Reflecting On My First Year At Google

I recently finished my first year at Google and so I wanted to take a chance to reflect on what I’ve learned and see how I’m progressing along the goals I set for myself when I joined.

Things I’ve Learned During My First Year at Google

1. Google is Still a Startup

When I joined I wasn’t sure what the company would feel like and how things would work. Would it feel like a big company where everything had lots of process? Would I be able to get things done at the pace I enjoy or would the overhead slow me down?

What I’ve found is that generally, in both good and bad ways, the day to day work of my project area still feels like a startup. It took me some time discover that but I now feel like I have a decent read and have been able to translate my startup GSD skills into making things happen at a scale that is one hundred times as big.

To give a concrete example, when I joined, I somewhat expected I was going to have to go through some heavy approval process to get approval to change the scope of my role, shift our vision and start building new high impact features I had identified. I have found that to not be true. With very little friction I’ve been able to redefine my area of ownership to one that is a bit broader and opens new doors, set a new vision for what we want to accomplish and start executing on it.

There are a few places Google does feel like a big company though – HR, accounting, and facilities particularly stand out. That generally makes sense though as those are areas where more strict policy and tighter process are important when you’re dealing with a large scale publicly traded company. Does the extra process there make some things harder for me? Yes. But at the same time, that officialness is also the source of a number of key benefits and a large reason for the financial stability the company offers me.

One area that Google does feel like a big company, in the best way, is tooling. Google employs tens of thousands of engineers who are all allowed to spend 20% of their time working on projects they pick. As a result there are all sorts of cool internal tools that engineers have built over time based on their own initiative that make my life easier. After getting used to them, if/when I go to another company, I will greatly miss them.

2. Transitioning to a New Company Requires a Heavy Lift

I expected that after about 8 years at a single company, transitioning to a new company would take some effort. This was likely true no matter where I went. I greatly underestimated how disruptive it would be though. Not only does transitioning take effort, but it is a skill that I hadn’t had to practice in nearly a decade. I had also never done it at my current level of seniority.

Three areas that I noticed were particularly difficult were: recalibrating myself, learning the secrets of how things really worked and building up trust.

Recalibrating

I knew I was joining a bigger company when I accepted the Google offer, but one thing that took me some time to get used to was my calibration on how large a number something had to be for me to give it special attention.

It turns out the numbers are about 100X what I was used to, which took some getting used to. It means that I now hear numbers that are quite new to me.

Similarly I needed to recalibrate my read on what efforts were important and what types of projects would actually succeed. I’ve found that knowing where effort has a high return, in terms of impact to the company and visibility, lets me make wise decisions on how to invest my time to achieve my career goals. Most of this varies by company and by senior leadership and so in joining a new company and team, I needed to populate that knowledge from scratch so I could be effective again.

How Things Really Work

I’ve found that at any company there is an official way things work and there is the secret way things actually work. Knowing the difference usually comes with time. The long tenured employees can all tell you what matters. The faster you can do figure that out, the faster you can be impactful, which is important to me.

One example of the difference between these two is apparent in team meetings. My calendar tells me that officially there are 5-6 levels of team meetings that I am a part of. On paper all of these are important, though most people would likely agree that in general the more specific ones are probably the most important. I’ve found that the secret reality is some are really important, even some oddly in the middle of that stack, and some I can just skip and catch up via email summary and/or other methods. Understanding that saves me hours every month, which makes me more productive.

Similar differences exist in areas like; goal setting, overhead processes, trainings, internal events, etc.

When I first joined, I didn’t understand how things really worked and so I was spending some portion of my time on things that were important on paper but not really important in practice. Now that I have a better read, I save all of that time. Getting that knowledge took a good bit of effort and time though. One tip I took away from this experience is to find a few people that already know the secrets to how things really work at the company, and have them mentor you. There are three people I work with that have a combined ~40 years and 6+ promotions at Google. Those three people are a big part of why I joined my current team and have been extremely helpful in my ramp up.

3. Cloud is a Critical Area

Before I joined Google, the information I was able to gather said that Google Cloud had about $4B a year in revenue. Recently Google shared an update that it had reached $8B ARR, was the third biggest driver of revenue growth for Alphabet and was going to triple its sales force over the coming years. This all emphasizes how important the cloud area is to Google.

