OK I am finally, 3 months later, posting Part 2 of my story: How and why I joined Glitch.
- I had rejoined Google for a second time, having quit the company once already after a 6-year tenure.
- After a little over a year, I found myself in a pretty ideal situation at Google: I was on a team that seemed like a great fit in terms of people, project, and promotion opportunity.
- And despite all this, I quit a few months later!
In this post, I wanted to explain how I came upon the opportunity at Glitch, and why I decided to take it.
On the Geo Assistant team at Google, I had found an opportunity seemed to match almost precisely the type of thing I had set out to find post-Daydream.
So why would I quit?
Google, and the world ablaze
I feel like I can’t talk about working at Google (or working in tech at all) without taking a moment to acknowledge the state of the world.
It’s 2019 and the world is kinda on fire.
We are developing algorithms that discriminate at scale. We have created platforms that allow propaganda and toxicity to multiply and fester. We have Trump, in large part because of the technology we’ve allowed to grow untamed.
Specifically Google’s role in creating this world is both undeniable and significant.
In the face of this: What is my moral obligation?
Maybe you’re rolling your eyes at this question, or at everything I’ve written so far. I hope you’re not! But maybe you are.
And if you are, I want to spend a moment to try to change your mind, to try to explain why it is worthy and necessary for everyone in tech to do some serious introspection, including, probably, you.
What is our moral obligation, as software engineers?
I’ve heard so many excuses to dismiss this question, on the grounds that it’s an impossible question.
Like, “It’s impossible to live an ethically flawless life. So why wrestle over questions that are intrinsically unsolvable?”
If you’re feeling this way, you’re missing the point.
Yes, ethical purity is unachievable. But that means ethical tradeoffs are unavoidable. You are making ethical tradeoffs right now. Do you understand what ethical tradeoffs you are making? How can you understand if you’re not willing to grapple with the question?
Another common reaction to this question is defensiveness, like “who are you to judge me for where I work” — if you’re feeling this way, you are mishearing what I’m trying to say.
When I ask myself, What is my moral obligation, as a person working in tech? Or, Is it ethical to continue working at Google?
These are not judgments. These are questions.
Engineers, I’m urging you all to do some serious introspection about the ethical implications of your jobs. When I say that, I’m not saying, “Shame on you, how could you still work for X, Y, Z” (and if you’re hearing that, why are you hearing that) — all I’m asking is, Do you think it is ethical? If so, why? If not, why not? If you’re not sure, why?
It is valuable to know where you stand.
And of course, when you do figure out where you stand, you may want to make some adjustments.
The answer key
(I mean jk this is not the answer key.)
I haven’t come to any clear answers, obviously. This is expected. Everything’s complicated.
I did at least come up with a very simple moral code while working at Google. It’s not very brave, but it exists:
- If I continue to work at Google, I will endeavor to do what I can to Fix This Mess, even if that’s very little!
- However, if I can do more to Fix This Mess outside of Google, I will quit Google to do that instead.
- And I need to actively search for such a position. Even if that search is very slow! And even if that search does not succeed!
When talking about the ethics of working at Google, I’ve heard a common canned response from other Google employees:
“Well, Google’s not perfect, but at least it’s better than the other tech companies, right?”
I think this stance made a lot more sense in 2009 than it does today. That said, if you’re going to stick with it in 2019, how are you sure that Google is “better than other tech companies?” I mean maybe it is — like I said, this is a question, not a judgement, not a command — but what evidence do you have that this is true? If you don’t have any evidence, shouldn’t you gather some?
To be clear, there are plenty of people for whom Google is the best employment option, by a mile.
It would be different if I were just starting out in my career, or if I had a lot of debt to pay off, or if I were going through some major life stuff right now, like I was a year and a half ago, when I had decided to quit my teaching job and move back to NYC and needed a return to stability.
But those aren’t my circumstances now.
Where I am in my life right now, every day I spend at Google I am choosing to be there. I don’t need the money, I don’t need it for my resume, and I don’t need it for the learning experience.
Given Google’s role in This Mess, I personally felt a moral obligation to, at minimum, actively look for positions where I could do more to Fix This Mess.
…That isn’t doing much!
