do engineers dream of electric sheep?

answering the perennial question of why i left google


i get asked this question so often — i hope i can just point folks to this post.

i'm thankful for my time at google. even though i loved working at the job i left to take google's offer, i definitely would have regretted not accepting.
i'd read insightful blogposts like this and this, which made me think i'd be prepared to parry anything that came my way. once arriving, i simply felt i could not achieve my goals inside of google.
i aspire to become an engineer who is generous with her time, a thoughtful and empathetic communicator, a "go-to person" for my area of expertise, and working on projects headed in a direction that matter to me.

background

[content originally from "jenny's latest job search"]

my ventures in tech as a career started with joy at grace hopper academy, a coding bootcamp.

bootcamp was filled with women, women with whom i collaborated closely - we pair-programmed through projects, asked one another for help, and worked towards a common goal. they were all super interesting people of different backgrounds (this diversity was similar to what i experienced when i was in psychology research and in community organizing!).

in industry, i rarely paired, and i was always the only female engineer on my team. only 10% of engineers in google search (my product area) are women, so even if i switched teams internally, it’d be difficult to overcome.

i did meet men from various backgrounds, but i could relate to very few of them, and none of them with depth. this depressed me, since relationships are one of my biggest intrinsic motivations.

the most influential guys on my teams always had personal and long-running relationships within the group, which was why they were working together on this project. they'd bring in their most trusted colleagues to greenfield work and interesting technical calls, and it looked like fun to work with your friends.

googler life in retrospect

i entered google with a wary eye on him. "uncle google" provided me a very nice, thick paycheck, but it was hard to see myself spending more than a couple years within the machinery.

as i took on more responsibility, i was doing difficult and technical work, but it was in individualized workstreams into which few to no people had insight. much of my time was spent on proprietary tooling (if not formulas in google sheets), and i participated in fewer meetups, conferences, or even interesting/casual discussions about a cool new thing i've learned. as i proved myself, i also spent less and less time doing “software engineering” (coding, designing systems, reviewing code, etc.) since adopting tech lead/product owner. jokingly, i say the transferrable skillsets i've grown the most by working at google are parsing political situations and completing nytimes crosswords.

here's a few other salient observations.
i rarely entered "flow" or got productive because i was always waiting on builds and tests and checks or switching between disparate threads. i noticed myself adopting team norms like communicating in a way that was most convenient or expedient (as opposed to the way best for the recipient). i sometimes disagreed with the higher-level priorities and direction (which happens), but the projects where i personally had the most context were micromanaged. inside our team, our ways of working were shaped by how performance review would percieve them. i felt i wasn't growing as a human under mentorship or able to stretch myself by giving mentorship.

it shocked me that many teammates didn't feel half the pain i was experiencing. actually, they told me that their current situation was an improvement over the previous org or team!

on top of this, i have other interests outside of work that i want to satisfy like writing a book, continuing community organizing work, and creating art. and i saw that staying at google was dampening the energy i had for them. i thought there was a limit to how much i could resist becoming droidlike given the work environment — i had a vague sense of this throughout my tenure, but it began poking me sharply in march 2020.

the timing unfortunately coincided with the pandemic. during the summer, i chatted up googlers from different teams around me, and i filtered through all the opportunities available to me across alphabet, but didn't find anything that struck joy in me. i recounted my savings carefully and i ultimately decided to quit in october 2020, leaving behind a hard-earned promotion to se iii.