An out of Google experience
Update: Read about my first 12 days of Xooglerhood (being an ex-Googler).
— — — — — —
My alarm rang as it does every day at 7:10am so I could take my kids to school. As I checked my work inbox, eyes half open, I saw an email from Sundar, Google’s CEO, explaining Google had to make a tough decision and let some people go. I have no idea what made me search for an earlier email, I sure wish I hadn’t done that, but I did. As I scrolled down my inbox, a weird message popped up saying “authenticate to continue”. That can’t be good. I found it: “Notice Regarding Your Employment.” My heart sank as I read the words, “We are reducing our workforce and are very sorry to tell you that your role is impacted and we no longer have a job for you at Google.” “Impacted” you say… my heart started racing, I could hear it coming out of my chest. In my notification tray, I noticed a message from an unknown number:
I acted as I’ve seen myself act on the rare occasion of a car accident: exit the situation as fast as possible and return to normalcy. I left my bedroom and went to shuffle my kids through our morning routine, but I wasn’t myself. I felt like I was in a fog. I pretended to be calm, but I felt I was one kid’s tantrum away from losing it that morning. Before leaving our NYC apartment, as I was getting dressed, my husband was going through his morning routine, starting the day with listening to the news… using Google’s assistant of course. I kissed him good morning and told him I got laid off. “You’re joking right?” he said. “No” I said and smiled. This went on twice more, before the message landed. I left him there and dropped the kids at school.
I was a month shy of celebrating my 9th Googleversary (that’s what Googlers call their work anniversary). A year ago I experienced a crisis. Before joining Google I couldn’t have imagined staying at the same job for longer than 2–3 years, and there I was, 8 years and having fun. That crisis led me to switch roles. After 8.5 years of “Making Googlers uniquely productive”, I joined Google’s internal incubator — Area 120.
Area 120 was a place where any Googler could pitch an idea and get it funded (hire a team, get money, get 6 months to prove your idea). Successful ideas got “acquired” by Google’s product area (think Maps, Search, Ads, YouTube) and get prime time, well if everything goes well.
In the first week in the new job, Google was reported to “slash its internal incubator by 50%”. Everyone who knew me reached out to see if I was ok, and I, being me, explained to them that this was a leak and is inaccurate. We actually closed 7 out of 15 projects and started 4 new ones, leading to a total of 15% “reduction of headcount envelope” (love this phrase). “I’m fine” I explained 🙂. 94 days later, I was out the door. Area 120 was shut down, and everyone who was part of it, irrespective of their job performance, was let go.
For years I’ve expressed what no one else dared to say: “Google is too fat, we’re not good at managing low performers, we let them roam the company” I said. “I sure wish we were one of these companies who let go of the lower 5% performers on a yearly basis.” Google is an amazing company to work for, it truly is, and I loved every day and every week of it. I always remembered what it’s like to work at other companies and I made a point to be grateful for every cold brew, every beautiful sofa, new office that opened, the decor in the meeting rooms and whatnot — I was adamant to not turn into a jaded and entitled Googler like so many around me, asking “is it too much to ask for Nutella in the micro kitchen”. But yes, we needed to say goodbye to some co-workers. So hey, good news, finally someone listened to me (albeit ignoring the “lower 5% performers” piece), and hey, I got to be a role model.
Despite all of that running through my head, I felt a strong desire to cry. I couldn’t understand why, and I wasn’t sure I should let myself go there. “It’s fine,” I kept telling myself. “You want to do a million things, you should thank them for the kick in the butt”. But the thought of having to say the words “I was fired” or “I’m no longer with Google” was too painful. Google has been such a big part of my identity. I think the pride I felt working at that company added an inch to my height (and I can use each and every inch I can get).
About 10 years ago, while I was getting my MBA, I learned about the lean startup and lean launchpad. I grew passionate about entrepreneurship, and social entrepreneurship. I dreamt of starting my own company. When I joined Google, what drew me to lead internal products teams was the thought that I’ll be the CEO of a small company inside of Google, with a captive market (Googlers) where I can test things out on them. Over the last 10 years I gained experience building products that customers love. I started leading engineers before I was 20 in the Israeli army, and in recent years, I’ve led large software organizations (see lessons learned part 1 and part 2 along the way), owning, defining and creating strategy for at least 20 highly used products, many of which I took from 0 to 1 — from inception to user’s love. The positive impact for Google didn’t end there. Many product features made it to Google’s external customers (the last one is Google Meet’s emoji reactions which I launched internally for Googlers in July 2020).
Now that I’m out the door, it’s my time to dare and reach for what I want. It is my chance, my opportunity, to prove to myself that I could make my dream come true.
I’m still processing the shock, abruptness and sadness of losing my job. I started with acceptance and am working backwards through the stages of grief. I’m excited for all the things I now have time to explore. I’m excited to join forces with other talented peers who lost their job in a split second. I know I’ll be fine. But occasionally I wish I would be seen. I wish someone would look at the pile of employees and cherry pick me among all others. But they didn’t. So on we go — to infinity and beyond!