This post originally appeared as a Google-internal “Epitaph” – a leaving note for a parting employees.
Larry and Sergey’s 2004 letter to investors said “Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one.” However, laying off 12,000 workers, despite having a $114B war chest, $60B in 2022 profit and growing revenue, was a conventional act of a company complying with minority investor demands and copying other companies, even down to their PR wording.
I was one of the workers laid off. Over my 9 years at Google I have come to love the unconventional things that make Google great, but I have also seen how often Google takes an easier path with worse outcomes. I have realized that we get the amazing, unconventional version of Google when Googlers put in active work to achieve it. I am writing this leaving note because I want to see Google continue to be an amazing place. Here are my thoughts on what Googlers must do to make Google a great place.
The layoffs are only one of many “conventional” company moves Google has made but I do not yet believe Google has become a completely conventional company. Despite reducing TGIF to a shell of its former self, Google still has a largely transparent internal culture. Despite donating to climate change deniers and partnering with Aramco, Google is net-zero carbon and is committed to carbon-free energy. Despite calling Raleigh-Durham expansion “part of our racial equity commitments” only to slash pay there, Googlers can have good work-life-balance and benefits. I’ve seen employees speak up about what is right and be listened to.
Critics often dismiss Google’s current cultural strengths as “inertia” from a golden past. And I agree that culture has inertia: People and their values, policies and programs are how decisions are made and once in place people and policies are slow to change. New hires adopt the environment they find themselves in, to a varying but generally significant degree.
But this “inertia” of the people that constitute Google does not have to be some flywheel slowly spinning down as Google slides into mediocrity. It can be a motor powered by brilliant people making wise choices. This motor can not only find new ways for Google to be remarkable, but it can shift the whole industry and world, as it has before.
So to Googlers reading this, if you want Google’s future to be the positive force it can and should be, you must act. If you do not, it will become the same as any other corporation. Follow these principles:
- Know your priorities. Google’s mission statement, “things we know to be true” and commitments are all excellent guides. Each Googler should also know their personal priorities at work, whether that’s working on your career, enabling your life outside the family, general Googler wellbeing or social justice.
- Make wise choices. Every decision is pushed in some direction by deadlines, politics, and GRAD/promo-potential (and for leadership, P&L and stock price). These are real factors that should be taken into consideration, but don’t allow them to lead your decision making. Make the choice that matches your priorities, even if it will be a hard path.
- Try out new ideas. I am not asking you to preserve what has made Google successful in the past; you must innovate what will make Google successful in the future. As well as its technical innovations Google’s excellence comes from cultural innovations like SRE, 20% time, peer bonuses, and even blameless postmortems in tech.
- Propagate Google culture to new hires. People do adapt when they arrive in new corporate cultures, to a surprising extent. However there is a depth in Google culture that requires active work to share.
GRAD represents a great example, even if there have been issues in the transition. It came from recognizing real issues, making a tough choice and being willing to try something new. My only message to People Ops is to avoid letting Google’s values fall to pressure to implement Amazon-style attrition or performance quotas.
Conversely many Googlers are frustrated by product strategy: not enough continuing investment in existing products, new products launching with foreseeable issues and products being shut down losing massive of user trust. These decisions are led by profit, growth and careers and not Google’s stated values, repeating the same old failing patterns.
I’m not making a call to product leadership to personally adopt my guidance though. They are too constrained by expectations on them and their incentives to really have the option. There is a way to break out cycles where Google-wide decisions are made by a few individuals constrained to ignore Google’s values. Enough Googlers working together can build a stronger power than these constraints, with a democratic process allowing values to be at the core of decision making. This collaboration is what Alphabet Workers Union is. This is why for ICs the takeaway is to join Alphabet Workers Union to build a say in how Google operates. Maybe bringing unions to tech will be the next cultural innovation that makes Google remarkable and a credit to the world.
Finally I would like to close by saying that I have learned so much from my amazing colleagues at Google, I’m proud to have worked with you.