Wednesday, September 29th, 2010...07:35


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Perhaps this has been going on forever and I’ve only been attuned to it for the last few years. When a high profile public change occurs e.g. new President of the United States takes office, the media likes to make a big deal about what happens during the first 100 days. While it certainly is not the same magnitude, it’s been 100 days since I started working for a new company, so it seems like a reasonable point in time to look back at how this change came about and how I feel about my new company, since I can’t actually say what I’ve been working on.

I started working for A2Z Development, a wholly owned subsidiary of in August of 2006. At that time, Amazon had no digital media presence. Over the course of the next three and a half years it would launch digital video, audio and book stores. I was part of the team which launched and grew their web and mobile device MP3 store in the US and eventually the UK, Germany and France. It was a meaningful experience during which I had the opportunity to work with a number of great people on a product used by millions of customers, bringing in millions of dollars a year. So why did I leave?

Over time my passion for the product slowly fizzled out, mainly due to what I perceive as very restrictive rules from the major record labels (for the most part echoed by all major content creators). These requirements, mostly concerned with the definition of use and ownership, typically do not benefit the customer and in many cases make it cost prohibitive for a company like Amazon to “do the right thing”. The store launches were exciting and gratifying, but the rest of the product development suffered within the record labels’ constraints. By the time we were in a position to do something that would have been cool in 2008, my head was elsewhere. One day I received an e-mail from a Google recruiter and instead of my usual “not at this time” response I decided to see what would happen.

There are plenty of other sites out there detailing what it’s like to interview with Google, and my experience was pretty similar. First I spoke with the recruiter so they could better understand my skill-set. Next I had a phone screen after which I was asked to come by for an in-person interview. In parallel, I started reaching out to other companies, a couple of which had people I previously enjoyed working with. I went back to Google for another round of in-person interviews and eventually had several job offers to mull over.

As a quick aside for anyone looking to get a job in “software”, be prepared to code. It doesn’t matter if you’re applying to be a Distinguished Researcher or a Junior Tester. And be ready to do it in a real-time collaborative editing environment while on the phone, on a whiteboard, on a piece of paper, in front of more than one person, underwater, etc. You’re applying to work in one of the most lucrative and gratifying fields, have a good meal before your interview and be prepared for anything.

At this point, I had already decided the time had come for me to move on, it was just a question of where. Other than Google, the other companies I had offers from were small, some of them start-ups, all focused on a single product. With them, I knew on what and with whom I would be working. With Google, I would likely have a choice between a few teams, but wouldn’t find out what they were until after I accepted. Furthermore there would be a huge amount of infrastructure and possibly process to get up to speed with.

Even with this unknown I decided to accept the position with Google. The base salary wasn’t the highest and the likelihood of the stock price multiplying by significant whole numbers is near zero, but neither of those were reasons why I wanted to change jobs. While it would have been nice to work with people who I already knew and respected, the variety of initiatives Google participates in boggles the mind and its core beliefs resonate with my life ideals.

The thrill of accepting a new job offer was tempered by the anxiety of having to give notice at my current employer. I knew it would be somewhat of a shock and disappointment to many people who had entrusted a great deal of responsibility to me. I discussed the situation with my manager, director and VP and eventually broke the news to my coworkers. For future reference, when documenting the transfer of responsibilities in a shared resource such as a wiki, mark the page as private lest someone stumble upon it while looking for other documents you’ve authored…

As it turns out, my birthday took place during my final week and my coworkers bestowed an amazing present on me. 350+ days out of the year I can be found wearing shorts and a t-shirt, usually with some sort of logo/artwork/text on it, white crew socks and sneakers. The vast majority of my soon to be ex-coworkers dressed up in my “uniform” for my birthday. I’m one of the worst people at noticing peoples’ attire (just ask my wife) so it took me over an hour of running into a number of people in the kitchen, going to the bathroom, etc. to realize what was going on. Once I did, I offered to take everyone who was dressed like me out to lunch. Ironically, I had chosen to wear a plain red t-shirt today, so I went out and bought an arbitrary one with a print on it from Walgreens (I also bought someone a pair of white socks as they didn’t own any).

32nd Birthday

Google gave me a choice between four different teams, one of which was almost immediately retracted as it had been filled by an internal transfer. If you apply to work in Mountain View, you’ll likely have more choices, but I had requested a position in the San Francisco office with the option of working in Mountain View 1 or 2 days a week. I decided to work for a team in search infrastructure focusing on search quality. It seemed like the logical choice if one was looking to experience the breadth available at Google since it is currently their main product. Engineers go through a 1-2 week orientation where you get an overview of everything that has made Google what it is today from the company culture to the total amount of RAM present in all data centers. It’s geared to impress and it does. Google is incredibly open internally and trusts (sometimes incorrectly) that its employees will reciprocate that trust. It assumes everything from interview questions to wiki pages are not to be shared with the public until the company decides to do so, which is why I haven’t mentioned anything specific in this post.

Sure it doesn’t have the same flavor of excitement as a start-up, but I think overall, Google is the most interesting company in the world today and hopefully I will contribute a bit to help it stay that way. It’s a compact version of California which itself is a tiny version of the United States. And for all their faults and weaknesses, I haven’t found a better place to be.

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