I learned a valuable lesson from reading Jack Welch’s biography. He was the former CEO of GE and rose in his career during the rise of the plastics industry, which he worked in. The lesson was that if you put yourself in the middle of a rising trend and worked hard to rise to the top of that area, you could have amazing results. Cloud feels like that area for this decade.

4. At Big Companies, You Have to Let A Lot Go

I had gotten pretty used to saying no to projects during the last decade of my career at startups. Being effective requires focus. I’m blessed with the curse of competence, which means people I work with tend to come back to me with new questions, problems, etc. That was great early in my career when I was working on menial tasks and the things coming back seemed exciting and important. Eventually I reached a point where my plate was as full as I wanted it to be with exciting projects and I needed to start saying no.

Over the last year at Google I found the amount I had to push back on and say no to was orders of magnitude higher than anything I had ever experienced at smaller companies. Essentially there are 100k employees running around trying to make things happen and the area I’ve become an expert at is important for many of those. Different teams within Google Cloud want to launch new products or new billing mechanisms, teams in other parts of Google want to integrate with Google Cloud or do joint promotions, Google’s partners want to experiment with new go-to-market motions. Any of these projects could be great and impactful, but at the end of the day, our team simply isn’t big enough to take them all on right now.

What I’ve learned to get more comfortable with is the idea that at a very big company, I am not actually the bottleneck I sometimes feel like I am. At a startup, me saying no to a project that needed my team’s help often meant the project would simply not happen. At a big company, like Google, there are often lots of other options. My team might be someone’s favorite option at the moment, but if we’re not able to take on a project, there are often other approaches they can take – there are simply more build/buy/integrate options available to them if the project is important.

The other thing I’ve learned to get more comfortable with is letting people escalate. I used to have a bit of hesitation to ever let someone go to a higher up with a problem related to me. I’ve gotten very comfortable with that over the last year though. Often my ‘no’ is just reflecting the current state of staffing investment – a decision that was made by one of the VPs at the company. Letting the consequences of that decision go back to that person is perfectly fine. They can either stand by their decision, or, based on new information, change their decision. What I now focus on is providing more transparency about what my teams are working on, why it is important and how the other project would impact our schedule. I’ve found that given the same information I have, executives often come to the same conclusion I did.

5. My Productivity Management Skills Have Improved

This one is mostly due to necessity. The volume of email, meetings and questions coming towards me is a factor higher than I’ve ever experienced before. In order to remain productive I’ve had to learn some new tricks.

One that I’ve found very helpful is to maintain an explicit list of my projects – categorized into top 3, top 10 and on hold. I then track my work & meeting time against those categories to make sure I’m spending a majority of my time on the top 3. I’ve found this is mostly necessary because there are many more projects that are long term efforts that slightly involve me now but that I can’t afford to spend much time on yet. This was less true at startups as longterm projects weren’t as common because the company was operating with a more immediate perspective.

In order to deal with inbound questions I’ve implemented a lot of my old favorite tricks like FAQ docs but I’ve also started to experiment with pre-canned responses, office hours and delegating to others.

6. Crispness is Key for Exec Communication

In my career I’ve learned that the larger the responsibility owned by someone (in terms of people, business size, complexity, etc.), the more succinct you need to be when speaking with them. Even though they are often very bright to have gotten there, the laws of physics simply limit how much attention they can put into any one thing when they have so many things that need their attention.

I gained a lot of experience speaking with leaders that manage teams of tens or hundreds in the past. Lately I’ve had to get even more crisp as I spend more time with folks managing orgs of tens of thousands of people, billions of dollars in revenue and hundreds of projects of scope.

