Lessons I Learned at Google

Lesson #1: Take Every Call and Listen

I was working with a friend on a rapidly imploding startup (and starting to interview) when I got the phone call from Sid Prashar.

Lesson #2: Sometimes Being Stubborn is the Right Thing

The day before I was supposed to fly to Google my tooth fell out. I had recently spent a year at Amazon working on a super-duper-stressful secret project and apparently I had clenched my teeth so hard for so long that I had cracked the roots in one of them. It decided to fall out of my head 12 hours before my flight.

Ouch!

Lesson #3: Always Ask the Hard Question

How Much Dynamite Would You Like!

Lesson #4: Assume Everyone is Smarter Than You

My first few months at Google I commuted weekly from DC because I wanted my kids to finish their school year. As a result, I had nothing to do in the evenings and hung around the office to eat dinner in one of the cafes. Oftentimes Luke Stone would hang out and eat dinner with me while we watched Jeopardy on the cafe TV.

This Dude Will Crush You at Jeopardy

Lesson #5: Be Transparent — Especially When it Hurts

Google strives to hire the smartest people on Earth. In my experience most Googlers have excellent bullshit detectors. So it seems to me that the only winning long-term strategy (especially as a manager) is to be completely transparent with people.

  1. The answer
  2. “I don’t know”
  3. “I know the answer but won’t/can’t share it with you because…”
Time to Beat Dave Up!

Lesson #6: Also, Sometimes Being Stubborn is Stupid

Between my weekly cross-country commute and going to see customers I flew 200,000+ air miles my first year at Google. I didn’t really need to travel that much but I got it in my head that it’s what I had to do to “not suck” at my job.

Lesson #7: If You Raise a Problem Be Prepared to Own the Solution

Everyone Can Do SRE

Lesson #8: Even Disappointments Are Opportunities

In 2018 I was nominated for promotion. I thought I had written an awesome packet and everyone said I had an airtight case.

Google’s Network is Big, Complicated, And Endlessly Fascinating

Lesson #9: Everything Has Been to Get You Here

In early 2019 Ben Lutch pinged me. He and Ruth Porat had been discussing the idea of him coming to work for her to help Finance apply technical judgement to the budget requests from the various Alphabet businesses. Many of the requests were $1B+ and she wanted to make sure that the teams were being good stewards of Google’s resources.

Lesson #10: Treat Every Interaction as an Audition for Your Future

My first week at Google I got a phone call from an unhappy customer. His name was Erik Troan and he was (still is) the CTO and co-founder of a (then) small startup named Pendo.io. They were heavy users of App Engine and it was misbehaving. Because there hadn’t been a leader for our nascent Cloud Support he had been calling Ben Sloss (and others) directly. Now that I was on board it fell to me.

A Few Last Bits…

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the momentary frustrations of working in a large company — especially one as high-profile as Google. In those moments, however, it’s especially important to take a beat (and a breath) and try to have a little perspective.

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Dave Rensin

Dave Rensin

Distinguished Engineer - Google