7 Lessons from My 7 Years at Google

Hey friends - You might not know this, but July 4th isn’t best known for being Independence Day in the United States.

July 4th is actually famous because it was the day I joined Google back in 2016. The more you know 😉

To commemorate this milestone, I took some to reflect and came up with 7 lessons for each year I’ve been at Google.

These are specific to my experiences but I hope you find these helpful!

(I’ll keep these brief, let me know in the comments if you’d like an entire video)

The best mentors are those 1 step ahead of us

Google has an open-door policy whereby a Noogler can schedule 1:1’s with senior directors if they wanted to.

But I quickly found out that I actually couldn’t learn that much from senior leaders because they were “so far removed” from what I was doing as a first-year salesperson.

Instead, I asked senior leaders to connect me with colleagues who ramped up quickly so I could learn from them directly.

How I phrased the ask: “If you think back to a Noogler who impressed you during their onboarding quarter, who comes to mind and could you introduce us?”
(team dinner during my first year at Google)

Your manager can make (or break) your life

I use “life” instead of “professional life” on purpose because the mental stress from having a bad manager can easily bleed into your personal life.

The litmus test for a good vs. bad manager:

  • Good managers build psychological safety within the team (i.e. you can admit failures and know you won’t be judged)
  • Bad managers care more about their reputation than doing what’s right for the team (and you)

I’ve been blessed with good managers my entire career (no joke) and if I ever moved to another role, I would prioritize finding a good manager above all else.

Pro tip: I made an entire video on what makes a good manager based on Julie Zhuo’s bestseller
(2 of my favorite managers at Google are in this photo)

Doing good work just isn’t good enough

This took me a long time to accept because I always wanted to believe “If I do a good job, other people will notice.”

Unfortunately in real life if you don’t advocate for yourself, announce your successes, and build presence, you will see less capable colleagues who are better storytellers get promoted before you.

The best way to advocate for yourself without bragging is to give credit and share learnings (i.e. lead with value) when talking about your achievements.

The only constant is change

This is a cliché for a reason: It’s just so true.

Like many tech companies, Google goes through changes constantly, for example:

  • Re-organizations - You work on Product A for a month, then something happens and you get assigned to Product B with a new manager the next month

It took me a while to get used to this (”I literally just built a plan for this quarter wtf”) but I realized that as long as I had a flexible framework to adapt to these changes, I wouldn’t feel as stressed.

There are dozens of frameworks out there but the best way to adapt to change (in the workplace) is to start by asking the right questions. For example:

  • What is the new success metric?
  • Why are we moving in this new direction?
  • What do I need to start, stop, and continue?
(my first event after moving from sales to marketing)

There is no work-life balance (if you’re ambitious)

Professor Scott Galloway said it best:

(Balance is a myth. There are only trade-off)

No senior leader has ever said this at Google (it would be career suicide) but from my observations, the ones who have moved up the fastest and achieved the most “success” in the traditional sense are those who made the conscious decision to prioritize work earlier on in their career.

That being said, I want to be extremely clear:

  • There is absolutely nothing wrong with prioritizing personal life (or work for that matter). I just think it’s important for us all to understand it’s all about tradeoffs (i.e. you can’t have it both ways).

Just like Daniel Priestley says in his bestseller “Oversubscribed” -

Each one of us has an unconscious hierarchy of values - the ranked order of things we place importance on. No one is necessarily right or wrong about the things that matter to them but everyone is different

Execution beats strategy every time

Speaking of books, Julie Zhuo says in “The Making of a Manager” -

Execution beats strategy every time. If you had a crystal ball that could tell you the exact industry-disrupting new idea to build, but your end product is slow and buggy compared to the competition, you will still lose the game

In “Anything You Want,” Derek Sivers echos this idea by saying -

To me, ideas are worth nothing unless they are executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions

And I’ve found these concepts to be 100% true at Google.

The biggest campaign I run today - Start on Android - almost didn't happen because I couldn't come up with a strong business proposal.

My manager told me there's no point worrying about how it looks on paper and to test my hypothesis by running a pilot instead.

Pro tip: Only run pilots after you deliver on your core success metrics

Bribery works (for relationship building)

When I visit clients, I would bring this biscuit you can only find in my hometown worth US$ 10.

When I meet cross-functional colleagues, I would bring black coffee from Starbucks to our meeting.

Has my colleagues ever admitted, “Hey Jeff, because you got me that US$ 4 coffee, I will help you more on this project”?

Of course not.

But have I built up goodwill over the years of doing this consistently causing my projects to run more smoothly?

I’m willing to bet US$ 100,000 the answer is yes 😉

(My tentpole Start on Android campaign is only been possible thanks to the support of cross-functional teams who didn’t need to help me)

Bonus: Google doesn’t care about me

This last one is somewhat unfair towards Google because I have had an absolutely amazing 7 years here and the benefits vastly outweigh anything negative I have experienced.

At the same time, I think the layoffs we went through earlier this year has been a wakeup call for me.

Specifically, I felt the pain my ex-colleagues went through when they woke up one day and found themselves no longer “Googlers.”

I am of course proud of the fact that I can call myself a Googler but I also realize the danger in having my identity attached to a company that can let me go at any point!

At the end of the day, we should realize the company we work for is…just a company with shareholders and a balance sheet.

There’s absolutely no way I’m ending this post on such sad note so here’s a classic Google meme:

Got feedback for this edition of The Debrief? Let me know!

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