Five realities of Google or any other Workplace Wonderland

Summary:Have you heard about working at Google? Every new hire gets a pony.

Have you heard about working at Google? They've got tricycle conference rooms! They've got free, organic, locally sourced food from gourmet chefs. They've got dry cleaning, free transportation, backup childcare and more brightly colored plastic things than all of the kindergartens in Silicon Valley together. And every new hire gets a pony.

Fine, I was joking about that last part, but it is hard not to poke fun at the gasping praise/thinly-veiled envy bestowed on Google's headquarters. From all the braggy bits one hears about the company, it's logical to conclude that anyone would be crazy to not want to work there.

Yet people do leave their coveted jobs at Google, all the time. Enough have gone to Facebook that some estimate its workforce could be up to 10 percent former-Googlers. Microsoft employee and blogger Dare Obsanjo says that he, too, knows many techies who are picking Microsoft over Google , either by jumping ship or by receiving two offers and picking Redmond.

As tales from these and other departing Googlers emerge, a few themes recur, edifying us to not only the realities of working for the Web's number one search engine but for any company whose cool quotient is, well, significantly higher than our own.

1. "But everything is so laid back!" The chilled out, fun-loving atmosphere of Google and like minded Valley employers is hard to resist, especially if like most white collar workers, you've spent your career toiling in cubes under fluorescent lights. Yet you'll still be toiling in cubes under fluorescent lights at Google, but somehow it is supposed to be more bearable because it's Google. Unsurprisingly, this honeymoon phase doesn't last forever.

"Google values 'coolness' tremendously, and the quality of service not as much," wrote Microsoft development manager Sergey Solyanik about leaving Google upon his return to Redmond.

2. "Just working there is enough." An ongoing complaint of employees exiting Google and other hot companies is that they were frustrated by a lack of career development, as the sheen of working for such an "awesome" employer settled into a day-to-day routine.

"Startups don’t have a career path for their employees," writes Obsanjo. "Does anyone at Facebook know what they want to be in five years besides rich? However once riches are no longer guaranteed and the stock isn’t firing on all cylinders (GOOG is under performing both the NASDAQ and DOW Jones industrial average this year) then you need to have a better career plan for your employees that goes beyond 'free lunches and all the foosball you can handle'."

3. "Not everyone is making bank." The majority of Google's or any startup's employees are not the bold letter named product guru or famed CEO, but recent graduates piled three and four into apartments working long hours for salaries in the low ends of their brackets. For more established professionals, it can be a harder place to work.

"Google’s hiring system is highly optimized for acquiring fresh college grads straight out of school--bright, idealistic, inexperienced, don’t know what they want to do with their lives, few or no time demands in their home life, and would be thrilled to do anything at a place as cool as the big G," said Danny Thorpe, another former Google employee that now works at Microsoft. "The Google interview style--valuating the person as a whole on intelligence and creativity, with no particular interest in experience and no particular job title in mind--reflects that."

4. "They really thought they were going to do something meaningful." Surprise! Most jobs at Google, like most jobs at any company, are quite unglamorous. Valleywag, a gossip blog, routinely points to openings for what are essentially "professional gofers" whose job responsibilities "will include making restaurant reservations, ordering flowers, recommending places to dine." Although these are just a few jobs out of more than 10,000 wordwide, it is exactly this dichotomy between high-achievers and mundane work that is the cause for so much burnout.

"[Google] makes a big deal of only hiring these super-high-IQ kiddies and the fact is that most of them truly are smart, but then you put them into this horribly dull and easy drone work on AdWords and AdSense and they're all bored to tears and totally disappointed because they really really really thought they were going to do something meaningful with their lives," wrote Fake Steve Jobs.

5. "Eventually, all children want to grow up." Is working at a company that does your laundry, gives you free food and lets you sit on bouncy-ball chairs kind of like being a kid again? More than one former Googler has argued this as they walked out the door--it was fun for a while, but it got old.

"Google hires programmers straight out of college and tempts them with all the benefits of college life. Indeed, as the hiring brochures stress, the place was explicitly modeled upon college… But as the gleam wears off the Google, I can see why it's no place anyone would want to hang around for that long," said blogger Aaron Swartz.

Topics: Google, CXO, IT Employment

About

Deb Perelman is a journalist in New York City with a focus on tech and the daily grind. Previously she was a reporter for eWEEK, leading the magazine and Web site's coverage of the issue and trends that affect IT workers.

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