Thursday, January 27, 2005

wow it's raining hard out here

i guess living in seattle gets you accustomed to gloomy skies and light drizzle 9 months out of the year. on the way home tonight, it was raining really hard and it was kind of refreshing to see contrasting weather once again - reminds me of michigan.

also on my way home tonight, i stopped by ikea to pick up some new furniture. the thing is, i drive a small compact car and i needed to buy a new bed and some dressers. for some reason, i had convinced myself that i could fit the pieces for a queen size bed frame, 2 dressers and a nightstand all in the back of my poor little toyota celica. being from the online generation, i had already scoured and knew exactly what i wanted to get. i tried to quickly run through the showroom and find the items so i could jot down where to find the flat packed boxes in the self-serve warehouse. of course, i got lost somewhere in between living rooms and kitchens; i probably spent a good 20 minutes circling around taking "shortcuts" through the store.

after the showroom adventure, i finally found my way to the warehouse and realized how big the pieces for a queen size bed are. undeterred, i decided that i would try to fit it in my car anyways. so i loaded up my cart and went to checkout where i chose the slowest checkout line in the history of checkout lines. this gave me a lot of time to mentally visualize fitting all these huge boxes in my trunk. in my mind, i still saw it working out. after what felt like forever, it was finally my turn and i checked out, wheeled my furniture to the loading area and pulled my car up.

when i got out of my car, i looked at my cart and then at my trunk and thought: oh no. a queen size headboard is definitely not meant to fit in my hatchback. defeated, i went to find an ikea worker to inquire about shipping options. he took a look and said, "hey man, shipping is going to cost you at least $59. this stuff will fit, you want me to try?"

i figured this would be a fun exercise in frustration so i agreed to give it a go. i folded down the back seats, jammed my front seats as far forward as i could and we started loading stuff in. remarkably, the guy was able to get everything to fit in there on the first try. i was pretty impressed. the only problem was, i had slid my seat so close to the wheel that i physically wasn't able to drive anymore.

remarkably, the ikea guy was nice enough to help me unpack my car and repack it a couple more times until it finally all fit in there with my seat at a normal position. i must admit, this was the most fun i'd ever had at ikea.

so now my car is packed full of ikea boxes to be unloaded at my new apartment tomorrow :) many thanks to the ikea worker who helped me load my stuff, it definitely was the best customer service i've had in a while.

what.. what would you say... ya do here?

so lots of people have been asking me what my job actually is. contrary to some people's beliefs, my job is not to blog about google; that's what i do in my free time. i'm actually an associate product manager on adsense. that means i'm sandwiched in between being the customer advocate and harnessing all the cool stuff happening through engineers' 20% time. in my opinion, this is the best job in the industry, especially given that i'm a google customer too. so basically, i spend the bulk of my time thinking of new features or products that customers would want (read: stuff that i want) and then i organize people to build it. it's great!

anyways, one peculiarity in the population of associate product managers (apms) here is the mix of alma maters. there are only 3 non-stanford/non-m.i.t. apms, including myself. the other apms are split between the two schools, with stanford taking a slight lead i think. i don't really think it was planned like that, but i'll definitely be doing my part to mix it up a little :)

to be honest, when i first got here, i was kind of disappointed that i was put on adsense. i wanted to work on consumer products, where i could focus on coming up with new offerings that would revolutionize the way people use computers and the internet. but now that i've settled in a bit, i'm actually beginning to like what i work on. i can spend my 20% time exploring new ideas to my heart's content and there are tons of possible improvements in the system - more work than our current team can handle. every improvement we make has the potential to help out tons of customers and the people here are focused on getting these solutions out to customers as soon as possible.

which leads me to one of google's most valuable competitive advantages: the ability to get features out the door extremely quickly. this is by far one of the most striking contrasts between google and microsoft.

before i left microsoft, i chatted with a lot of people and there was one theme that they always touched on: microsoft knows how to ship software, we know how to turn the crank. at the time i thought, yup you're right, microsoft has shipped many versions of windows, office, visual studio... the list goes on and on. for the past 15 years, microsoft has been a software shipping machine and it has become very good at it. my friends at microsoft argued for me to stay so i could absorb this knowledge and learn the "the microsoft way".

but i figured something didn't seem right. in the past few years, everyone's seen microsoft's software shipping machine start to break down - schedules have been slipping, features are getting scaled back and there's the need for a huge patching infrastructure. the system isn't working as well anymore and despite the billg's internet memo years ago, the microsoft machine hasn't reinvented itself at all.