I picked up a few tips along the way from some coworkers with management consulting experience as well as feedback I’ve gotten as I prepared for various presentations. A few that stand out:

  • The pyramid style deck – start with the conclusion, break it up into its important parts, and then provide details on the sub-areas of each of those. Best case your conclusion lands immediately and you don’t need to go deeper – worst case you’re prepared to go deeper.
  • Put things in their terms and their timelines. Rather than explaining the finer points of why we need the flux capacitor to get up to 1.21 gigawatts and what is stopping it, execs often just want to hear ‘the DeLorean is scheduled for Alpha testing on Sep 1. We could accelerate it to July 1, with and extra Y.’ The outcomes will then usually be either a pass to proceed as planned (with some minor feedback) or a request for a deep dive, perhaps with a delegate of the decision maker.
  • Don’t argue about the details live, take the feedback and loop back later. I’ve seen a few folks do this very well – they say ‘Yes, is an area worth looking into. We will work with X to come up with a plan and loop back.’ Often if the item isn’t important a quick update will suffice and not get responded to. If it actually is important, you’ll need to put more time in eventually anyways, so you might as well leave the meeting on a positive note and save the debate for when everyone has the facts and has had more time to think.
  • The one sentence email recommendation with link to document for a double-click deep dive. If they want to know even more than that, you will hear about it.
  • Catchy names or metaphors repeated often to help jog everyone’s memory. I have successfully introduced a few terms I stole from places as diverse as Batman and the NFL to help explain my complex area to a bunch of folks that don’t have much time to think about it. When a conversation starts heading towards one of those areas I mention the term and see everyone’s faces realize ‘oh, this is one of those things, I’m happy with the way we’re handling those because I did a deep dive on that recently,’ at which point the conversation usually goes much better.

7. People Transition Much Faster Than I Anticipated

I’m used to some amount of employee turnover. At the eight years I spent at my last company as it grew, many folks came and left during my tenure. For the most part I had a lot of stability though – the four or five people I worked closest with were all there for a very long time.

For some reason, I thought that at a larger company, transitions would happen at a slower pace. I had heard about many people that had spent 10+ years at places like Google and knowing the company was older and bigger I just sort of assumed people transition would be slower. What I realized is that in reality, there is some confirmation bias to that belief.

In the past year I’ve seen a lot of new people come and a lot of people switch teams. Sometimes that is more difficult to swallow than other times. The pace of change is a bit quicker than I anticipated nonetheless. The fact that the company is bigger means that internal mobility is easier and so a lot of folks take internal transfers with relatively short notice. One common reason for this is manager or project fit. At a startup with one project, getting a new manager while staying in the same role is often not possible, but switching companies is a big move. At Google, getting a new manager or project can take you far away from your current area while not impacting your commute or benefits at all, it seems like it practice that encourages movement.

Part of the high movement I’ve noticed might be particular to this year though. Right after I joined our business brought in a new CEO and as is expected, that CEO has a slightly different vision for the team structure and people needed to lead those teams. Over the year I’ve watched change trickle down from VP replacements, to director imports to manger shuffling to an acceleration of IC movement. Time will tell if this is normal or an outlier year.

8. Being on PST is Really Helpful

Being close to the center of gravity of a company has its advantages. Being separated from the center of gravity has its advantages as well. In many ways I feel like being in Seattle for a company whose center of gravity is in the Bay Area is the perfect distance.

I am on the same timezone, so I don’t feel the pressure to work odd hours that many folks in Europe and Asia experience. I am close enough that I can do a day trip to the Bay Area if I have some critical meetings where it is best to be in person. I am at a smaller campus though, with fewer VPS and SVPs, so I generally feel more at home and comfortable on a day to day basis.

I hadn’t realized quite how beneficial this was at a company of this size until this year, but I’ve found it very helpful.

How I’m Doing At the Goals I Set For Myself When I Joined

A year ago I wrote about why I decided to join Google and I set some goals for myself related to those reasons. Here I’ll look back on each of those to see if my predicted value was accurate and if I’ve been taking advantage of it.

1. The Google Halo

This is very real. Since joining Google I’ve noticed a sharp increase in the number of people who are interested in hearing about my job. I’ve also noticed an uptick in recruiter outreach.

My job isn’t dramatically more interesting than my last one and I’m not magically 100x better at what I do than I was a year ago. The uptick is because of the halo, which was predicted and desired.

Action Item: Learn to effectively take advantage of this halo.

