Farewell, my friend

When I started working for Google, people barely knew what it was, much
less that it had an office in Atlanta. We would turn up at industry
events and with that kind, Southern glint in their eye, middle-aged
businessmen would mispronounce our company and inquire what we did.

"Gaggle?," they’d say. "What does this, um, Gaggle do?"

We’d explain to them that the company was actually called GOOGLE, that
it was a search engine, and that we had a small sales-based office
there. Never mind that many of them didn’t really know what a search
engine was, this being Atlanta and all, but their eyes would glaze over
and they’d move on to the next potential acquaintance-to-be who could
possibly make them money.

Yes, this was the Google of the olden days, and I say that with a
knowing grin since the company is a mere 8 1/2 years old. Those who
knew of our company loved it (the rumors of the free food and
un-corporate atmosphere that had started to hit the presses were true)
and it was only a few years until my Dad finally figured out exactly
what it was that I did.

I came to Google with a nontraditional background, something that I’d
often forget as I’d go through my days working for the "World’s Best
Company." I had long wanted to be a doctor; first a surgeon, then –
through my passion for genetics – a genetic counselor. The turning
point came on graduation day from UNC when I realized that while I
could have been a great physician or genetic counselor, it wasn’t
really what I wanted to do. Where exactly I would find my true passion
was still beyond me at this point, but I knew that the path to medical
school was not one upon which I wanted to partake.

And so I set off for the world of Georgetown and graduate school, only
to find that their nascent CCT (Communication, Culture and Technology)
program promised much in the prospectus, but little in the way of
directing me towards that ever-fleeting goal of "What do I want to do
with my life?" On a whim, and after a particularly fantastic weekend in
Atlanta with some of my college roommates, I applied to three jobs
there, and within 24 hours, received three interviews. This was the
year 2000, and jobs were aplenty.

Let’s not get bogged down by details at this point; this story is about
my love affair with Google, not my jobs preceding it. Suffice it to say
I had two jobs that taught me by the seat of my pants, threw me in
wholly unprepared for the tasks awaiting me and I somehow came out on
the other end, victorious, and as a new employee at Google.

The company itself was still small – in the high hundreds – and our
little Atlanta office held nine in the very un-Googly shared space that
consisted of one long hallway and youthful-inspired offices. Because
youth is what we had; only one of us had a child, and he was our
regional director; the rest of us were somewhat fresh-faced kids
embarking upon a big adventure, replete with a few handy perks. But
don’t let that fool you into thinking we were swimming down streams of
milk and honey; quite the contrary. Yes, we had free Diet Cokes
(hurrah!) and the occasional Zone Bars, but the satellite offices were
a far cry from the main "Googleplex" located in Mountain View, CA. Our
trips there were like descending upon a duty-free world of "Supermarket
Sweep", often stocking our laptop bags with Pirates Booty and Gummy
Bears to hoard at our desks upon our return to Atlanta. (Note that this
was soon addressed and the sales offices were given the same perks as
the main one. I think they got tired of us ‘outsiders’ cleaning them
out of their Merano cookies.)

I loved my job as much as anyone can; of course there were the moments
that I thought I would die if I dreamed of another excel spreadsheet (I
wish I was kidding!) but really, I knew how good I had it. Here I was
in my mid-twenties, being part of something both wholly inclusive of me
yet somehow bigger. I spoke up at meetings, and was sought out by
directors, thanked for being so forthright. I was asked to be on
task-teams that changed the way things were done, from hiring to review
cycles; from office perks to communication procedures. We worked our
butts off, but we left at the end of the day knowing that we had made
an impact. Idyllic, you say, but that’s how it was, even for a mere
"peon" in a satellite office. Yes, it was that awesome.

And then we hit it big. We IPO’d in a nontraditional fashion,
consistent with many of the values held by the founders and the company
itself. We exceeded expectations again and again and again, and to this
day, Google continues to do so. And through it all, we grew. I read
somewhere that we receive over 2500 resumes a day and I don’t doubt it;
named this year as Fortune’s Best place to Work, everyone wants a
little part of Google. It’s got that magic shine about it.

Through this period, I was growing professionally and trying to figure
out what it was I wanted to do next – within the company, of course. We
were narrowing our focus on our sales teams, and I recognized that
while it was for the best decision of the company, it wasn’t
necessarily the best decision for me professionally. And so I sought
advice from different directors – mentors of mine to this day – who
went out on a limb and not only suggested a few different opportunities
for me, but also said that they would create one if it came to that.
Google was just that type of place, a company that never wanted to lose
you, that wanted to make sure you were doing something beneficial to
the company, but moreover, beneficial to you as an individual.