for as much as google is confident, microsoft is stubborn in its ways. they know one way to ship software and it doesn't work as well as it used to. the microsoft way, with its huge milestones and bi-annual releases (if you're lucky), just doesn't jive with the unlimited bandwidth, unlimited memory, unlimited computing power world that is quickly becoming a reality. the future of computing isn't on the desktop, it's on the network.

i remember when i was at microsoft, i'd propose trying new engineering practices: pair programming, unit-test driven development, iterative development. these ideas were shot down quickly and the response was always, "we've been developing software like this for 20 years and look at where we are. $50 billion in the bank, dominance in multiple markets... we're one of the most successful businesses in all of history. why would we change the way we make our bread and butter?"

contrast that to google, where reinvention is almost in its blood. there's no remorse about throwing away dead code; people work however they feel makes them most productive; and now, another critical part is here: there's a product management core that can help harness that creativity and productivity into products the world loves to use.

anyways... enough commentary for today, but i'll leave you with this: while microsoft focuses much of its resources and struggles to meet its deadline for longhorn, google can easily add, enhance, reinvent and distribute products seamlessly through this new computing landscape. in a nutshell, it's the dream of the dot-commers, finally come true.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

end of an exciting day

wow, the past day has been pretty interesting. lots of activity and some lessons learned as well.

i suppose the biggest lesson was how fast information travels nowadays. my old blog was pretty technically focused and as such, attracted a very specific audience. i guess i just figured that's how it would work for this new blog; it could serve as a place for me to put up my stories about working at google so my friends could all read it and i wouldn't have to repeat the same thing 20 times a day.

the second lesson was that in today's blogosphere, speculation runs rampant. i suppose i should've anticipated this one as well, but i hadn't learned the previous lesson yet, so i didn't really think too many people other than my friends would be reading this thing. oops!

anyways, here we are after the flurry of activity, and i wanted to address the most common criticism people have been posting around: i must be crazy/stupid/irrational/etc. becuase since i knew what i was getting myself into when i joined google, i shouldn't be complaining. while i do admit that i am a little of all of the above, i would encourage people to realize that life is all about compromises and trade-offs. in this particular scenario, before i made my decision to leave microsoft and come to google, i very carefully weighed many things, including (but not limited to):
  • overall compensation, including the benefits packages
  • mission and values of the companies
  • career growth potential and opportunities
  • scope of work i would be doing
  • working environment and atmosphere
  • location
in the end, i decided that google was a better choice; however, by no means was google the clear winner in all categories. different people have different ways to weight different factors and in the end, the equation i set up had google coming out on top. i trust you are all very intelligent people and you know exactly what i'm talking about here.

as far as voicing my opinion on different matters, well, it just depends on the person. some people are more open about issues that bother them, others keep thoughts internally. i think part of the beauty of the blogging movement is that for the first time, people worldwide are empowered to voice their opinion. i choose to exercise that privilege :)

anyways, if you don't give feedback, how will things ever get better?

p.s. for all you conspiracy theorists out there, this is not a PR/HR stunt and yes i am a real person :p


hi everyone, sorry my site has been down for the past day or so. i goofed and put some stuff up on my blog that's not supposed to be there. nothing serious and they didn't ask me to take anything down (even the stuff where i'm critical about the company). i'm learning that google is understandably careful about disclosing sensitive information, even vague financial-related things. the quickest way for me to fix the situation at the time was to take it all down. now i'm back up. just so you know, google was pretty cool about all this. thanks for and sorry for the frenzy of speculation.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

yikes, it takes a while to commute around here

for those of you who don't know, google provides a pretty cool service for employees who want to live in san francisco: a free shuttle. not only is the shuttle free, but during your commute, you can connect onto the internet and do work. somehow, they have a high speed wireless internet uplink on the bus which is shared to the passengers via a wireless router. as you can imagine, this is pretty nice because you can actually get work done while you're commuting; thus, further increasing your productivity. this shuttle is so popular that they actually use full size charter buses which seat about 50 people and they run 6 times to google in the morning and 6 times back to san francisco in the evening.

since the south bay is pretty boring, i'm living in downtown san francisco. yesterday, i tried this shuttle for the first time and it was pretty cool, except:
  • the internet connection was broken
  • the bus was at capacity, so i was kinda squished in a window seat at the back of the bus
  • and it took a full hour to make the drive and then i had to take the muni from the drop-off point
all told, my total commute time was an hour and 20 minutes. i suppose that's not too bad, but in seattle, my commute time was about 20 minutes (35 minutes if i took public transit). oh well, i guess i can live with the extended commute times; living in san francisco is definitely worth it!