I think I’m doing this fairly well. I’ve learned that often the most effective way to communicate where I work in social settings is to not do much of it. I haven’t been investing much effort at using the halo outside of the company, but one thing I’m doing a lot of is diving into the company culture so there is some substance behind the name on my resume and all that it is associated with.

2. The People

The people I would work with was one of the big reasons I joined Google. I’ve found that generally it has been true that the people I encounter are above average for their role and seniority compared to other companies I’ve worked at. Due to the scale and my ability to somewhat self-select how I spend my time, that means that I end up spending a lot of time working with a high caliber group of people.

Action Item: Make sure I’m meeting people.

I’ve done pretty well at this. In the last year I’ve worked with well over 100 people, ranging from fresh out of college engineers to our business’ CEO. Generally I’ve gotten along well with folks and the feedback I’ve gotten is that I’ve earned a lot of trust. I went out of my way to meet some people outside of my immediate working area through some side projects and hobby groups.

3. Believe In The Company Mission

This year has been rough for Google in the press. There have been a number of high profile stories related to moral issues that have been published. At the same time, governments from around the world continue to investigate the business practices of many large tech companies.

There remain projects in the company I am more supportive of than others, but in general, I think the company’s mission aligns with mine and the the closer you get to my project, the more aligned I am.

Action Item: Periodically evaluate if this remains true.

This is something I’ve gotten to evaluate a lot lately. Going forward I’m ok doing this a bit less often.

4. Flexibility To Change Projects Without Changing Anything Else

I’ve found this to be mostly true as I’ve now worked with a handful of people that have switched teams within the company, either to my team or away from it. I’ve learned that those moves are a little more disruptive than I had previously thought – but the remain much less disruptive than moving companies.

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.

I’ve done a good job gaining a general awareness of other teams around me and their working styles. More so than before I was in the company, I’m now aware of how to research a team, areas to avoid and the questions to ask to find out if a team will be a good fit for me.

5. Personal Financial Considerations

I’ve generally found that the company has delivered on my high expectations and then some, which has been very nice. Google stock is up 25% from when I joined, which is above average when compared to other companies I was considering. These were things I had predicted when considering the job, so it is nice they panned out this was.

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

I’ve taken advantage of many of the benefits, including some new ones that were recently launched. There are the obvious like health insurance, and the non-obvious like $200 I saved on an appliance purchase through the company discount program. My goal was to end up in the percentile of employees that are highly rewarded and to date that has been true – something that took a lot of hard work but that I’ve very proud of.

6. Seattle Campus Size

This campus has has proven to be a really great size. It is small enough that I see people I know but large enough that there are always new people to meet. There are plenty of great perks and events that I can take advantage of without needed to put in effort to get them going, but things are also small enough that I can impact them.

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

I’m living it up right now. I spend a good amount of time at the office, but I make sure to take some time to take advantage of the perks. I usually get to the gym 2-3 times a week for a workout or run, I play boardgames at lunch every week or so, I use the commuter bus daily, I check email from the 3D massage chair every afternoon, I write docs while walking on a treadmill desk and I eat a LOT of really good and healthy food.

I’m also proud of how I’ve been able to impact some local change. The biggest one being that I convinced the company to open up a new commuter bus stop near my house which is now well used.

This is a great size campus for my current state of life and I’m loving it.

7. Ability To Gain Knowledge About Specific Topics

My role has ended up offering me a ton of flexibility to focus my attention on areas where I have a lot to learn. This is something I was hoping for and it has proven true.

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.

These are all areas of been doing a lot of. I knew almost nothing about IaaS when I joined but I now have a solid foundational understanding. When it comes to out business, I’ve gotten a crash course. For some strange reason my area of ownership was directly in the center of attention of our new CEO – of his dozen or so focus areas for the year, 10 of them involved my team. That means I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time in meetings hearing about the top priorities and driving impact on the parts of it I own. I was not expecting to get so deeply involved this quickly, which has been a pleasant (though tiring) surprise.

The one thing I haven’t done much of is take time to learn about topics outside of my primary role. This is mostly because my role has so much breadth to it already and it has been growing as fast as I will allow it to. What I want to avoid is getting stagnant in my role. To date I don’t feel a week has gone by where I didn’t have to do a lot of learning in order to get my work done, so I feel I’m at a really good spot and don’t necessarily need to branch out too much quite yet.

