Updated: Oct 13, 2019
I didn’t realise how difficult life would be, after 10 years of working at Google, till someone at my new job asked me, “Do you know Docker?” I shrugged. “What’s that?” I added.
Now, you must be informed, that I am not a SWE. Or in eng-misc speak — “IANASWE”. In fact, I’m not even a computer engineer. I was a Program Manager at Google which made me familiar with technologies, as a driver is familiar with his car — He can smoothly one-hand-steer the car, without needing to know that 2 feet away, a camshaft is dutifully pushing spring loaded valves inside the engine. That day… the “Do you know Docker?” day… I had a strange feeling I said ‘I don’t know’ to something I actually knew. Like we all know who Bill Clinton is and could yet ask “William? Who’s William?”. I probably knew Docker, but not by that name.
That feeling returned, when another SWE at my new job asked me, “Do you know Kubernetis?”. I tilted my head and said “Uh, No. What’s that?”. His face twisted into a but-you-worked-for-Google-question-mark look. I defended my ignorance by raising my shoulders and twisting my hands in a why-not pose. I didn’t know the commercial equivalents of internal Google tools. I felt embarrassed, mildly, to be unaware of the working world outside of Google.
I joined Google in 2007. By the end of 10 years, my mornings had a warm-up schedule — I’d step off the bus, route through the CL3 barista in my clanking heels, clutch the hot compostable coffee cup to warm both my hands while I walked to my desk, voicing the american greeting of ’heyhowreyouimgood’ to anyone caught in the path of my morning march. When I’d reach my desk, I’d check news, memegen, eng-misc, Jeff-Dean-facts kind of pages before I felt ready to tackle tasks. In occasional afternoon slumps, I’d check epitaphs or look over teams pages of interesting Googlers.
When I left Google, I was afraid — I couldn’t possibly imagine a morning without them memes or miscs. Would I miss the barista and gwe-anon? Would I miss LGTMs, go links and +1 culture? Would I miss the bootcamps at GARfield?
I moved back to my home city, (in my home country) — a city where Google has no office. I had to find a new job, but I wasn’t worried. I had an array of solid skills useful to any employer — organised approach to work, efficient communication and an ability to push to 10X. Friends & Acquaintances who saw my resume said things like “Wow, you have a stellar resume”, or “Very eclectic”, or “You’ll have no problem finding a job”. I chilled at home with my legs propped up on my IKEA desk (that I shipped over from America). I told myself, I’ve worked 10 years at Google — heh, what could possibly go wrong?
I’ve worked 10 years at Google — what could possibly go wrong?
In 2015, a young American lady from the Google NYC office had pinged me over hangouts, because she wanted to visit a tier 2 city In India, and she chose my city, Pune. I had laughed. Almost insulted. “No, No, No” I had given her a head shake, like an adult gives a child who’s chewing on a Lego. “Pune is not a tier 2 city. It is a very big city”. How could it be a tier 2 city? I mean, I’m from Pune!
That opinion changed within a few weeks of searching for a job — There was no tier 1 company in my city. No Google. No Facebook. No Mckinsey. No BCG. Very few MNC’s and a 1000 Magnitude fewer startups than Bangalore. I was in no silicon valley. So that was my first problem.
I had a second problem. I spoke the language of only one industry — the industry of Google. It was tough to translate my Google experience into anything familiar to interviewers from other industries.
“I, errrr, I analysed port usage on peering routers”. “What?”
It was difficult to convey the complexity — the steepness of the technical hill everyone was climbing everyday at Google. At Google Infrastructure, I knew 100 different databases, tools, dashboards, processes and a network arrangement so unique and special to Google. Dremel, Bigtable, Borgmon, Plx, nw/ — everything I deftly switched between everyday on my two monitors, was lost in translation. Pooff.
And my third problem was the high hiring bar, of Google itself. Google has high expectations from Product Managers — whose qualifications require something like an MBA from Harvard, CS degree from Ivy’s. I’m but a mere mortal — an Industrial Engineer. In my head, I didn’t qualify to be a PM. Instead, I applied for roles I struggled to explain how I’d fit in — ‘Customer Success Manager’, ‘Predictive Analytics Tech Lead ‘, or ‘Operations Executive’.
“You should apply for Product Manager roles”, asked my well meaning friend over coffee. “Me?” I pointed at myself, “pfsssh, he he”, I half-laughed, moving my eyes to the ceiling as if that was such a ridiculous idea.”No. Please!” “What was your last offer?” he asked. “Sales”, I said, grinning through a bite of a spicy sandwich. “Girl, that’s not even your field!”
And so I applied for Product Manager.
In my first PM interview, I pulled the cap off a red marker pen, and drew on the whiteboard many lines that were resisting to look like boxes. Fuzzy details of routers, network engineers and databases filled them up, to show how my work in Network Operations could parallel Product Management. The interviewer, in his full-sleeves blue shirt, frowned — ‘Have you demonstrated building a product before?’. I, in my full sleeves blue jacket, defended. ‘I’ve built tools, just internally.’
I got rejected.
From this guy and two other product companies. Pathetic! When I got the 3rd email, I mentally kicked the leg of my IKEA desk and wondered, while I was figuratively hopping in pain — Has Google made me unemployable everywhere else?
Has Google made me unemployable everywhere else?
Before I could panic about that, I found a bunch of Silicon Valley expats who where as interested in me, as me in them. I got my first break as a Product Manager in their startup.
I am kicking myself for underestimating my Product Management skills. A few days ago I proudly watched my SWE’s, pointing at my design doc, where I’ve written field names in green typewriter font with a black background, added success metrics and wireframes that I could draw quickly and intuitively.
I have a lot to learn though. Our CEO just asked me to help on a ‘Business Development Plan’. I have no clue what that is. As I am googling ‘How do you write a business development plan?’, I realise, I am confident I can do this because of the steep hill I climbed at Google. I got this, folks.
You must ask me if I miss Google. I turn the mike to you. Ask, please? Now mike back to me.
Well, I don’t miss that coffee, memegen warm-up routine. No. I don’t have an option, but I still don’t miss it. Hokay? I am also secretly relieved that when people ask me ‘Where do you work?’, I no longer need to distract them by saying ‘Mountain View’ (to escape the special treatment that I’d get once they knew I work at Google’) and gladly say ‘a startup’. But my new colleagues make up for that. They put a hand on my back and introduce me proudly ‘This is Nupur. She was at Google before this’ and I smile awkwardly.
Cross posted on Xoogler.co blog.