Sunday, January 23, 2005

uh oh, what happened to my bank account?

so i happened to look over my finances this past weekend and i realized something: i'm broke. which is odd, because i had a bunch of liquid capital in my checking account last time i checked, and now all of a sudden i have nothing.

i realized the root problem was that google's relocation process requires the employee to pay all the expenses up front and then get reimbursed for them later. that means you have to cover an apartment hunting trip, your final relocation, lease termination fees and temporary housing expenses all in advance. not to mention that they don't pay out your signing bonus and relocation money until your first paycheck (which i haven't received yet). finally, add in the fact that i had to put down two months rent as a deposit for my new lease, and i'm flat broke.

on the plus side, this first paycheck is going to be huge... (which unfortunately means i'll probably end up getting taxed huge on it. doh!)

which led me to thinking about the "benefits" package at google. as i thought about it, i realized that most of the "benefits" actually seem to be thinly veiled timesavers to keep you at work. take for example: free lunch and dinner. now this one is an awesome value proposition for google; i'm not exactly sure why other companies don't also recognize the value and join in. consider this: it probably costs google a maximum of $3 per employee for lunch and $5 per employee for dinner. so that's only $8 per day, but if you think about the fact that the employee now probably only takes a half hour lunch break and also stays late working, the company actually realizes far more than an $8 gain in employee output. not to mention that most people think this is a great "benefit" and google gets a ton of positive press on it. in short, this "benefit" is designed benefit the company, not the employee.

then look at all these other fringe "benefits": on-site doctor, on-site dentist, on-site car washes... the list goes on and on with one similarity: every "benefit" is on-site so you never leave work. i'm not going to say this isn't convenient for us employees, but between all these devices designed to make us stay at work, they might as well just have dorms on campus that all employees are required to live in.

next, let's look at the health care benefit provided. arguably, this is the biggest benefit companies pay out for their employees. google definitely has a program that is on par with other companies in the industry; but since when does a company like google settle for being on par? microsoft's health care benefits shame google's relatively meager offering. for those of you who don't know, microsoft pays 100% of employees' premiums for a world-class PPO. everything you can possibly imagine is covered. the program has no co-pays on anything (including prescription drugs); you can self-refer to any doctor in the blue cross blue shield network, which pretty much means any licensed professional; and you can even get up to 24 hour-long massage sessions per year.

lastly, google demands employees that are 90th percentile material, so what's with the 50th percentile compensation? the packages would've been decent when the company was pre-IPO, but let's be honest here... a stock option with a strike price of $188 just doesn't have the same value as the ones of yesteryear. even microsoft adjusted their base salaries to 66th percentile years ago when it was clear that their stock options weren't as much a part of the total compensation package as it used to be. for a post-IPO company like google, it only seems fair that they adjust things accordingly.

all in all, despite these rants, i still chose to come to google. the work environment, projects and risk/reward equation were all more enticing than up in redmond. but just like when you look for apartments in SF, no option is ever perfect.

Friday, January 21, 2005

larry and sergey sure know how to throw a party!

before we get to the party the title refers to, thursday was the second day of the google global sales conference and as much as i liked the first day, the second day was even better!

they started off the day with a financials presentation, then the products team gave presentations reviewing product performance in 2004.

the coolest part of the sales conference came next: a city-wide adventure race. the group of 1500+ people split off into 250 teams of 4 or 5 and were given packets with detailed course instructions. the event was so big, they actually had to coordinate with the san francisco police department since there were all these crazy teams of people running around the city. my team decided to take it easy and we went through the course at a leisurely pace - quite fitting as our team name was "turtle" (and needless to say, we definitely didn't win). along the course, we walked up this huge hill and ended up at coit tower. although i had been in san francisco many times, i had never gone to this place and i must say, there are some amazing views from that vantage point.

after the adventure race, they had a fancy dinner and a party with an open bar. i must say, 1500+ sales people getting drunk at a company sponsored party feels remarkably like a frat party. i'd had my fill of frat parties sometime around freshman year of college, so i had a drink and left promptly.

that was the end of the sales conference; but the very next day, a new and exciting activity started: the google annual ski trip! they bused everyone to squaw valley and we skied all day. then they had a huge party set up for us that night. apparently, last year they fit everyone at the resort hotel but this year, there are twice as many people so the party was out in the squaw parking lot. they actually set up five outdoor event tents, four medium sized ones and one huge one. each medium sized tent had a theme with coordinating food and music; there was a caribbean theme, texas theme, pop theme and a jazz theme. then, in the main tent was food from all the different themes, a few sushi platters and desert trays.

