Reflecting On Two Years At Google
I recently finished my second 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 Two Years at Google
1.By Year Two, You’re A Veteran
It seems a bit crazy, but in only two years, I’ve now been at the company longer than most of the folks I interact with. I’m the expert in my domain. It seems like just yesterday I was starting out, looking at a list of names my manager sent me and scheduling meetings with these folks to basically say ‘hi, I’m new and I think we will work together’. Now on a weekly basis new folks join and I’m on their list of names.
2. Credibility Is Earned Much In the Same Way Everywhere
I’ve spent my whole career at startups of 1-200 people. I knew a decent bit about earning credibility there, where you can develop individual relationships. I expected things would change at a big company, but I’ve found it is very similar. You only make promises you can actually deliver on. You work as hard as you can. You take notes and don’t miss obvious details. You take time to connect on a personal level – exposing some of yourself and being interested in the other person. You consistently deliver things that benefit your customers, your teammates, your company and only then, yourself. When you do these things you earn trust.
3. I Love Bagels and Lox
Every Friday our cafeteria would have this for breakfast and it was my favorite day of the week. It has been six months since I’ve been to the office, but I’m looking forward to the return.
4. I Could Be At Google For My Whole Career – or 2 More Years…
I think it is pretty common to ask oneself what the future holds. How long will I be working at this company? Will I ever make it to Director? VP? CEO? People ask me if I see myself at Google for a long time and my answer is a bit polarized.
In one sense, this is a very special company and I think it fits my personality really well. I regret I didn’t try harder to work at Google much earlier. I could see myself spending my whole career here if the parts of the culture I love (hard work, data driven, meritocracy, sense of humor, user focus, disregard for the impossible, etc.) are maintained.
There is probably a cap to my career progression – my manager jokes about the inevitable future where I am CEO, but realistically VP is probably my cap unless the company goes through a stagnant period and I was somehow selected to revitalize it over an outside candidate. This is all very unlikely though – even if I stay for a long time, I will probably find I can’t exceed VP while maintaining the work life balance I enjoy, perhaps not even Director.
On the other side of it, I could see myself gone in two years. If the company changes significantly, there will be a point where it is no longer a good fit for me. I am a change agent – I thrive in areas where there is more to gain than to lose. If we start operating too conservatively, I’ll need to go to a startup or a big company that isn’t afraid of risk. If our moral compass is lost and we start operating unethically or being dishonest with employees, customers, users or stakeholders, I would have a hard time feeling aligned with the mission.
Similarly, if the people changed significantly, that might cause me to look elsewhere for my next projects. I selected the team I’m on because of a handful of people I felt I could learn a lot from. Most of them are still here and working with me. If that were to change and I couldn’t find a similarly excellent group on a project that interested me, I would consider other companies.
So in some sense, I have no control over how long I’ll be working at Google. It is up to the company leadership, other employees, etc. I guess we’ll have to see how many more of these blog posts I end up writing.
Are The Reasons I Joined Google Still Good Reasons To Be Here?
Two years ago I wrote about why I decided to join Google and I challenged myself to make sure I fully utilized those benefits. 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
Last year I moved into Google’s new Seattle campus as one of the first batches of residents. I made a LinkedIn post with a few pictures and it went viral. I had hundreds of requests for contact and DMs and the post got thousands of views. Google remains one of the most loved brands in America (and probably the world too) and thus the halo is still very real.
I sometimes wonder if I really get to wear the halo. This is something a lot of us at Google wonder about. Are we really the Googlers we heard about before we got here or did we get lucky and sneak in because of some accident. I am starting to wonder about that less though. I am starting to feel like I’ve really earned my badge here. I’ve done a few big things now; I’ve helped transform the area I work in, I was a critical part of billions of dollars of new business and I recently received a promotion in recognition of that work – something that doesn’t come easy at Google. One of the only things harder than getting a job at Google is getting a promotion at Google and getting one in under two years is even more rare. I’ve also had a lot of fun and tried to carry on the culture I love – I was a part of the new campus launch, I’ve promoted green forms of commuting, I gave a speech on gender inclusive language, I dressed up in a suit of $100 bills for a meeting with the CEO of my business, I set an all-time record for most steps in a day during the annual walking contest and I’m pretty highly ranked on the company meme website.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how my halo extends beyond me to others. My wife is a Googler wife now and walks around with a branded thermos and sweatshirts she steals from me. She gets to tell stories to her friends about my crazy office with a jellyfish tank. My mom is a Googler mom, the IT expert of her friends. Heck, she even got to ask our CEO, Sundar a question at last year’s ‘take your parents to work day’, which is something not even I have gotten to do. I love that they get to be a part of this experience too. I work really hard and they both work (and have worked) hard to support me, so it is nice they get to enjoy some of the perks.
