When I joined Google in December 2010, my friends didn’t think I’d last six months. I’d been working in startups for over a decade, and my experience and predilections had given me an enormous appetite for chaos, joyful appreciation of uncertainty, and incorrigible disdain for authority. Joining the world’s largest Internet company didn’t seem like a long-term move.
I lasted five years. It’s still a bit of a wonder to me how I stayed so long, but the attractions are undeniable. Google is routinely ranked as the best place to work, and it’s all true: market-leading products, smart colleagues, admirable leaders, outstanding perks and outsized pay. The list of reasons to work at Google is long and enviable.
Usually “great culture” is on that list, but it’s not on mine because no culture is great for every person. Only insane zealots would seek to impose a monoculture on the world, and to claim there’s just one way to have a great workplace culture is similarly indefensible. If chaos makes you hungry, if uncertainty brings you joy, if authority makes you want to punch up – you probably don’t want to work in a culture of extremely refined processes, luxurious reaction times, and deference to position. None of these are bad qualities in the abstract; it’s not inherently disadvantageous to be wild or deliberate, only the context makes it so. The context can vary from company to company, and even within companies.
I was in the right context, even at Google, for the first couple of years. Then I spent three years learning valuable things that nevertheless weren’t skills I wanted to have. Despite all the benefits, I feared becoming dependent on the enormous generosity of the leviathan, reduced to a remora suctioned to a whale for so long that it forgets how to swim. Unfortunately, I’m constitutionally incapable of adopting the prudence required to enjoy stability and luxury. I don’t think I’m irrational, I just value the parts of my personality that strain against these bounds. Prudence is expensive, unbearably dear, when it comes at the cost of your hunger, your joy, even the double-edged sword of your pride.
So finally, I’m out of the longest and most comfortable work relationship I’ve ever had, finally a fish without a host in the ocean, flapping the atrophy out of my fins. The water is deep and wide, filled with fearsome predators and cold currents, and the friendly coves are as yet hidden to me, but still it feels like home.