Monday, December 26, 2005

New Year's resolutions for Googlers

Google has enough Monday morning quarterbacks as it is so I’ll leave the business advice to others (for now). I bring two perspectives for my advice to Googlers on their life outside of Google.

  1. I was fortunate to work at Microsoft during a similar period of time that Google is experiencing right now – tremendous revenue growth, explosive stock, round-the-clock work ethic and tremendous influence over the technology industry. As Mark Twain said “History may not repeat itself, but it rhymes”. Both companies have also been very effective at making it very, very easy to stay at work as long as possible. Microsoft pioneered some of these approaches but Google has taken them to a new level.
  2. I was unfortunate to have had 6 friends/co-workers die at a young age (in their 20’s & 30’s) during my tenure at Microsoft. This puts work into perspective very quickly especially having seen the full continuum of people dying without regret to those who died with the clichéd deathbed regret of wishing they’d spent more time with their family and friends. The person on the latter end of the continuum was a Microsoft senior executive. He was a rare combination of a highly successful MSFT exec, close friend of Steve and Bill and also a great person that everyone I met who came in contact with loved to be around. While all of these situations were very sad, his was the saddest and most impactful for me personally when it came to how I looked at work.

So as Googlers (and for that matter just about anyone working in the high-tech industry) reflect on 2005 and plan for 2006, I’ll share a few words of wisdom that have worked well for me…

  1. Get a life. Eventually you’ll regret not having any identity outside of Google but even before then, it’s good to talk to “real” people who don’t live and breathe the industry. Not only does it make you a more interesting person, it is easy to fall into the trap of designing everything for fellow employees that don’t reflect the rest of the world. “Offline” experiences can often be inspiration for something executed online so turn off your computer and get out there.
  2. Establish a strategy of selling your GOOG stock on a regular basis. It’s essentially dollar cost averaging in reverse. It’s hard to do when it seems like the stock can only climb. The way I looked at it at the time was I saw how IBM was in the most dominant position in the industry at one time and had much more lock-in and dominance than Microsoft ever had yet it’s stock eventually came back down to earth. When that coming back down to earth happens is tough to predict. This regular selling process gave me a dispassionate approach to the stock as it often performed at odds with what I was seeing internally. I took some money off the table yet had plenty of MSFT to continue to ride it up if it went that direction. A related point was finding someone like Brian Vowinkel who has been a trusted financial advisor working within a firm where their interests are aligned with mine (somewhat unusual for many so-called “financial experts”). GOOG obviously won’t always go up and these approaches served me very well.
  3. Don’t let others define what success is for you. It can and should be different for everyone yet it’s easy in a strong culture to adopt others’ view of success. Living life without regret was the biggest takeaway when the 1st of my 6 friends died. She was the youngest of the bunch yet she truly died without regret doing more in 26 years than most do in a lifetime. One facet of my personal definition of success was disconnecting what I did professionally from where I lived physically. To that point, my career decisions were based largely on moving up the corporate ladder which I’d had good success at being one of the youngest Product Unit Managers in the company. From that point forward, I made some career decisions that were head-scratchers for some people as they didn’t know my gameplan. I didn’t care and it ultimately served me well. I’m living in the mountains yet am as engaged as I’ve been with the tech community as always (thanks Internet!).
  4. Work late only if that’s your “in the zone” time. I had an earlier post sharing my Uncle Bill’s words of wisdom upon his retirement as a Consumer Package Goods executive #6 on his list was “It is not important that you come in early and work late. The important thing is WHY?” Mark Lucovsky is an ex-Microsoftie now at Google that seems to think that working at 3 or 4am is some measure of success/passion. I disagree. Whether you are a developer, athlete or business person, there are times when you are “in the zone”. When you look back at the past year, there are usually 3-5 things you did exceptionally well when you were “in the zone” and those were the things that really made a difference. For me, those usually take place between 5 and 8am. I’m sure 3 or 4am is that time for others but I doubt that’s the case for most people. Don’t be a lemming and get caught up in the machismo of showing how late you can work. It’s results at whatever time that matter.
  5. Learn to throw a change-up and knuckleball. In baseball, many young pitchers get into the major leagues with a killer fastball. Likewise, younger tech workers often try a similar approach where they just “throw” with as much energy as possible. Brute force can work for awhile. Unfortunately, like in baseball, they will usually flame-out or burnout. Learning some finesse is the key to a long, successful career in baseball or tech. I saw lots of carnage at Microsoft where some of these former “fastballers” ran out of gas and became worthless to their team and to society.
  6. Read up on Emotional Intelligence. IQ matters but so does the notion of “EQ”. Lack of EQ led to many of the challenges people at Microsoft had (not to mention the company as a whole).
  7. Live by Kimo’s rules. These aren’t especially work/tech oriented but there are plenty of good life tips.

What other non-work suggestions would you give to a Googler? Brad Feld had some suggestions here.


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