As I was getting ready to board the Google Shuttle home recently, a colleague (who started at Google on the same day I did) poked me and jokingly wished me a “Happy Googleversary!” Right then it hit me that, yeah, I had been at Google for a full year. Wow!
Also in the last few weeks, coincidentally I presume, many folks — particularly fellow alums — have been e-mailing me to ask about what it’s like at Google, how they can get a job there, etc. I will be e-mailing all of
them back (sorry for the delay!), but in the meantime it’s prompted me to do something I’ve been planning to do for a while: write a few (okay, maybe more than a few) words on how I ended up at Google and what my thoughts are about working there.
How I blew Google off
As many of you likely know, I was fascinated with Google for years before I started working there. In fact, in 2000, I featured Google in a department newsletter I wrote for the then-high-flying high-tech PR firm — Niehaus Ryan Wong (“NRW”) — which I worked for as an Interactive Strategist. In 2001, my entire department was laid off and so I got to Google for “how can I save my pride and find a cool new job?” I ended up using my online communication skills to keep me sane and mostly in the black doing consultant / contractor stuff.
I think it was in early 2002 that I made a pretty big mistake, however. The conversation went something like this:
Friend: Hey… I got a job at Google… you know, the search engine… it’s really great! I think it has some huge potential, you should work here! Want me to submit your resume?
Me: Congrats! But… it’s in, what, Mountain View or something? And — no offense — how interesting could working on search really be? And I’m doing just fine on my own, but thanks!
Yes, I now rank that as one of my most severe and painful bouts with cluelessness. I wised up not too long after that and applied for a couple of jobs at Google; got some interviews and the recruiters ultimately told me
politely and firmly that I had a good attitude, fine credentials blah blah blah, but wasn’t a good fit for the positions. And looking back, it’s clear they were right.
The good life… and how I grew weary of it
Over the next few years, I enjoyed working as a consultant / contractor with some super companies, a bunch of great people, and some understandably demanding but usually interesting clients. But despite the cool projects and decent money and improving professional reputation, I grew weary. I missed having a set of regular colleagues I could banter with and learn from face-to-face. I missed having a mentor. I wanted, also, to mentor others… and not just online. I got tired of flying back and forth to Los Angeles for a client; ’twas a nice client, but I hated the city and the traffic that plagued it.
Most of all, I felt wistful about never having worked for a medium/big company, never getting to really have a feeling of ownership in a company that provided products/services internationally. I wanted to be even a small part of something big but not faceless, have an impact, have significant room for growth careerwise and otherwise.
As you’ll see below, I am thankful to have found this in Google. It’s not a utopia; there are things about the company that greatly frustrate me, there are days in which I feel overwhelmed and stressed. But these days are few in number and gratifyingly dwarfed by the days in which I am very, very happy to be surrounded by people I respect, doing things I see as valuable, for a company that excites me and treats me ridiculously well.
A few words about companies I worked with or even just interviewed with pre-Google
Before I talk more about Google, I thought I’d share with you a few quick personal thoughts about some companies.
Some companies I worked with before Google:
- Plaxo: Very smart people. Collegial office conveniently served by a shuttle from Caltrain. Fascinating problems to solve. And their core product is hugely useful, increasingly well-designed, and truly has no equals. No need to send out “update my info please” notes; just enjoy the network effect of having lots of addressbook info updated. My interviews here were friendly, hands-on (“Okay, show me how you’d do this…”), and challenging.
Friendly, hard-working, supportive folks who’ve been doing SEO for quite some time… and who happen to have one of the more concise, unpretentious, and underrated SEO blogs around. Through Intrapromote, I got to work on some pretty huge online campaigns with major Fortune 500 companies and the experience opened my eyes to a lot of tough issues that large sites face every day. The
interview process with Intrapromote was refreshing: very open, informal, and sensible (no lame questions, no useless under-pressure crap).
- Virgin Digital:
I’m saddened by how this service flamed out in the U.S. The execs I worked with here were admiringly passionate about music and about enabling people to share their love of and insights about music with each other. They were motivated by the right ideas but — given that the service didn’t survive — unfortunately hobbled by either a lack of resources, bad luck, poor execution or all of the above. My
interviews were… well, not really interviews. This was a case of, hey, Adam, we know your work, we’ve had some good chats, when can you start on this project? That’s not to say that Virgin’s consultant/contractor hiring was haphazard or careless, but rather that the President (who hired
me directly) was pragmatic, efficient, and no-nonsense… operating on an intuitive (and, I humbly think, accurate :-P) sense that I was a decent and appropriate fellow to work with.
And companies I interviewed with and received offers from immediately prior to
working for Google:
- Art.com: Classy and friendly people, very nice office overlooking the bay, and a damn neat product. The recruiter I dealt with was helpful and instantly likeable. All of my interviews were comfortable, reasonable, and — most importantly — truly two-way… conversation, not interrogations.
- Microsoft’s MSN AdCenter: The MSN AdCenter campus is in beautiful Redmond (nice!) near one of my favorite cities (Seattle… yay!) but… located adjacent to a shopping mall away from the main MS campus (yuck!). Interview questions tended to focus on what I’ve done, and how I might handle client situations. Not terribly surprising. Suggestion to the AdCenter team and all other companies, for that matter: If you’re having a final-stage candidate do a full day of interviews, invite him to lunch with some of his potential-future colleagues. Giving him a box lunch to eat alone in an office is not only a bummer for the candidate, but robs you of the opportunity to see how he or she relates to others… and that sort of interaction, IMHO, can be quite revealing ;-). On a more positive note, I was relieved and pleased at how thoughtful my MS recruiter was throughout the process. When I told the guy I had an offer from Google, the fellow didn’t throw any chairs, but rather was extremely kind and supportive and urged me to take the time to make a decision that was best for me.