Five realities of Google or any other Workplace Wonderland

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

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  • The best will float to the top?

    In any sizable company there are people that aren't pushing boundaries and so will be left somewhat self-stagnating. That's inherent in 9-5 working - some people ultimately turn up to collect their pay cheque.

    Plus you get the back climbing, hierarchical thought processes, meetings about meetings about documents about meetings.

    Save some money, start your ideas in your spare time, and then finish them off in your own garage when you've got other people excited about the idea.
    • I agree

      If you think your idea is good and don't want it to be consumed and spit out, then just do it your own garage, den, back porch.
    • Oh yes, meetings about meetings...

      Those are always the best.

      I think my most memorable cubicle-life moment to date was the almost-to-the-tee reenactment of the "Yeah, hi, I'm gonna need you to come in on the weekend" scene in Office Space. My boss leaned over the cubicle wall, and sipped from his mug as he asked a friend and I to come in over the weekend. And the best part was that my boss was not trying to be funny. He hadn't even seen Office Space. I almost fell out of my chair.
  • I am quite curious as to what DonnieBoy's

    take would be on this? The article would contradict much of what he has been saying all this time.

    But seriously, having worked all these years for a large contract food service company, I can tell you that Google is not the first (or only) company to ever offer the above mentioned amenities, we have a pair of clients who offer their employees the exact same service thru us.

    I would assume the difference being that where Google might need such services as an incentive to keep employees from leaving an otherwise boring job, the companies we deal with use such services to [i]help[/i] the employees, as the nature of their work, though rewarding, can at times take up a large part of their schedule, and such a setup allows the employees to eat and relax at a time that they may not be able to be home as planned.

    But I do agree that without a meaningful occupation or a chance at advancement for someone with the creative flair of a programmer, all the benefits an employer can, and does offer will only keep a person around long enough to get themselves situated financially.
  • You answered it with the college kids...

    Those of us that have been working for at least some time have either worked for or worked with people that worked for one of these companies that offers these super amenities. The whole point of backup daycare, dry cleaning, onsite workout facilities, onsite gourmet cooking and the like are so that you can live your life on site while slaving away for long hours. You have no reason to go home or have any real life outside of your cube.

    I am a firm believer in working to live and not living to work. I learned a long time ago to steer clear of these types of work environments if you actually enjoy having a life. For some people though this is the way they like life and thats great for them.
    • The other thing about college kids is...

      ...most of them are single. Once people get married and become parents, the life outside of work becomes more important.
      John L. Ries
  • RE: Five realities of Google or any other Workplace Wonderland

    Just FYI the wrong form of "there/they're/their" is used in the second to last paragraph:
    "More than one former Googler has argued this as they walked out there door???it was fun for a while, but it got old."
    • Yeah but

      Its the content, [i]irregardless[/i]. :)
      • Speaking of college kids...

        In this instance the content was apparent, but that isn't
        always the case.

        More than ever when we rely on written word with the
        majority of our day to day communication done by emails
        and IM, and with the Internet we are presenting to
        international audiences, it is important to make sure you
        are correctly understood.

        These sort of things ARE important, take the time to get
        them right, it makes it easier for your audience!

        Oh and one more thing, "Its the content...", wrong use of
        "Its", should have been "It's".
      • irregardless

  • Microsoft isn't nirvana either

    Do what makes you tick. Google and Microsoft once the novelty wears off are just "another company." The mystique can be far, far more interesting than the day to day experience.

    Microsoft certainly is far more mature than Google even when I spent 2-1/2 years there 10 years ago.

    I graduated wanting to go to either the Silicon Valley area or Microsoft and indeed after much persistence, Redmond happened. But while I did enjoy software development, I came to the conclusion that I simply did *NOT* enjoy working on large software projects. Working on code that was written years ago is honestly not that interesting, yeah mature products come from mature codebases and that is reality and companies like Microsoft make billions, nevertheless, the idea of writing code to print documents does *NOT* excite me. I left and honestly have no regrets.

  • RE: Five realities of Google or any other Workplace Wonderland

    "???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."

    Umm, Im not saying this isnt factual, but... considering this MS empoyee left MS, went to Google, and then returned to MS... I'll leave the possibilities of why the departure and return to start with, especially for those who know, or think they know MS. It may be innocent, it MAY have been a spy trip... I'll let you decide this one.

    However, since MS has made it known they consider Google an enemy to their marketshares, or marketshares they want, Mr. Solyanik could be lying, out of loyalty, could be lying out of fear, or could plausably be telling the truth.

    You think about how MicroSoft operates, and you make the call as to whether this is: a FUD tactic, CYA with the current employer, or Truth.