And so I took advantage of that, not once, but twice. I accepted roles
in two of our newer acquisitions, first for Google Analytics, and then
for the dMarc – now Google Audio – acquisition. Both were unchartered
territory for this former biologist, but both provided me with that
‘trial by fire’ experience that I had so loved in my former roles.

Yet in this last year, I noticed small, subtle changes. I wasn’t
finding myself challenged, and despite asking for more responsibility,
I found that most of my days were being filled up with tasks that
didn’t offer me any opportunity to use my skills. My workload,
significantly diminished from anything I’ve ever experienced, remained
so despite me reaching out to remedy this. Google, with all its amazing
benefits and perks, was becoming a large company, and it appeared that
I was being lost in the shuffle.

I can’t tell you how much this saddened me; I’ve made a concerted point
NOT to discuss work on this website, and as many of you will attest to,
my posts in the last year have become less and less frequent. This
isn’t a coincidence; this is because my work – or the lack thereof –
was affecting my life so much that I didn’t have much to say. I didn’t
want to complain in a public forum about this – Google was, after all,
and is, a fantastic place to work. It just seems that for whatever
reason, I had fallen through the cracks. Whereas before I knew that I
was part of something momentous, a cog in wheel constantly pushing
forth change and advancement, I now often felt like a discarded
relative forgotten during the holidays save for the requisite
fruitcake. And I didn’t like it.

Change was imminent; there was no way that I could continue to flourish
in this environment without looking for something new. I began updating
my resume (no small task after four+ years) and started applying for
jobs, mainly within Google, but in a few instances, outside of the
company I had grown so much with. It felt like a betrayal in a lot of
ways; the few people I confided in didn’t judge me, but I had this fear
that someone would say that I was "biting the hand" and chastise my
decision to even LOOK elsewhere. After all, this was GOOGLE we were
talking about. THE GOOGLE! Didn’t I know how LUCKY I was?

But during this time, lucky was not the word that I would use to
describe this. Unchallenged. Stagnant. Self-Deprecating, perhaps.
"Lucky" wasn’t in my vocabulary, especially when I was turned down for
roles with the company, them citing me being unqualified for roles that
I would not only have excelled in, but wanted to pursue (including a
writing position.) The slap in the face came with my form "rejection"
letter addressed to "Audrey". I think it was around then when I realized
that it might be time to say farewell.

Google is a large company these days, and with that comes many growing
pains. It is MUCH harder to take care of 11,000 people than it is 1000.
And they try – I know that on a daily basis they are faced with
unsolvable problems and they’re doing their best to come up with the
solution that will not be the perfect solution, but instead will anger
the least amount of people.  Google is doing this better than any other
company in the world, I would say, and don’t for one second think that
I don’t commiserate with them on these decisions.  But as I came to
realize when I was looking for different roles a few years back within
Google, the right decision for the company may not be aligned with the
right decision for me.

And so I made the impossible choice to leave. My last day at Google was
Monday, May 7th, and after packing up four+ years of my belongings (in
many ways, my life), I drove off the campus with tears streaming down
my face. I was, and am, confident that my decision to move on was
right, but that didn’t make it one stitch easier to leave the people
and company that I believed in for so long. That I continue to believe
in. I would never want this to dissuade any one of you from being one
of the 2500 resumes Google receives daily; just know that mine won’t be
among them, at least not for now.

I had my ‘exit interview’ with HR in a typically nontraditional manner,
and I’m sure I caught him off guard by my nontraditional questions, one
of which was "Do people ever come back?" I asked this not because my
decision to leave was anything but intentional, but because I’ve long
ago realized that we can’t ever really plan our lives, and I wondered
how Google viewed people leaving the company. The kind-faced man in HR
looked at me and said, with conviction, the same words that the head of
sales had written me in a personal email as I was leaving.

"Aubrey, the door for you here is wide open."

And so I don’t wish to say goodbye to Google, but instead, farewell. Because you never know when our paths will cross again.

See ya around, Goog. That’s a promise.

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7 thoughts on “Farewell, my friend

  1. Aubrey — I felt compelled to comment after reading this post. I am really proud of the decision you made and the rationale behind it. I find myself coming into a similar situation and it’s great to know that other people find the strength to make tough choices. There are lots of adventures out there for you. Can’t wait to catch up next time you’re in town.

  2. Stopped by after a Twitter friend shared this link. You had me at “Farewell” and left me shedding a tear at “promise”.
    Three years ago, I walked away from a successful morning show on the FM band in the Philippines that was on the air for close to five years. I was in radio since 1989.
    It was just time for me to move on. And the perfect time to do that was at the height of our popularity on Zach and Joey in the Morning.
    Nowadays, I am doing what I truly love – writing. Like you, the airwaves have a place for me still. At this point though, I’m happy right where I am.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I wish you the best!

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