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moof's prattling


November 21st, 2010

Why I left google. @ 05:59 pm

Current Location: Toulouse, France
Current Mood: contemplative contemplative

I left google for two reasons: the job itself and London.

It turns out that London just doesn't seem to be for me; part of this can be directly attributed to living in Tokyo immediately before, and knowing what I was missing. To wit: a (reasonably) cheap, efficient, and timely public transit system; rent about half the cost of London's; food worth eating; general hoofability around town; weather that consists of something other than "cold, grey, and dreary"; and a general sense of 'knowing how stuff worked'. That mental health support still seems to be back in the 1950s was a strong contributing factor as well. The overall culture and aesthetics just didn't gel with me, either. Nice place to visit if you're going museum or musical hunting, loaded with money, or you have lots of friends who're inculcated in London's jealously-guarded secrets, I suppose. But day-to-day life? Bleaaah. These are all contributing factors, however; it's really the job itself that drove me insane.

There's a very good reason that I don't work in the banking industry or do ueber-contracting gigs: I'm just not motivated enough by the lure of cash, and I care far more about enjoying what I do. My boss (an American!) was in the banking industry for twenty years, and had thus inculcated very strong notions of The Way To Do Things. These, alas, are directly opposed to the way in which I'm comfortable at doing things. I'm told he'd gotten significantly better by the time I was hired in, but it was still pretty awful for me. My coworkers, on the other hand, were (with very, very few exceptions) lovely to associate and work with; they're the main reason I'd even entertain the notion of working again for Google some day.

The environment in the London office seemed custom-built to be as bad as possible for me. The chairs didn't fit my stupidly-long torso (even after they ordered a custom seat back, it still didn't suffice). The main office section consisted of parallel rows of desks, with the monitors providing the only visual barriers; I could see every movement of the people to the sides and front of me, which was more than a little distracting. You could also hear pretty much everyone in the office, as well. (I think this indirectly led to our team not talking in person much.) The food in the cafeteria was free, which was nice, but still pretty highly mediocre. The vegetarian dishes weren't bad, though. I somehow managed to gain a whole bunch of weight.

The work itself was very different than I had expected and had somewhat been led to believe. No real systems programming, because that's just not how Google does stuff; things occur in the magic cloud, which is run by all google-specific software and languages and whatnot, all of which requiring their own hard-earned knowledge for which can take (literally) years to get approval into checking in to the source repositories. The job primarily consisted of babysitting Java code (note: I did not, nor do I now, know Java; this was made clear before I joined), or the google-bespoke infrastructure where the interface was mostly GUI and unintuitive. There was also a fair bit of python at work. I didn't know python before going in, and can't now say it's one of my favorite languages; to the contrary, I find it really, really annoying and designed by people who worship "elegance" at the expense of "consistent and straightforward design" or "getting stuff done".

A brief tangent: After talking with my sister about my vast troubles at work, it turns out that both she and I are somewhat dyslexic. This manifests in several different ways; we both have immense trouble not transposing numbers when writing them down, telling whether rows and columns are aligned or not is very difficult, and a tendency to misread words. Python is about the worst possible language for dyslexics, due to its use of whitespace as semantically-meaningful code-delimiting. In a more abstract fashion, google's cloud-control webpages were very, very difficult for me to mentally process; some things were clickable, some things were not; some bits led to subpages, some did not; some methods of interaction gave data that were usable in other bits of the access methods, some were completely inorthogonal and gave data that only worked in its little bit of the universe. And, naturally, it was all undocumented AFAICT. tl;dr: Google's infrastructure is very dyslexic-unfriendly.

My group's overall 'style' just did not fit with me. My purported mentor seemed to think I'd know all the proper questions to ask, and when to ask them. My boss later complained that I'd "Go off into the weeds" too often with my own exploration of the infrastructure. My group handled about 20 different applications, each of which required its own set of arcane knowledge and interactions with a gajillion bits of other google infrastructure, allowing me to not be able to hunker down and concentrate on any given thing. I thought there were immense amounts of stress in the air, and that people were really not terribly happy with their jobs; of the seven people who were there before me, one quit, two transferred, one is in the process of trying to transfer, and one is clearly unhappy with his job and manager. Only two people seemed to be happy and comfortable with what they were doing. This does not speak well of the espirit de corps.

And finally, my own personal situation: I was severely unhappy with what I was doing. My manager didn't seem to give a shit about me. I was so burnt out by work that I didn't have any energy to go out and do anything on weeknights or weekends. I became very, very depressed (to the point of suicidal ideation) with my own inabilities to pick up the job properly. To top things off, I had nowhere to go. Google's jobs are divvied up by location; you can't work on any random project, only on the things that exist within your local office. The only other local position I could have had was also managed by my group's manager, and so that was also right out. Google also typically requires a year's worth of work at a position before they'll let you transfer; occasionally, they'll let you move after only six months... but who in their right mind would accept an underperforming newbie who was told by his manager that I was dragging the spirits of the team down?

