Working at Google May Not Be That Great After All

Working at Google, widely considered Silicon Valley’s most prestigious employer, may not be all its cracked up to be. For example, consider a recent Quora thread on the subject:

Google Office“The worst part of working at Google, for many people, is that they’re overqualified for their job,” wrote a former employee. “There are students from top 10 colleges who are providing tech support for Google’s ads products, or manually taking down flagged content from YouTube, or writing basic code to A|B test the color of a button on a site.”

Google is well known for the gauntlet of interviews, tests and executive reviews potential employees must face. Are the tough standards really necessary? Are they there to benefit Google or hurt other companies? One commenter offered an answer: The company has “too many great people, doing work that just doesn’t matter, and they’re being paid off not to care in an explicit effort to starve the rest of the valley of extraordinary talent,” the commenter wrote. “Otherwise, it’s the best place to be.”

Another’s take on life at Google:

I used to joke with my colleagues that Larry & Sergey go out on their yachts – tie them together, sit back on the same recliners you’ll find on their jumbo jet, each on his own yacht/set of yachts, smoke cigars, and put up pictures of Googlers with little snippets like ‘was a GM at multi-national telecomm company, got a Harvard MBA and is now answering Orkut tickets.’ And then they would erupt in laughter and clink their cigars & Scotch together in celebration. This, of course, is highly unlikely given neither of them would ever smoke a cigar or drink Scotch.  Remainder is plausible.

Easy For You to Say

Whatever the company’s reputation as an employer, a number of comments consider the downsides to working at Google.

We tend to massively underestimate the compounding returns of intelligence. As humans, we need to solve big problems. If you graduate Stanford at 22 and Google recruits you, you’ll work a 9-to-5. It’s probably more like an 11-to-3 in terms of hard work. They’ll pay well. It’s relaxing. But what they are actually doing is paying you to accept a much lower intellectual growth rate. When you recognize that intelligence is compounding, the cost of that missing long-term compounding is enormous. They’re not giving you the best opportunity of your life. Then a scary thing can happen: You might realize one day that you’ve lost your competitive edge. You won’t be the best anymore. You won’t be able to fall in love with new stuff. Things are cushy where you are. You get complacent and stall.

So are Googlers just birds trapped in a gilded cage?

Perhaps. If comments about intellectual stagnation, being trapped in a job with too many perks to leave and even developing “bad karma” are correct, having too many smart people could end up hurting Google more than it helps.

12 Responses to “Working at Google May Not Be That Great After All”

  1. Nightcrawler

    I am leery of employers who offer perks that rival the last days of Rome: “free” on-site petsitting, on-site dry cleaning and oil changes, “free” meals, a “free” gym, etc. I put “free” in quotes because none of this stuff is truly free. You are given all of these perks with the expectation that you will devote your entire life to work. You are given free meals, on-site dry cleaning, etc., with the expectation that you will work 10-14 hours a day, 7 days a week…without even having to leave to get lunch.

    There’s an old “Twilight Zone” episode where a criminal dies and THINKS he has gone to Heaven, only to find that he’s actually taken the elevator down.

    It also doesn’t surprise me that people who can spit out code like machines are relegated to moderating YouTube comments. How many programmers does any company, even a tech giant like Google, really *need*? There is not an *unlimited* number of programming jobs, certainly not enough to absorb all of the STEM graduates pouring out of our nation’s CIS programs. “Everyone” has been told that “all the money” is in STEM, so “everyone” is getting a STEM degree. It’s like the old saying goes: if “everyone” becomes an engineer, we’ll have engineers driving cabs, making lattes…and yes, moderating message board comments.

    • The endless pretense that there is some perfect degree or corporate nirvana reminds me of all the cinderella fairytales told to little girls to keep em focused on marrying the perfect man instead of creating a great life that includes a man. Perhaps time for folks to create something for themselves and let corporate fairytales go by.

      • That’s the CLAIM, not enough STEM graduates. Truth be told is it’s better to
        hire a H1B’s…. they work for 1/2 the rate. Lay off “expensive” American workers
        who could easily be trained in said lacking skill that corporation must go offshore
        to find.

