Ting price wise. For someone like our family that doesn’t use a ton of data, there doesn’t seem to be a better plan.

Flexibility

My favorite thing with Ting is that I have a ton of control over how I use my cellular devices, how much they cost me and how often I change things. I haven’t found many other options that give as much control.

Not only am I not in a contract – which means I can cancel at any time, but I don’t even have a fixed amount I pay every month, it is based on what I use. So I know that I can use less and pay less, which is awesome control & flexibility that I’ve taken advantage of to save an additional 15%.

I also have flexibility into what device I use and when I upgrade. With the major carriers you often get a discounted phone after two years, but really you’re just paying for that over time as part of your bill. With Ting we have full control of how often we switch. We’ve found that if you take good care of your phone, it can last longer than 2 years, which means a little more savings through a longer depreciation curve. On top of that, we also usually buy our iPhones used when a new model comes out so we often save even more.

Conclusions

I’ve been very happy with Ting as have a few friends I’ve referred over. If you feel like you’re paying too much for your cell phone service or you aren’t happy with how they treat you, then I suggest you consider the other options that are out there. If you care about the things I mentioned – I hope this post helps with your evaluation.

Hey! If you made it this far, you probably benefited from me sharing my experience. If so, I’d appreciate if you would click on the link below – it will save you $25 off of your first bill, and Ting will also knock a few dollars off my next bill to say thank you for helping you make a decision to switch.

http://www.gregkroleski.com/click/ting

Thanks!