Action Item: Continue to find ways to effectively take advantage of this halo.
What I’ve continued to learn is that it doesn’t take much to take advantage of the halo but that halo carries a lot of weight. Now that I’m two years in, I feel like I’ve done an official tour of duty here. I’m in no way a longtime Googler like some of the folks I work with who have been here 10, 15 or 20 years, but even if tomorrow was my last day, Google will always be a part of my resume (and my wardrobe now). I now get to make Google part of my story, even if the story were to end soon (which I have no reason to believe it will as of this writing) and I want to make sure I do that in a thoughtful way.
2. The People
I’ve continued to steer myself towards spending time with people I have a lot to learn from. We’ve hired a lot of great folks over the past year that bring with them experience from the industry. Since I’ve been at Google a bit longer, I’ve taken to trading my domain knowledge for their industry knowledge by working together on big initiatives. I’ve been able to learn a lot that way and form some work friendships that I hope will last a long time.
It is always great when you get to work with a team of people you’d like to work with again. I have no shortage of people I interact with weekly now that fit that bill. My manager and their manager are the type of folks I’d follow to a new team with zero information about what we were doing – I trust, respect, learn from and enjoy them that much. As a product manager I live and die by my relationship with my engineer counterparts – I’m fortunate to get to work with 50+ engineers of which I’ve gelled really well with about 5 or so. I can’t express how important that is and how grateful I am for it. Sure, that can happen anywhere, but I think the high caliber of engineers at Google makes that more likely to happen.
The one thing I haven’t done a ton of is meet folks outside of my work projects. I have a few friends I’ve made from running or boardgames, but 99% of my time at work is spent working with my immediate team. I can improve by doing some more cross-org and cross-company networking.
Action Item: Make sure I’m meeting people that don’t work on my team
3. Believe In The Company Mission
Google continues to invest in the world and the cloud sector in ways that make me proud. This has been a really interesting year for the tech sector. There have been a lot of good things and a lot of things that demanded reflection. At this point, I remain most inspired by the overall mission of Google, compared to its peers – though many specific teams at other companies have missions I find very compelling.
Action Item: Periodically evaluate if this remains true.
4. Flexibility To Change Projects Without Changing Anything Else
Two years is about how long I last in a role before needing a bit of scope change. My work style involves grabbing a big messy problem, diving in and getting dirty, organizing it and then finding a way to hand it off to a team that can scale it. We’re getting to that point now with the project I first took on at Google and as such I’m considering changes to my scope.
I also just got a promotion for the work I’ve been doing for the last two years. Google promotions are a bit strange in that you don’t get promoted to a new job, you get promoted in recognition of the way you’ve grown the job you already had. That means that after is a promotion is the time to think about changing teams, projects or areas of focus.
Knowing that I had a decent chance to get promoted, I started exploring things this summer to see what else was available. The flexibility that attracted me to a larger company was certainly there. There were a number of teams I could change to that had nothing to do with my current role but that would allow me to keep working for the same company, from the same office (whenever we return) and at the same salary.
There is a ton of greenspace immediately next to my project area if I want to make a smaller move but still be within the same general team.
In the end I decided to expand my current role and double down on the parts I find most exciting. I’ve been able to do a lot here and am using this as a chance to shed some of the parts where my learning curve has flattened so I can spend more time on newer areas. Part of getting a promotion is I’m now expected to do even more, and I don’t intend to do that by working more hours. I want to achieve that by finding new ways to increase my leverage, working through others more and using my experience to drive change in a broader area.