        It’s age/salary discrimination

  2. If you love what you’re doing, the 10-14 hour days come naturally. For many years, I worked in the Pharmaceutical/Biotech industries. I did computer simulations to help design drugs. It was intriguing, I loved it… being able to have the latest in tech gear in the Pharmaceutical industry. The highest end graphics systems (at the time from Evans & Sutherland, Silicon Graphics, etc). I worked long days and generally evenings at home as well. The pay was good – not Silicon Valley caliber, but for that industry, it was good.

    In the mid ’90s I was able to justify a dual processor Cray Supercomputer (actually two of them at two different companies). They called it my PC (Personal Cray). My team and our structural chemistry group were the only users – about 6-8 of us.

    A difference from what the article implies, is that I was left to discover. To use my creativity and work with other scientists to try and come up with new drugs. After managing discovery teams at several major pharmaceutical companies, I moved to the Bay Area and managed the R&D IT team at a major biotech organization. There I competed in hiring IT staff with the likes of Google. The enthusiasm of my team was tremendous.

    So hopefully, the folks at Google will recognize the pool of talent that they have and give them more freedom to create. It would be a shame, however, if the workforce became classified by where they got their degrees… the Stanford’s, Berkeley’s, etc. versus the state schools, rather than by the level of creativity – commercially successful or not.

  3. NothingNew

    This sounds very similar the Los Angeles Aerospace industry in the 1980s…rec centers, perks, a slow pace of work, often dictated by the bureaucratic government/NASA/DoD customer, that led many, if not most, of the best and brightest rocket scientists to leave for bigger challenges and opportunities in other professions, etc. Unfortunately, changing careers is not as simple as most believe, or the propaganda claims, and most have paid a price for it. The answer is to be brave, get aggressive, do what you are called to do and leave all of the graduate school, corporate leaders, and government manipulators behind. They put out the prpaganda for their own benefits. There is no shortage of American STEM workers (see May 2013 Upstart article). Some have the guts to be entrepreneurs, others really do prefer the corporate baysitting. Others want the babysitting with the rewards of the risk-taker who has to continually pay their dues. Too often, our society leads people, including smart young people, to believe that if they do ABC, they will get a comfortable position for life. No, the world doesn’t work like that. Everybody must always, continually keep earning their pay and place in the world everyday. Unfortunately, that is difficult and doesn’t always play out fairly, even for the best. For those who don’t realize this, or don’t want to, they will always be a slave to somebody else in one way, or another.

  4. Mitch Tracy

    This article mirror my experience in other technical leaders. Massive over qualification for employees. The underlying issue is – why would such highly educated, talented people settle for positions so far below their capabilities?

    I can think of two reasons – the first is to get in and claw your way up where you want to be. So now employees are competing for higher positions with other, similarly skilled people. the ‘bucket of crabs’ analogy comes to mind. Does this mean that these firms are intensely political – more so than other firms?

    The second possibility for these people staying in positions below their potential is the that the economy, US and world – for whatever reason – does not provide enough positions at a level appropriate to their skills. So they stay where they are – and employed – at least until we break out of this depression.

    My .02.

  5. My former employer, an Aerospace conglomerate, went through a fad where they had certain target universities, like MIT, that all new hires were supposed to come from. The perfectly fine local State University didn’t pass muster in their eyes. My snide observation was — what MIT grad would want to come here and write procurement specs (to outsource the real engineering work)?
    You can’t go broke underestimating the intelligence of American management.

  6. Google like any other for profit company functions by having jobs of all levels that perform needed functions. Progress up through the ranks is by a combination of relationships(who you know and being in the right place at the right time) plus proven work related successes. The fact is relationship building is an important skill for leaders and anyone wanting to escape the normal job functions to move on to “better jobs”…after all, somebody up there does your performance review and it helps greatly if they actually like you.

    The article was interesting though a bit arrogant in backhandedly suggesting a top college degree was equivalent to also being a promotable employee. The two items are not related. Who among us has never been stuck behind a book-smart but painfully brain dead boss when it came to managing people? The best people end up with the competition. Top schools should include emotional intelligence and common sense training as part of the course work if they expect their grads to deservedly promoted.

  7. Good mentioning this again David. I applied for a job at Google a few times and eventually got an invite for a first interview. Although I have high qualifications they didn’t hire me in the end. However what you share he is the case in some extend. A friend of mine works at Google in Netherlands and the often tells me that his work is too easy at times. He is not challenged which can be tough on the long term.