There’s something else on my mind a lot lately. It is the counterweight to obligations and roles, opportunities and circumstance.
What are your dreams?
It’s funny how uncomfortable it is to talk about dreams!
I find it so much easier to talk about constraints and logic and practicality. Given your constraints, the circumstances of your reality, what is your logical next step?
I was in my mid-twenties when I first realized I had never thought about what, exactly, I wanted. I had never considered formulating such a question. What were my dreams? I had no idea.
And how dare I?
The overwhelming privilege needed to pursue one’s dreams. If I were so lucky to be in such a position, would I be allowed to do it? Would it be morally right, to take advantage of such privilege?
I guess it depends on the dream.
I am comfortable distilling my unremarkable moral code into a bullet point list and sharing it with the world; I am not comfortable doing the same for you with my dreams. My dreams are too personal. My dreams I’ve barely summoned the courage to admit to myself.
So for the sake of the story, I’ll proceed in the way I am comfortable:
- If I were lucky enough to have the immense privilege to pursue my dreams, would I be allowed? Are my dreams morally allowable?
A message in a bottle to the ocean
Finally, the main event!
I wrote all these words and all these words all to give you context what happens next.
The setting: It was December 2018, and my very smart and very good friend found herself unemployed and looking for jobs. She was feeling understandably down about it, and I told her she should come over to my house and we’d spend the day looking for jobs.
(Quick pause to say: My friend now has a great job, and from a job listing from this day!!!)
I wasn’t really in need of a new job. I told you, things were pretty good.
But I had had these misgivings about working at Google, and I had had these dreams I wanted to pursue, so I was like, “OK, let me at least look at what’s out there.”
I updated my resume and looked at job listings.
And, maybe you’ve looked at tech job listings. They’re all kind of the same.
There’s a software engineering opening for a startup that’s building the future of podcasting. There’s a mobile-first, real-time video search engine. There are all the big-name companies, there are all the apps on everyone’s phones, and apps trying to get onto everyone’s phones. And they’re fine, I’m sure.
But also, I’m not so sure.
Are they better than what I have now? Would I be in a better position to Fix This Mess? Do they get me closer to my dreams?
There was one company I had had my eyes on every since it launched in 2017. This company was Glitch.
A lot about Glitch resonated with me. I love the web, I’m fascinated by platforms and open source ecosystems, and I’m passionate about computer science education and with it, the democratization of technology. It seemed like a good cultural fit, too; the company’s values were aligned with my own, and I had heard of a lot of awesome people working there.
I looked at Glitch’s job listings. There were a few developer roles, but I didn’t see anything that was quite the right fit. I thought, maybe I should apply anyway? But ugh, it didn’t make sense to apply for a job that I probably wouldn’t actually take.
I then noticed Glitch had a catch-all job listing, where you could essentially pitch your own role. I thought this would be a good exercise: What is a position that I would be willing to leave Google for? What’s a position I would love to do at Glitch? I wanted to practice asking for what I wanted.
I wrote a pitch and sent it in.
From my perspective, this was a message in a bottle to the ocean; I sent my pitch, had a small “hmm, wouldn’t that be nice” moment, then I promptly forgot about it.
Oops, the ocean responded
To my great surprise, I got an email from Glitch about a month later. They loved my pitch, and they wanted me to build a team around it.
I got a job offer. I accepted it!
I’m not trying to say I have my life figured out, lol.
I have the trademark millennial brokenness. (It comes across in this post, I’m sure.) My career has been a series of educated guesses, every milestone having its victories and defeats. And, like, there’s also the whole thing where plenty of people don’t care for “successful” women, in general. So what advice can I give? What conclusions could I have possibly reached?
As I mentioned last time, I feel sheepish writing about… honestly anything, like I’m some authority figure. I’m not. I’m just trying to do a better job of sharing what I’ve learned (what I think I’ve learned) in case it’s helpful.
With that, I’ll once again distill my conclusions into everyone’s favorite digestible form, the bullet point list:
- Define your moral code (your best approximation is infinitely more valuable than nothing)
- Define your dreams (this is hard, this takes time, you might be wrong, your dreams will change, it gets easier with practice, and it is worth doing)
- Proceed accordingly!