Today is my two month monthiversary at my new job. Haven’t had time so far to sit back and reflect and let people know, but now during packing boxes for our upcoming move downtown, I welcome the distraction.
I dove into the black hole. I joined the borg collective. I’m now working for the little search engine that could.
I sure had my reservations while contemplating this choice. This is the first job I’ve had that I had to interview for – and quite a bit, I might add (though I have to admit that curiosity about the interviewing process is what made me go for the interviews in the first place – I wasn’t even considering a different job at that time). My first job, a four month high school math teaching stint right after I graduated, was suggested to me by an ex-girlfriend, and I was immediately accepted after talking to the headmaster (that job is still a fond memory for many reasons). For my first real job, I informally chatted over dinner with one of the four founders, and then I started working for them without knowing if they were going to pay me. They ended up doing so by the end of the month, and that was that. The next job was offered to me over IRC, and from that Fluendo and Flumotion were born. None of these were through a standard job interview, and when I interviewed at Google I had much more experience on the other side of the interviewing table.
From a bunch of small startups to a company the scale of Google is a big step up, so that was my main reservation. Am I going to be able to adapt to a big company’s way of working? On the other hand, I reasoned, I don’t really know what it’s like to work for a big company, and clearly Google is one of the best of those to work for. I’d rather try out working for a big company while I’m still considered relatively young job-market-wise, so I rack up some experience with both sides of this coin during my professionally mobile years.
But I’m not going to lie either – seeing that giant curious machine from the inside, learn how they do things, being allowed to pierce the veil and peak behind the curtain – there is a curiosity here that was waiting to be satisfied. Does a company like this have all big problems solved already? How do they handle things I’ve had to learn on the fly without anyone else to learn from? I was hiring and leading a small group of engineers – how does a company that big handle that on an industrial scale? How does a search query really work? How many machines are involved?
And Google is delivering in spades on that front. From the very first day, there’s an openness and a sharing of information that I did not expect. (This also explains why I’ve always felt that people who joined Google basically disappeared into a black hole – in return for this openness, you are encouraged to swear yourself to secrecy towards the outside world. I’m surprised that that can work as an approach, but it seems to). By day two we did our first commit (obviously nothing that goes to production, but still.) In my first week I found the way to the elusive (to me at least) roof top terrace by searching through internal documentation.The view was totally worth it.
So far, in my first two months, I’ve only had good surprises. I think that’s normal – even the noogler training itself tells you about the happiness curve, and how positive and excited you feel the first few months. It was easy to make fun of some of the perks from an outside perspective, but what you couldn’t tell from that outside perspective is how these perks are just manifestations of common engineering sense on a company level. You get excellent free lunches so that you go eat with your team mates or run into colleagues and discuss things, without losing brain power on deciding where to go eat (I remember the spreadsheet we had in Barcelona for a while for bike lunch once a week) or losing too much time doing so (in Barcelona, all of the options in the office building were totally shit. If you cared about food it was not uncommon to be out of the office area for ninety minutes or more). You get snacks and drinks so that you know that’s taken care of for you and you don’t have to worry about getting any and leave your workplace for them. There are hammocks and nap pods so you can take a nap and be refreshed in the afternoon. You get massage points for massages because a healthy body makes for a healthy mind. You get a health plan where the good options get subsidized because Google takes that same data-driven approach to their HR approach and figured out how much they save by not having sick employees. None of these perks are altruistic as such, but there is also no pretense of them being so. They are just good business sense – keep your employees healthy, productive, focused on their work, and provide the best possible environment to do their best work in. I don’t think I will ever make fun of free food perks again given that the food is this good, and possibly the favorite part of my day is the smoothie I pick up from the cafe on the way in every morning. It’s silly, it’s small, and they probably only do it so that I get enough vitamins to not get the flu in winter and miss work, but it works wonders on me and my morning mood.
I think the bottom line here is that you get treated as a responsible adult by default in this company. I remember silly discussions we had at Flumotion about developer productivity. Of course, that was just a breakdown of a conversation that inevitably stooped to the level of measuring hours worked as a measurement of developer productivity, simply because that’s the end point of any conversation on that spirals out of control. Counting hours worked was the only thing that both sides of that conversation understood as a concept, and paying for hours worked was the only thing that both sides agreed on as a basic rule. But I still considered it a major personal fault to have let the conversation back then get to that point; it was simply too late by then to steer it back in the right direction. At Google? There is no discussion about hours worked, work schedule, expected productivity in terms of hours, or any of that. People get treated like responsible adults, are involved in their short-, mid- and long-term planning, feel responsible for their objectives, and allocate their time accordingly. I’ve come in really early and I’ve come in late (by some personal definition of “on time” that, ever since my second job 15 years ago, I was lucky enough to define as ’10 AM’). I’ve left early on some days and stayed late on more days. I’ve seen people go home early, and I’ve seen people stay late on a Friday night so they could launch a benchmark that was going to run all weekend so there’d be useful data on Monday. I asked my manager one time if I should let him know if I get in later because of a doctor’s visit, and he told me he didn’t need to know, but it helps if I put it on the calendar in case people wanted to have a meeting with me at that hour.
And you know what? It works. Getting this amount of respect by default, and seeing a standard to live up to set all around you – it just makes me want to work even harder to be worthy of that respect. I never had any trouble motivating myself to do work, but now I feel an additional external motivation, one this company has managed to create and maintain over the fifteen+ years they’ve been in business. I think that’s an amazing achievement.
So far, so good, fingers crossed, touch wood and all that. It’s quite a change from what came before, and it’s going to be quite the ride. But I’m ready for it.
(On a side note – the only time my habit of wearing two different shoes was ever considered a no-no for a job was for my previous job – the dysfunctional one where they still owe me money, among other stunts they pulled. I think I can now empirically elevate my shoe habit to a litmus test for a decent job, and I should have listened to my gut on the last one. Live and learn!)