“New” job at Glitch, Part 2!

OK I am finally, 3 months later, posting Part 2 of my story: How and why I joined Glitch.

(Check out Part 1 if you haven’t already!)

To recap:

  • 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.

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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

jk

(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!

Dreams

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?
  • Yes

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?

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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!

In conclusion

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!
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New job at Glitch! And why I left Google, again

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.

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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!