    On the bigger picture of the article... I dont see any reason really that Google would be different than working for IBM or MicroSoft, or any other large company, other than their own spin on things.
  • Google places of work are like junk food

    Places like Google is like having a every bit of debauchery at your finger tips - want to have a mountain of nachos with the best cheese the world? you've got it. You want to have a concubine after to 'relieve' some of your stress - you've got it.

    Eventually, however, you realise after having a period of time in this 'place' you want something different. The novelty wears off, and the attraction is no longer there. You crave something that is more than superficial.

    You are right about the lack of career development. After the first couple of years people realise that sure, they've got it easy - but what about the rest of their life? simply being in the same place, earning the same money, doing the same thing for the next 30 years is hardly enjoyable nor wanted.

    When people work in a job they want to feel that not only are they contributing to something bigger than themselves, they also want to feel as though there is some progress forward - so that when they are 50-60, they can look back, look at where they've come from, where they are now, and be happy that they're in a better position than where they started out. Simply 'treading water' for trending mod-cons hardly excites most people.

    As for the ex-Microsoft employee; I think he is clueless if he thinks that Microsoft has its act together. If I ever saw a company create products then create demand for something that was never needed (only to find it backfire), its Microsoft. Microsoft management need to come back down to reality and start making contact with the 'little people', maybe then they won't have royal cockup's like Vista in future.
    • Sequence Error

      Sequence Error! Shouldn't you have the concubine first and the gargantuan plate of nachos afterwards? Apart from that, it's a topping idea. When I start my own company I shall put the corporate harem right at the top of my priorities.
  • An average of 2 years...

    That's how long most people will spend in a technology related job in today's market. Why should Google employees be any different? It doesn't matter how nice the place is that you work for. After a while, the grass will always appear greener on the other side of the fence.
    Steve Goldman
  • I took Microsoft over Google

    I was about to get an offer from Google and had one in hand from Microsoft. I took the Microsoft deal. Why? Boiled down to maturity and attitude: After four interviews cycles, Google wouldn't tell me where I was going to be based, what my salary would be, which group I'd be working for or how I could advance at the company. I never got a straight answer about how my skills would contribute to the company's success.

    The Microsoft interview process and negotiations were quick (first call to offer took three weeks), the expectations on both sides clearly laid out and my career path is (as much as possible) well-defined.

    Yes, I have to pay for my dry cleaning and lunches but I've never looked back or regretted my decision.
  • Career path

    "Startups don?t have a career path for their employees"

    Well I have yet to work for a company that had a "career path" for me. Its always "what do you want to become (make sure it fits into the model of stuff we have questions for)" instead of "here is what we need and what we can help teach you".

    People are always asking kids what they want to be when they grow up - because we are all looking for ideas.
    Silent Observer
    • Start ups don't have career paths

      I've worked for small companies and I've worked for big ones, and small ones are more fun. This is partly because they don't have career paths. If there are only four of you, and maybe a couple of part timers, you have to do whatever comes in the door, do it expertly, get it back to the customer on time, and charge a high price without starting an argument. Eventually you gain greater responsibilities and more money based on what you're actually good at.

      A large company can't work this way: peoples' roles and responsibilities are fixed by their job title and the corporate hierarchy.

      But at least there <i>is</i> a hierarchy in such a place. Nothing is more dismal and dispiriting than working in a company where, if the manager leaves, you know for certain that his replacement will be a Doctor of Energetic Music and Hair Styling who gained his experience working for ten years as the Underlay Supervisor at a carpet factory in the Falkland Islands, because he and the CEO once played golf together in Uxbridge.
  • I can tell you why...

    I worked at a couple of these wonderlands and the company puts up a front to lure the unsuspecting. They are not all they are cracked up to be and only after falling into them do you realize your mistake.

    While I learned from the first experience, I had to at times as a consultant work for them, but forewarned is forearmed. I didn't fall for the hype the second and subsequent times working for them.

    I got cash on the barrel head. Did the work I contracted for and left as soon as possible.

    What they don't talk about:
    1. It is in the end a business and they don't put up with "stuff".
    2. They will work you to death under the banner of "Isn't it cool!"
    3. They often have caste systems, good if you are in the upper class bad if you are not.
    4. Politics is lethal, count you fingers after every handshake.
    5. They often pay less to the employee, work there as a consultant and get your pound of flesh instead of a free can of soda or stock that may or may not come through.
    6. There is a cult mentality, don't shave your head or drink the cool-aid.

    I could go on but you get the point.
  • RE: Five realities of Google or any other Workplace Wonderland

    When they bring in a worker hired to work for you and pay them more money, it is time to take a hike. I started my own company doing the same thing I did for them and now they are no longer in that line of work. My old boss can just kiss my arse. The big fat loaf treats people like garbage so it is a revolving door there. So when you see a middle aged load taking credit for your ideas and work, don't wait, move on and let them fall flat on their face.