A Founder's Guide: Google from the Outside
Written Jan, 2022. Published Feb, 2022.
About a year ago, I left Google Research to start my own company. I left mostly for personal reasons, but of course some amount of big-tech fatigue (amplified by COVID burnout) played a role. I even wrote a 'Why I Left Google' post — an evergreen genre of blog post, if there ever was one — though I never published it.
Since then, I've had a lot of time to reflect on my career there. Actually, that's not quite right. I've had a lot of time to ruthlessly steal as much of Google's people-ops and culture as possible. Why? Well, yes, there are undoubtedly countless examples of things that Google gets things wrong, but it was only when I had to run my own company with my own team that I understood the strength of Google's operational structure and the things it gets right.
There are a few things that I think are maybe not obvious to anyone who hasn't run an organization.
- Communication is really really really hard.
- Incentivizing collaboration/forward progress is really really really hard.
- Onboarding new folks is…well, it's moderately hard. But worth mentioning!
While I was at Google, I spent a lot of time trying to understand the internal dynamics of the company. What makes a trillion dollar behemoth with the population of a small country functional? With a year of hindsight, I think Google really nails these three areas of development.
Now, I have to preface everything that follows with an important caveat. The number one reason for Google's success is that it stumbled upon the singular business model that successfully monetized the web. Not OKRs. Not foosball. Not free food. But Google chose to point that money hose towards organizational efficiency, and did learn a few things. This is an attempt to catalog what succeeded.
I split this up into three subsections, one for each challenge area above. The first is about communication at Google. The second is about collaboration at Google. The third is about onboarding at Google (WIP).