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.

What Is Outside?

In 2017 I set a goal to spend 7 hour a week outside with at least one other member of my family. As I’ve tracked this throughout the year, most things have been pretty straightforward, but on many occasions I’ve run into a situations of ambiguity.

Am I Inside or Outside Right Now?

For example:

Reading in our living room? Easy. Inside.

Throwing rocks into the water at the beach? Again, easy. Outside.

Sleeping in a tent in a National Park? We’re sort of ‘in the great outdoors’ but we are inside of the tent. Does that thin sheet of nylon make us inside?

Sitting on the porch eating? What if the porch is covered? What if it is also screened in?

At what point do we cross over from inside to outside?

Is being deep in the woods more outside than sitting on top of a 100 square foot patch of grass in front of our house? Is a rooftop in the city as outside as a dock on the lake?

Is being in a natural cave inside or outside? Surely it was the first sort of inside that humans lived in, but being in a cave seems pretty outside-like these days.

What we’re presented with is the idea that outside is less of a binary and more of a spectrum. I’ve come up with a rough litmus test to help me define the outside-ness of an environment.

Outside-Ness Litmus Test:

  1. Can a bug, flying in the wild, come land on me?
  2. If it rains, will I get wet?
  3. If a breeze picks up, will I feel it?
  4. During the day, is natural light the primary source?
  5. Is it difficult or impossible to control the temperature?
  6. Is the area around me a biome that supports non-human but larger-than-microscopic life?
  7. Is my view of things that are primarily untampered by humans?

As the number of those statements that are true increases, so does the outside-ness of a place.

Example Tests

Thinking back to my examples from earlier in the post.

Reading in the living room – F, F, F, F, F, F, F = 0/7 = Absolutely inside

Throwing rocks into the water at the beach – T, T, T, T, T, T, T = 7/7 = Absolutely Outside

Sleeping in a tent in a National Park – F, F, F, T, T, T, T = 4/7 = Somewhat Outside

Sitting on the porch eating – T, T, T, T, T, F, F = 5/7 = Outside

What if the porch is covered – T, F, T, T, T, F, F = 4/7 = Somewhat Outside

What if it is also screened in – F, F, T, T, T, F, F = 3/7 = Somewhat Inside

Is being deep in the woods more outside than sitting on top of a 100 square foot patch of grass in front of our house? 7/7 vs 5/7. So, yes, it is more outside.

Is a rooftop in the city as outsides as a dock on the lake? 5/7 vs 7/7. So, no, it isn’t.

Is being in a natural cave inside or outside – 4-6/7 (depends how deep the cave is). So, it is outside.

How Can We Use This Litmus Test?

Aside from measuring the outside-ness of the place we are, this litmus test can also be used to help us design our inside spaces feel more outside.

I personally feel more at ease when I am outside and so increasing the outside-ness of the spaces I most often occupy would likely contribute positively to my mental well being. This makes a lot of sense, our species has spent most of its existence outside and is better adapted for that. We can’t expect to be fully comfortable in a space that our bodies are not optimized for.

Probably because of that, the idea of space that blends inside and outside has fascinated me when I’ve encountered it.

Visiting the famous Frank Lloyd Wright designed Falling Water, I was fascinated with how there was a stairway from the living room leading down to a river. At the top of those stairs, with the glass closed, the outside-ness starts at 2/7 and as you open the glass, and walk down the stairs, your outside-ness increases to 6/7.

I will periodically stumble across other images of houses that blend inside and outside, like this one, a house with a tree growing in the middle of it. It would seem that just a step, not even through a doorway or barrier, could put you from 2/7 to 6/7.

I’ve seen other houses with interior courtyards, retractable roofs, sliding walls or no walls at all. In places where the weather creates a habitable temperature, rainfall is light and bugs are rare, it might be possible to design a living space that doesn’t have very much inside at all.

Would we be happier if more of our living spaces were a bit higher on the outside-ness scale? What would the downsides and challenges be? How could we minimize them? Would they be worth the benefits produced?