I kind of get the impression that Google is akin to the videogames industry in some ways, in which they'll take all the best-and-brightest eager young things they can get, work them mercilessly, and then sort of shrug when they get burnt out and quit. (Google also paid me a significant amount less than my prior jobs, not even taking the cost of living of London into account. Some people claim that the stock options and the benefits compensate for that; I, who've had stock options and ESPPs work to my favor precisely once, am skeptical.) Google also does not allow you to initially pick what group you'll work in or who you'll work with; the company line, AFAICT, is that after a year you've proven yourself and can choose for yourself.

All in all, the whole experience has reinforced the notion that with my extra-special-unique-snowflake attributes (depression, ADD, Asperger's, dyslexia, other stuff) and particular skill sets, I need to very carefully choose the sorts of jobs I like, will do well in, and fit in with. I don't believe Google is the sort of place where I could do that.
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Date:November 21st, 2010 06:53 pm (UTC)
Man. I am really sorry.

Your manager is supposed to care about your career; in fact, that's, AFAICT, one of only two jobs a manager has at Google. Your mentor is supposed to be useful, but mine wasn't, despite being a great guy.

If you decide to consider Google again, I recommend the New York, Kirkland, or Mountain View offices, those being the three largest offices in the company and thus having the largest selection of projects. In fact I recommend Kirkland because I'm there and because we have a mutual friend whom I believe would be made very happy by you moving to this area. Also, in Kirkland at least, the office is... how shall I say this delicately... older, and there seems to be very little of the "work absurd hours" mentality. In nearly four years there, I've worked exactly two weekend days.

I've been there coming up on four years now and I only now feel like I'm figuring out how to diagnose failures on Borg jobs.

And I'm surprised and disappointed about the pay. We're *supposed* to be paying at (well, prior to next year) the 75th percentile market rate.

But, I'm actually considering moving on myself in the next year. My favorite PM just left Google to be a VP at AOL and it's making me wonder if I'm really at the sweet spot for risk/reward tradeoff. Although right now my risk tolerance is damn low. but you should move to the Seattle region anyway . Yeah, the weather sucks like London's but we have awesome food and a lot of good tech jobs.
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Date:November 21st, 2010 07:54 pm (UTC)
My manager, while socially a nice guy personally, did not realize the sentiment of his team, and was kind of a dick in his manager position. (His final words to me when I gave him my resignation letter: "Thank you for being forthright and making the decision on your own.")

I quite enjoyed the Kirkland office when I was there. The environment was much, much nicer (and compared to London, the weather was fabulous.)

It wasn't the Borg job diagnosis per se as the ancillary stuff: figuring out where all the logs were, how that fed into borgmon, htf the borgmon code worked, ad nauseum. (The fact that the borg config language was kinda-python kinda-not didn't help one jot. Google loves its custom languages way, way too much.)

I think that one of the primary things google needs to adjust to is that it's not "the" cool company to work for any more, so it can't get away with implicitly inducing one to overwork; similarly, snazzy Xmas gifts only go so far. When I talked to one super-old-timer, he attributed a lot of the culture going downhill to the 10% time thing being eroded away (and as a partial result, inter-team cooperation becoming less common.)
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Date:November 21st, 2010 11:05 pm (UTC)
A lot of it was definitely due to the London-specific circumstances; I have no doubt that if I'd been elsewhere, doing any other job for Google, things would have been better. Even had I been in Kirkland and doing effectively the same job, things would have been tons easier - but regardless, that particular job still wouldn't have been my cup of tea.

I was surprised overall at the salaries in London; compared to the Bay Area, they're really pretty low.

One big thing that this episode in my life has shown me is just how much of my self-worth is tied up in the work I do. Blah.

For what it's worth, you're one of the few people who helped me eke out the remains of my sanity in London; I very much appreciate that.
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Date:November 22nd, 2010 12:04 am (UTC)
This entry is a really interesting read. You're very perceptive (even if it's hindsight) about the dynamics involved. I'm a slightly less-special snowflake, but I am having a lot of angst lately over figuring out where I should be and what I should be doing because I'm clearly not happy where I am. I wish I could see this clearly in my own career about what does and doesn't work for me... at the moment all I can muster is pointing a finger and saying "bad boss!"

Proud is the wrong word since I had no part in it, but I'm proud of you for making a hard decision. The right one.
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Date:November 22nd, 2010 08:30 pm (UTC)
I'm far better at 'What do I _not_ want to be when I grow up?' than the positive form. I have an amazingly difficult time figuring out what motivates me.
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Date:November 22nd, 2010 01:55 am (UTC)
Big hugs to you and hope to see more of your BUTTOCKS soon.

moof's prattling