Reflections of an ex-Googler

Google. It’s the number two most valuable brand in the world. One of the guys who invented the Internet works there. Their revenue hit $9 billion in Q2. Yet, there was something that nagged. Something that made me, along with several hundreds of people over the past year, want to leave.

It has been seven months since I left the friendly confines of the hallowed primary colors of Mountain View. My adventures away from Google took me to StumbleUpon, a place where 25% of the employees are ex-Googlers.

The reasons I left Google seem to have faded from my memory. I’m very happy in my new job and can’t imagine being anywhere else. All that is left is the memory of a truly influential three year run which taught me some of the most valuable career lessons I could have ever hoped to have learned in the earlier stages of my career.

I’ve waited until now so that the minutia of day-to-day work politics could be long forgotten and I could focus on the lasting impressions of my experience. There are many things that I learned as a Googler that I will apply to my future career endeavors. Below are some of those things and how they have helped guide me beyond the Goog.

How It All Began

I spent the better part of 3+ years working with some of the most talented people in all of Silicon Valley. My previous employment came from Wall Street, so the transition was quite interesting.

Starting with marketing AdWords to mid-market customers, moving to the Fortune 500 guys, and then rounding out my final months with Google+, the company proved to be one of the most positive career moves anyone in their mid-20s could ask for. I met CMOs, was taken to the executive dining rooms of middle America Fortune 100 companies, and I got to help build the structure for one of the hottest social platforms out there. All before hitting age 26.

I don’t know another company that can provide the same amount of reach and power to a whippersnapper like I was in 2007. There were times that I definitely took this for granted. Ultimately, Google was an amazing place to work. The lessons I learned there were valuable and I’m excited to share them.

Lesson #1: You Make a Huge Impact — Even If It Doesn’t Seem That Way

I was 23 when I started at Google. My first project? Manage marketing to set of financial services, education, local, and online dating customers grossing a yearly portfolio of over $200M. I’d love to say that this was because I was a stellar candidate who was ready to make a monster impact on the company, but then I’d be lying. This was my responsibility because my peers were doing the same. There weren’t enough hands on deck.

Think about it this way, for every one employee that Google has, the company has a corresponding ~$1.2M in revenue. Regardless of how small your job may seem while you’re at Google, you are making huge impact!

Advice: If you’re working at a huge company, evaluate what you are accomplishing in both relative and absolute terms. Even if it seems like making $10M in new revenue barely makes a dent in the bottom line, there are companies that don’t even make that in a year.

Lesson #2: Don’t Compete With Your Coworkers — They’re Just as Good as You

One of the most challenging elements of working at Google was the fact that everybody around you has the same elements: top of class top-tier education, high SAT scores, and a generally personable demeanor. Being competitive got most Google employees to where they are.

When you only brought in 5% more revenue, you felt like an outcast. But think of it this way: that could be $10M in new revenue! Show me any other job in your 20s that you can drive in $10M in new revenue and feel like you’re not doing a great job.

Advice: Focus on what you have been tasked with solving. Take initiative when needed, but make sure your job gets done first. This makes you lead by example. Competing with coworkers makes it seem like your priorities are misaligned.

Lesson #3: Give In to the Nerdiness

Everybody who you work with at Google is a nerd in one way, shape or form. Give into it. This was the best advice I received at the Goog.

After my first few months, I realized that Google’s Chief Economist, Hal Varian, wrote a book that I read in college, Information Rules, that inspired me to learn more about information economics. Rather than geek out to myself, I told my coworkers about it. They urged me to email him and ask to sit down for coffee. So I did. And we ended up finding ways to work together in future projects that I ran at Google.

Advice: Embrace your nerdiness. Chances are someone will geek out with you. This will lead to good things.

Lesson #4: Don’t Commiserate — Your Job is Awesome

Every job has its drama. Google is certainly not immune to this. Product marketers will bitch about how product managers don’t take them seriously. Product managers will bitch because they’re not getting engineers to listen to their vision. Junior employees will say that their managers don’t care about them. Don’t join these conversations.

Yes, misery loves company, but this was one of the most dangerous things that I ran across at Google. You will be frustrated at times. Your voice will not be heard a lot of the time. Ideas that you chaired will fall flat.

Advice: None of these things mean you suck or life isn’t fair. Use missed opportunities or miscommunications as a way to demonstrate your leadership ability. Focus on what could have been done to improve the situation and then execute on that plan in future endeavors.

Bitching will get you nowhere.

Final Thoughts

One of the things you will notice missing here is anything relating to what I specifically worked on. That is intentional. I worked on amazing products with even more amazing people. Those products come and go and change. What is important about working at a place like Google is what you learn about yourself.

As a product marketing manager at Google, I helped introduce features and products that helped enrich people’s lives. As an employee of Google, I learned how to succeed in an environment where everyone is pushing each other to be better. It’s easy to get that lost in the shuffle.

Google, thanks for the memories. You were a great mentor. I look forward to seeing you again in the future.

Tags: google