Working at Google - the first six months

Don Dodge · June 18, 2010 · Short URL:

So what's the difference working at Google vs Microsoft?

So, what is it like working at Google? How is it different than working at Microsoft? I have answered that question at least 500 times in the past 6 months, so I thought I should write a more detailed answer. Google still feels like a startup. Larry and Sergey are very visible and active. Larry sat at the table next to me at dinner last night at 8:00PM on campus. Everything moves fast, and can change at a moments notice.

Ten Year Old Startup - I wasn't at Microsoft in 1985, when Microsoft was just 10 years old. But people who were tell me it was a lot like Google is today. The similarities are striking. Microsoft was 10 years old in 1985. Google is 10 years old now. Microsoft had enormous success with DOS, and was just starting to branch out into new products. Google experienced initial success with search, and is branching out into enterprise software like Gmail, Google Apps, Android, etc. Microsoft was THE place to work in 1985. They hired only the best. Google is THE place to work today, and they hire only the best and brightest. How I got through the interview process is still a mystery to me.

Back in 1985 Microsoft had a sense of confidence and optimism that they could achieve anything. Today, Google has that same culture of nothing is impossible. Superior engineering talent can create the future, and conquer any problem. I will not go into why Microsoft slowly lost its way since then, or how Google can avoid the same fate. Maybe later. Today, lets focus on what it is like to work at Google.

Success Breeds Success - The atmosphere at Google exudes confidence, success, optimism, dedication, hard work, and winning. It is the work life equivalent of playing for the New England Patriots and winning Super Bowls. That winning atmosphere makes everyone work harder and achieve more than they could anywhere else. Super stars are happy to take less prominent roles in favor of overall team success. The quality of the people at Google at every level, at every position, is amazing.

Engineering Rules! - Google has always been driven by outstanding engineering talent. Google hires only the best engineers. The legends of complex interview questions and coding problems are true. Educational achievement is valued at Google. Engineers are at every level, starting at the top, in all kinds of positions at Google. Nearly all the top management at Google have engineering backgrounds. Marketing, sales, business development, product management, are all more likely to be former engineers. The engineering background brings a rigorous thought process that questions assumptions and requires accurate data in the decision process. That doesn't mean every decision will be perfect, but it will be based on data...not opinions.

Hiring Process - The hiring process at Google is intense. Google has very high standards and doesn't compromise. They would rather let a position go unfilled than hire a 'B Team" player. Google's definition of "B Team" is far different than any other company I know. There are lots of very successful people at other companies that are not good candidates for Google. Yes, Google does miss out on some good candidates with this process. But, on balance, they get the best possible candidates and make very few bad hires. Every employee at Google has recruiting and hiring great people as part of their job, not just the HR people.

Goals and Rewards - Google sets the bar very high, measures results every quarter, and generously rewards achievement. I wrote an earlier post "How Google Sets Goals and Measures Success" that gives more detail about the process. I summed it up this way; Achieving 65% of the impossible is better than 100% of the ordinary. Setting impossible goals sets you on a completely different trajectory than the path to achieving modest goals. You have heard the cliche' "If you aren't failing, you aren't trying hard enough". No one accepts failure at Google, but the definition of failure is very different.

Turn Hard Right - Google still operates like a startup in many ways. Things can change very quickly if necessary. People and resources can be redeployed to solve big problems or jump on emerging opportunities. There is little top down direction, but lots of help when needed. There is very little cross group dependency that can cause delay. Individual groups do whatever is necessary to deliver their product. Issues of overlap or optimization can be addressed later. Development and delivery cycles are short...and continuous. The continuous nature of development and delivery mitigates the need to wait on a dependency.

Work Hard - Google likes to solve tough problems on a global scale. People work hard...and love it. Most nights I work late and eat dinner at Google. Last night there were at least 400 people eating dinner at 8:00PM. Larry Page was there too, sitting at the table next to me. This is not unusual. When you are achieving goals and being recognized for your doesn't feel like work. Again, to use the New England Patriots analogy, you put everything you've got into it every single day, but when you are doing it alongside the best in the world, it is a privilege and doesn't seem like work at all.

Have Fun - Yesterday I went to have lunch at Building 43. Over 500 people were outside eating lunch, playing volley ball, listening to the DJ, playing scavenger hunt games, etc. Ben N Jerry's was serving ice cream. Popcorn was everywhere. It was like a carnival. Last week I went to a Crosby, Stills, & Nash concert with some co-workers and sat in the Google suite. A few months ago Google bought every seat to a Cirque du Soleil show. Every week there are on-site services like car washes, oil changes, hair cuts, dry cleaning, concierge services, you name it.

We Are Hiring - Google is growing and hiring. Take a look at these opportunities. The Developer Relations group, where I work, has opportunities in Mountain View, New York, Seattle, London, Munich, Tokyo, Sydney, Sao Paulo, and Hyderabad. Send me your resume if you are a rock star developer.

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