So, a couple of life updates:
- I quit my job Google (again)
- Tomorrow (Monday, March 18) is my first day at a startup called Glitch!
It’s now been a month and a half since I accepted my offer at Glitch. In that time, I’ve had probably ~20 one-on-one conversations with various people to announce and explain my transition.
The question most people want to know is: Why?
The answer: It’s complicated!
It takes a lot of words to explain in a way that feels honest and accurate. It feels a little presumptuous to even write it out, as if my career journey is so interesting. But I also think that career journeys are worth sharing.
As I prepare to make my new job announcement to the Greater Internet (like twitter and facebook and all that), I wanted to write a little something to document my thinking behind this latest career decision, in case it’s helpful to anyone else, including Future Me. (And Current Me, for that matter!)
I think this story has two parts, so I’m going to split this into two posts:
So with that, here is Part 1: How and why I quit Google, again.
Context: My career so far
In order to understand my latest career move, it’s helpful to get some context on my career so far.
Here’s a little timeline:
- Got my BS and MS in Computer Science at University of Washington.
- After graduation, I worked at Google for 6 years: 4.5 years in Seattle, 1.5 years in NYC
- Then I quit Google and moved to California to teach full-time as a lecturer at Stanford for 1 year.
- In Summer 2017, after finishing my first year of teaching at Stanford, I spent my summer at Recurse Center in NYC. Through my experience at Recurse, I remembered that a) I love programming and b) I love NYC. In other words, I realized that I wanted to be an engineer in NYC again.
- Therefore I quit Stanford and moved back to NYC to rejoin Google.
- Now about 1.5 years later, I’m quitting Google a second time to join a ~40 person startup called Glitch!
In summary, my entire career post-graduation is comprised of about 7.5 years at Google, plus 1 year of teaching at Stanford.
(Q: Wait, you taught for a bit at Stanford? A: Yep!)
(Q: How?! Why?! What was that like?! Why did you quit?! A: These are great questions, but that’s an even more complicated story that I will share another day!)
(Q: Also, Recurse Center! How did you like Recurse Center?! A: Love Recurse Center. Strongly recommend it. Will write on this another day, too!)
OK, with that out of the way!
I was planning to quit Google, again, eventually
When I rejoined Google the second time, it was not like I had decided, “OK great, after 1 year working at not-Google, I’ve decided that Google is the only place I want to work, and I will now work at Google forever.”
Rather, in Summer 2017, I realized I needed to quit my job at Stanford and move back to NYC.
Originally, I was planning to do a full job search: I wanted to try to find a tech company that was a better overall fit for me than Google. Instead of working at a massive company to make a small impact on a billion people, I wanted to work at a small company to make a bigger impact on a smaller number of people.
But, I decided not to.
I got some wise advice from friends to “just” go back to Google. Though it’s not perfect, I like Google a lot, and it’s a company I know well. After such a disruptive life change (moving to California! trying an entirely different career path!), it seemed like a good idea to instead focus on regaining stability in my next move.
Plus, if I rejoined Google, I didn’t have to interview again, Google would pay for my moving expenses, etc. etc. It was the logistically simplest path to getting back to the macro-level place I wanted to be.
(Q: Wait, you didn’t have to interview at Google again? What was that process like? A: Another great question that I will explain another day!)
To recap, I was making the following trade-off when going back to Google:
- Pros: I like Google a lot! I know the company well! I know I can be productive and successful! I have a lot of friends and mentors! I can still learn a lot at Google! They pay incredibly well! Stability!!!!!
- Cons: I quit Google the first time around for real reasons, and those reasons have not gone away. I know I will almost certainly want to quit this company again, and possibly very soon.
I decided the trade-off was worth it. I knew I probably wanted to work at a different company, but life-wise, the timing wasn’t right to take on that challenge. Until then, working for my old, familiar, comfortable company seemed like the best decision.
Google take 2, Team 1: Daydream
So I quit Stanford, and I rejoined Google on the Daydream (VR) team.
