I left my dream job at Google – and I’m definitely happier

A few months ago, I quit my job at Google after 10 years to join a 40-person startup (Replit).

At the time, I struggled to articulate why I needed to make the switch, even though I knew it for sure. Writing this helped me sort it out.

I left because I needed to find a work-life balance.

I joined Google in early 2011. Larry Page was entering his second term as CEO. Everyone was talking about a secret project named emerald sea. The TGIF was on Friday, and we attended in person.

At the time, it was my dream job. Google has been incredibly good to me. I had incredible teammates and role models. My family’s financial situation is forever changed. I was promoted fairly regularly and I was well placed to continue to improve.

So why was I unhappy?

Someone once described balance to me as three buckets full of water. One for career, a second for physical health and a third for social and family life. At any time, a bucket may be missing. But as long as the overall water level is high enough, you should be fine.

Important: water represents your level of satisfaction, not the hours you spend in it.

And that explains how I got caught up in the so-called big resignation.

In 2020, the pandemic has destroyed bucket #3 for most people. We were no different. Friends from back home in Canada could not visit us. Even meeting local friends has become difficult. In January 2021, I tore my Achilles tendon while playing basketball. This is bucket #2.

It was only then that I realized bucket #1 had been low for a while.

In mid-2021, I was tired all the time. I know I wasn’t alone, as it was an ongoing meme within Google. It’s only now that I realize what was wrong: I missed the satisfaction of building things and completing projects.

Getting things done at Google can be tough. Projects need multi-team cooperation to succeed, so you need to do a lot of upfront work to get everyone on board. But this weakens the projects. When one of these teams changes direction, or even simply overestimates its initial commitment, the project slows down or fails.

The rate of this happening has continued to increase. There were many reasons for this. Teams compete for range. Leaders disagree on direction, but middle managers are smart enough to phrase OKRs in a way that makes them think they’re getting what they want. And the combination of reorganizations and departures in middle management means that most people see something in their leadership chain change several times a year. The great resignation is like a flywheel in this way.

For most of 2021, I spent my energy protecting my team from chaos. I wanted them to be able to finish the projects we were passionate about. My day was spent deflecting potential reorganizations or project cancellations from new leaders entering the teams around me.

September brought another wave of organizational changes. I was exhausted, even though I was working fewer hours than ever before. I decided that the best solution would be to work in a place so small that this whole class of problems couldn’t exist.

I found Replit in mid-2021, through a combination of Hacker News posts and tweets from Paul Graham. I immediately understood the potential of the product. Some initial ideas I had for them were starting to turn into actual features. The CEO shared his opinions quite openly on Twitter and I found myself agreeing with most of them.

As soon as I understood that I was going to leave Google, I contacted them.

I hadn’t coded regularly for about five years. But luckily, their talks were hands-on. I spent evenings and weekends brushing up my skills enough to be successful.

When negotiating the offer, I really only cared about three things:

  • A role that would fascinate me.
  • A sufficient salary to pay my bills.
  • Fair enough that if I’m right about what Replit can become, I’ll exit before I stay at Google.

When I said yes to the offer, an instant wave of relief and excitement washed over me. I generally advise others to follow their instincts on tough decisions. It was good to hear mine speak so clearly.

So: Am I happier? Without a doubt yes.

I work more hours. I’m more likely to work evenings or weekends now. But what I do makes a difference that I can see. The progression seems 10 times faster.

The most surprising thing is that I have more energy. It’s easier to find the motivation to get back to the gym. I have more energy in social situations.

When a bucket fills up, it can overflow.

  1. A few months later, Emerald Sea got a public name: Google+
  2. We had internal social media where “I’m so tired” became a dark running joke.
  3. Alex Komoroske has a great explanation of what happens when projects slow down using a slime mold analogy.
  4. It should be noted that the role for me is separate from the title. I forgot to check my official title on the job posting and couldn’t answer when people first asked me (it’s “Engineer”).
  5. It sounds simple, but the expense for a family of three with a home in the Bay Area is no joke. It ended up being about 85% of my Google salary.

This article originally appeared on Scott Kennedy’s blog. Finding Scott on Twitter.

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