I saw a couple of former Google coworkers over the weekend and I thought it might be interesting to talk a little about what it means to be/have been a Google employee. I forget if I’ve ever outrightly disclosed this but I was a Google employee earlier in the company’s history and left to go back to school. It is a highly sought after company, usually ranking as the top company new grads and MBAs want to work at, and I would admit, yeah, it’s actually a great place to work. But it comes with its share of challenges. I’m going to try to give a fair account from my perspective of what it means to have been a Googler.
My two friends are currently still employed at Google and one was bemoaning some of the things she had recently experienced. Take away Google from the scenario and her issues were things that befall most people in their workplaces: dissatisfaction related to promotions, unpleasant coworker behavior, bad manager, etc. But at the end of her spiel, she said the same thing that most of us Googlers/Xooglers have said to ourselves and to others when in the heat of complaint: “… But it’s GOOGLE. I should feel lucky to work here, with these smart people, with the great opportunity. I feel like I’m complaining from an elevated position, one that so many people would kill to be in.”
I don’t think it’s surprising that there is a strong, very potent golden handcuffs associated with working at Google. In my own journey, I left when I was accepted to bschool, though around that time I was also wondering what my next thing would be if I wasn’t accepted. I chose to go to bschool for a few reasons, but I can acknowledge that part of why I chose that option was because it was an “acceptable” choice. If you told people “I left Google to go to business school,” you didn’t get too much pushback. It was a logical decision. One with a clear value proposition, as it were. But I know that had I not taken that particular road, there would have been a lot of pressure to find another “acceptable” choice.
To my friend’s attempt to self assuage, I said to her that though Google is a great place to be, it is human nature to want certain things in your career, especially if you are the kind of type-A, overachieving person that passes the rigors to attaining Google employment. You want to know that your work matters. You want to be respected by those you work with and under. You want to know that there is something resembling meritocracy or fairness or equality in the situation. And if those things are lacking, then no amount of free lattes or gourmet sushi is going to make you feel better about it all.
I retain a lot of friends from my time at Google (more about that in a bit) and I get updates here and there about who is still there, who has flown the coop, etc. And it varies obviously according to unique situations. However, for a subset of people still working at the company, some in the same roles as years ago, some having not received a promotion since that time as well, this golden handcuffs seems the reason behind it all. There is the sense that they won’t find anything better outside of Google. Perhaps they are risk averse as individuals and the idea of leaving such a cushy, safe space is overwhelming. I personally think it’s fine if you aren’t a fan of change to remain in this happy, safe space. If you’ve mastered work-life balance and it’s all good to you, then I say: props! But for those who stay and who complain about lack of personal/professional growth– that’s a little hard to stomach. Because nobody really wants to listen to a person moan and complain about a situation that is fully within their control.
For those of us that have left, most of us look back really fondly on our time at Google. Admittedly, the Google that we shared isn’t necessarily the Google of today. That is a point that perhaps drove many of us to move on to something new. It was a fun, zany, crazy time where things were happening quickly and you had to adapt to the changes. It’s different now. Not in a bad way but it’s just different.
Beyond the crazy parties, the free food, the team offsites (I once did the flying trapeze courtesy of Google!), most of us will say that the thing we remember the most and the thing that we sometimes miss in the workplaces to which we moved on is the really smart and wonderful people. I will be very honest and admit that after leaving Google, I have on many occasion looked around at coworkers in my new places of employment and thought, “This is not Google.” I know that a lot has been reported about the rigor of Google’s recruiting processes and while I am personally a little dubious about some of the hoops that people must jump through (like having to report your SAT score– I mean, really???), I would say– and I think many Xooglers would agree with me– that Google did something right. Many of the people were truly exceptional.
Now that I’m a “Google Alumni,” AKA a Xoogler, and also searching for a new job, I am forced to explain what being at Google means to each potential employer. To be honest, and if anybody is wondering, having Google on your resume as a previous employer = AWESOME. I’ve read different people’s opinions on starting out your career at a big company vs. a startup (I have opinions on this– give me a few posts and I’ll tackle it). But I absolutely think having a sexy, impressive, big name company on your resume will do wonders for your ability to, at the very least, get your foot in the door at potential employers. Like going to a good school or having someone in your network refer you in, it’s a beacon of some level of quality. So I very much value this perk of being an alum.
While I think some people are impressed with me having Google on the resume, I will admit that it also becomes a point of contention in some interviews. A few years ago, a Googler wrote a blog post that explained why she left Google. It was pretty popular (you can read it here). I had forgotten about the content of this post so the explanation that follows may sound redundant as it is similar to what the blogger had described. She described Google as a college boyfriend, saying: He was brilliant, good looking, respected, and everyone loved him — I even loved him — but he wasn’t the one. The author of this piece had different reasons than me for leaving Google (she wanted to live a life that was more authentic to her personal goals rather than ride the money train that is Google). But I would describe Google in similar terms: it’s the hot, ex-boyfriend that everyone wants to be with. I’ve gotten in interviews, incredulously: How could you possibly leave? Would you go back? Why would you want me when you had Google in the past? How can this company possibly measure up? I’ve also directly gotten the caveat: you know, we’re not Google… as if I’m some kind of high class snob with hard-to-satisfy tastes. So it can be a challenge when you have to reassure a hiring manager (like a girlfriend reassuring her short, nerdy new boyfriend): no no, I want to be here. I want to be with you.
Finally, I think everyone takes away something different from having worked at Google. For my professional purposes, I am always big on highlighting my ability to understand and execute on scale, my flexibility while trying to firm up process and just generally trying to be a team player as things that I gained from my Google experience. Google wasn’t my everything– it grew to be a place where I felt unable to grow after some time and I knew that I needed to seek out something new. But for what it was, I very much value and appreciate.