while walking around, i tried to meet new people at each tent i visited. eventually, i met a bunch of people who work in the product management group - basically, the people i'll be working with. it was kind of a strange setting to meet co-workers who you'll be on projects with, but everyone was cool and we had a good time chatting over the loud music. everyone i met seemed to be pretty young and energetic... i think i'm going to have a fun time working on the team :).

around 10 o'clock, larry and sergey got up and introduced the band for the evening: tainted love. they played some of their classic hits and also covered a lot of other 80s tunes. there was a huge dance floor and people were really getting down (the stiff drinks and high altitude probably greased the wheels on that one). i was feeling kinda sick and i'm a terrible dancer, so i just turned in early.

this morning, i got up and was feeling a bit better so i hit the slopes again. i'm not exactly sure why, but i got really tired while snowboarding these past few days. uh oh, maybe i'm getting old. i'll just blame it on the high altitude and blazing sun. around 3, i finally got off the mountain and headed for the buses back to san francisco.

well, that just about covers my first week at google. now i'll have to spend the weekend looking for a new bed and other matching bedroom furniture. oh boy, lucky me :/

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

global sales conference - google style

well, it's day two and i'm attending google's global sales conference to learn about the message being pushed in the field and to try to get up to speed about as many products as fast as possible.

all in all, the conference is done really well. the logistics are coordinated well, the equipment is top notch, and of course, there's tons of food and drink to be had. the content is quite interesting, but i'm not allowed to share most of it (sorry :p)

while at the conference, i've gotten some new perspective and had some time to reflect upon the factors driving my decision to leave microsoft for google. here's what i came up with:
  • i wanted to work at a company that focuses on disruptive technologies.
  • i wanted work to be fun.
  • i wanted to work on stuff i thought was interesting.
they addressed each of these three things during presentations at the conference. google is not afraid to - in fact, they are committed to - creating new technologies that transform the way people use the internet. the sales conference, the people and the atmosphere of googolplex screams one theme: work == play, play == work. finally, as most of you know, google allows employees to dedicate 20% of their time towards their own ideas and inventions. additionally, you can easily shift around in the company to projects that most accurately match your interests.

not to mention that the company has some cool perks and definitely knows how to party. free food, open bars, lots of swag, company ski trip... they sure pile on the goodies :)

Monday, January 17, 2005

first day on the job, first post on the blog

in the ever increasing chaos known as the blogosphere, i've decided to add yet another random stream. if nothing else, this blog will serve as a personal journal of my life at google. maybe one day, a collection of these postings and comments will compile into a book...

in the meantime, i'll introduce myself and my new blog. my name is mark jen and i began my life as a googler (or noogler for those of you in the know) today: janurary 17th, 2005. in previous chapters of my life, i'd interned at ibm and worked full time for 18 months at microsoft. so i guess you could say i'm getting first hand experience at three companies who embody the tech company lifecycle - ibm at the tailend of their era; microsoft at the inflection point leading to maturity; and google at the beginning of what would become a new empire.

so what happened today? nothing too exciting. i think new employee orientation is about the same at any company: you show up early, get a security badge, sit through hours of boring presentations and fill out the required paperwork.

cool things about the process at google:
  • almost everything is electronic. only four forms need to be printed (two were required by the government; one was the electronic signature authorization form; and of course, the NDA we've all come to know and love)
  • my login, badge and workstation were completely ready to go on the first day. you'd think this wouldn't be so hard, but it actually proves to be quite difficult at most companies. to top it all off, my laptop was given to me all setup and in its carrying case with a full complement of goodies :)
now the bad:
  • same old 3 hour HR presentation about nothing important in particular
the rest of my day was spent surfing the corporate intranet. this was quite an experience. you'd think that an intranet would typically be oragnized and very cohesive - after all, it's the internal network for a single company. however, google has managed to recreate the chaos of the internet on its internal network. fortunately, they've applied their search engine to help sort through everything. which begs the question - did the intranet become messy becuase google had a great search engine to find things anyways? or would intranets naturally become a mess if not for the fear of creating a huge tangled mess with no search tool to help users?

closing thought: the ibm t41p is truly a laptop done right. i'm not entirely sure why any company would issue anything less to their employees (*ahem* microsoft :p)