This sort of thing is possible anywhere, but I find it is particularly necessary in businesses that are growing quickly. I’ve been at stagnant companies, and there simply isn’t as much pressure to constantly increase leverage. Startups get to do a ton of this, because they are often growing at huge growth rates, but usually from a very small base. Google Cloud has been amazing for this because we are growing incredibly quickly but are also large enough that the base is significant. How many other business are doing $10B+ a year and still growing >50% YoY?
Another note on that point. I’ve found that some magic happens when an employee grows about as fast as the company does. If the company grows much faster than the employee, management must bring in outside hires to continue to scale. If the employee grows faster than the company, they often get stuck, unless they have a champion on the inside that opens up a fast track for them. If the paces are similar though, the employee gets to keep levering up as the company hits new scales and you get this amazing combination of continual growth plus deep context. I don’t know what the perfect rate of growth for me is, but it feels like the ~50% YoY of Google Cloud has been pretty good so far.
Action Item: Find new ways to expand my network outside of my current domain to provide some additional future flexibility. Continue to monitor my pace of growth and try to stay in that sweet spot where the magic happens.
5. Personal Financial Considerations
Google stock is up 50% from when I joined, which is great. On the flipside, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft are all up nearly 100% in the same time, so I might have been better off financially had I gone to one of those companies. That said, I have also benefitted from; yearly stock refreshes, raises, spot bonuses, peer bonuses and a promotion. When I joined the company, this was the highest paying job I had ever had. My total compensation has nearly doubled since then. I took a bet that working for Google would pay off and so far that has proven true.
Specifically I said I wanted to be a part of the top performers that were heavily rewarded. I believe I have been able to do that. I got a promotion in under two years, which is really rare. Getting a job at Google is really hard. Getting a promotion is even harder. Doing so this fast took quite a bit of work (to be fair, I was a bit underleveled on entry) but thankfully I had a lot of support.
One of my favorite parts is peer bonuses. If you haven’t heard of these, any Googler can give any other Googler $100 of the company’s money to say thank you for going above and beyond. There are some limits and restrictions to it, so it isn’t abused. My wife and I established a rule that when I get one, we divide up the money and get to put it in our personal ‘no questions asked’ budget. I’ve gotten a handful and spent them on fun things like LEGO sets, adventure gear, etc. I try to be responsible with the rest of our income, so it is nice to have a little bit of fun money I just get to enjoy.
Action Items: Stay in the high performing bucket and keep a pulse on how the market values my skillset
6. Seattle Campus Size
Six months into COVID-19’s work from home, the campus size feels a bit moot. I haven’t been to the office since February or March.
That said, before then, I moved into a new campus which I really enjoyed. I would spend an hour in the zero-gravity massage chair every day, take a class in the gym two days a week, eat 10-12 meals a week there and go for runs along the lake. I even got the company to open up a new bus stop just a few blocks from my house.
I’ve visited some other smaller Google offices and they just aren’t the same. There are certain economies of scale that come with an office of a few thousand and certain benefits to not being at one of the huge campuses. (Although after swimming a few laps in the outdoor pool in Sunnyvale, I kind of like the idea of working there…)
Who knows when we’ll go back to the office, but I really do enjoy going into the office, and so given the choice, I will and will be glad to have a nice office like Seattle nearby.
Action Item: None for now
7. Ability To Gain Knowledge About Specific Topics
I’ve spent a lot of time this year learning about three very specific things; Google’s cloud infrastructure products, how to de-risk very large platform changes and how enterprise customers make very large $xxxM purchases. These lessons have come under fire, but they are very valuable and I’ve been glad to have the chance to put them into practice.
I wrote last year that not a week had gone by where I didn’t have to learn a ton in order to survive. I think I crossed over that threshold this year. I’ve had some busy weeks where I was just fighting fires but nothing was really new. That usually tells me it is time to change something about the role. Thankfully I will be doing that soon, so hopefully the next year will return to a place of rapid knowledge acquisition.
Keep putting myself in a situation where the only way to survive is to learn at an incredibly fast pace.