I specifically joined Daydream instead of my old Maps team because I wanted something relatively noncommittal.
I wasn’t sure how long I wanted to be at Google again, so I wanted to join a team that was fun, where I wouldn’t have too much responsibility, but I would still learn something new.
This came with a pretty major downside, and a downside I fully acknowledged and accepted when I had chosen the team: VR was an area where I knew it’d be really difficult to get promoted.
That’s because for my level, the “impact” story would be hard to justify, inherently, due to the nature of VR at Google. Daydream is not important enough to Google for most work in the space to be considered “impactful” to the company. The usage numbers aren’t here, by a long shot.
(Q: What do you mean by “impact,” and why does that matter for promotion? A: Another good question for yet another day!)
These were the trade-offs I was making by joining Daydream:
- Pros: Fun and creative! I’d learn about VR! Easy 9-to-5 coding job!
- Cons: No career advancement at Google! But that’s OK because I’m not sure how long I want to be at Google anyway!
That was the plan, anyway.
What actually happened: I ended up working really, really hard in Daydream.
As soon as I joined, I joined the Tour Creator team, where we were trying to launch at Google I/O. I was responsible for the 3D/VR renderer for Tours, on desktop and mobile. It was really awesome but it was hard. We did it, but omg. Lots of late nights and company politics and lots and lots of stress.
I am so proud of what we accomplished with Tour Creator. But post-launch, the trade-offs no longer made sense: I had learned a lot, and technology-wise it was fun to work in VR, but I was under a ton of stress, working long hours, and for what? I don’t really care about VR that much, so it wasn’t personally important to me to become an “expert” beyond what I had already learned through the Tour Creator launch. And then professionally, I was in an area of Google where no matter how hard I worked or what I accomplished, I would never get promoted.
By the time Tour Creator launched, I had been at back Google again for about 8 months.
I had to make a decision:
- Should I plan to quit Google at the one year mark, and start to do that job search for a “better fit” that I’ve been meaning to do originally?
- Or should I change teams?
- If I change teams, should I work for another non-committal, “fun” team where I probably wouldn’t get promoted?
- Or should I choose a “real” team where I’d work toward a Staff promotion, knowing it’d probably take at least ~1.5-2 years to get there, if not longer?
I decided to go with the last option. I felt like, OK, I’m ready to try going back to Google for real, and I’ll commit to staying here another 1-2 years. I’ll work on classic Google projects and see if I can get promoted. Getting promoted is a worthy thing to do! (It’s diversity work, even!)
Google take 2, Team 2: Geo Assistant
I switched from Daydream to the Geo Assistant team in June 2018.
(Rough definition of Geo Assistant: All Assistant features related to Maps; questions and answers on Google.com related to Maps.)
My time on Geo Assistant went something like this:
- People-wise, fantastic: The team I joined had really awesome people, some of whom are now dear friends of mine. My manager and skip-level manager were both outstanding and super supportive of me. I also had several wonderful mentors and sponsors at the Staff and Senior Staff level, many of whom I was working with directly.
- Project-wise, fantastic: My starter project was on the team was a slog, where it took something like 4 months to launch this incredibly minor update to an incredibly minor feature. However, the reason for the slog was due to some major architectural issues, issues that I was able to flag and bring attention to. This meant my small, inconsequential starter project morphed into a much bigger, much more interesting architecture project. Along with that also came a meta-project: If I was able to find and help fix an architecture of one feature, I could then be in the role of finding and fixing architecture issues to make Geo features easier to implement on Assistant.
- Opportunity-wise, fantastic: This sounded like a super fun role, with broad of scope, working with lots of really knowledgable people across Geo, with plenty of opportunities to learn about architecture of big systems. Plus, great visibility, and great opportunity for impact. My managers and mentors agreed this looked like a pretty promising case for promotion.
So it was February 2019, when I just getting started with this new exciting project that was basically exactly what I was looking for….
And then I decided to quit the company!
More on that in Part 2: How and why I am joining Glitch!