My Last Day at Google...

…was August 25th, 2011. On September 6th, 2011 (four years and two days after I started my first Silicon Valley job at Google) I will be starting a position as Developer Advocate at Twitter.

There’s a lot I can say about what made Twitter attractive, so much that I want to save it for a future post. The time since I made the definitive decision to leave Google has been filled with a bunch of internal reflection, and I want to get some of that up here so that I don’t need to repeat myself every time I tell someone that I plan to leave and their first reaction is “oh, why would you do that?”

Flat out, Google has been the best job of my life. It’s very easy to imagine that it may wind up being the best job of my entire career. I’ve always felt like I’ve been able to work on interesting and important things, trade ideas with people I never would have even dreamed of meeting, and been richly rewarded for my efforts. I’ve been given the opportunity to see the Developer Relations team grow from a handful of people working in adjacent cubes to an organization which supports developers around the world and has over two hundred members.

When I was originally hired for the team, I was supposed to be working on .NET client library code and documentation, but the complexities of finishing up my current contract and physically moving from New Jersey delayed my start date by three months. By the time I showed up for my first day, I was given the assignment of ramping up on an internal secret project which nobody seemed to be able to describe, but eventually became to be known as OpenSocial.

'On my way to California'

Back then, we did a lot of stuff ad-hoc. I cold called a lot of developers. The team never had a process for doing hackathons, so in my first month I needed to figure out how to book large conference rooms, get catering budget, and manage external guests. We had to stall at the start of our first top secret developer event, since the API was broken for most of the morning and we couldn’t let the attendees use it.

But I also had a taste of being on the edge of something big and secret in the Valley. I was working with people who had founded companies like Excite. I got to be part of a handful of people who briefed Marc Andreessen about the project. I got my first Valleywag refererence and that meant that I was starting to be someone, because any publicity was good publicity, right? It was a good time.

Two years of work on OpenSocial gave me a lot of experience. At the time, the project had evolved as a spec, but most of the attentions of the folks behind it went into what would eventually be launched in the form of Buzz and then Google+. But at that point, after two years of the same project, I had found an itch to try something different, and I had enough street cred to have some flexibility moving around on the team.

Turned out that Google Chrome, a project I was initially not quite fond of but was starting to grow on me, had plans to launch an Extensions API. Since I had done a bit of extension work for Firefox, I felt an urge to move onto the team. It was new, and it was a little bit exciting. Instead of being confined to the limitations of Google Gadgets, Chrome Extensions could manipulate the entire browser!

It was an excellent move. Despite my initial misgivings, Chrome turned out to be the best browser I’ve ever used. The extensions team is fantastic, and they had done a lot of things their own way which gave me some leeway to play around. Their docs server was custom written and the documentation was all built out of the Chromium source tree. To check in docs, I needed to get commit access to the entire project, which they were happy to give, with the warning “don’t break anything”. To my credit (or not) I only broke the build twice, due to some bad UNIX file permissions. I wrote a custom samples gallery which parsed all the code of the sample extensions and made a searchable index. I was given access to the extensions gallery and able to scrape data. I wrote utilities, dashboards, servers, examples, articles, slide decks, client libraries—anything I could to help make workflows of supporting the APIs easier for myself and the team.

I got to travel a lot, too. In the past few years I’ve been on business trips to Seattle, Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul, London, Munich, Madrid, Brno, Tokyo, Taipei, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Bangkok, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. I’ve spoken to developers around the world, and was even livestreamed at the last Google I/O so that my father and brother could watch my talk from the comfort of their home in New Jersey.

At this point, I really believe that I’m starting to get a handle on this Developer Relations stuff. It’s not your standard engineering job, and not everyone is suited for the role. When things are bad, you’re answering the same JavaScript question in a forum for the third time in a week, but when things are good, you’re in front of a 500 developers in Taiwan showing an HTML orientation demo that you just got working that morning, to thunderous applause. In my experience, the benefits have far outweighed the drawbacks.

Which brings me back to the question of why I decided to leave such a rewarding job. I’d say that I like to stay on the edge of things and search out new experiences. New experiences help me evolve—the cumulative learnings of every crazy thing I try affects any new project I tackle. When the opportunity to work at Twitter first landed in my lap, I rejected it. But after a bit of hounding on their part, and a bit of reflection on mine, I realized that I was starting to miss that feeling of improvisation and excitement. I realized that I wasn’t as hungry as I was a few years ago-I had gotten a bit more complacent, and I wasn’t evolving in the way I had two or four years prior.

I had always wondered what it was like to work in a pre-IPO company (more for the experience, rather than equity) and I was embarrassed to realize that I was considering abandoning that because my equity at Google hadn’t fully vested, or because I really wanted the holiday gifts, the bonuses, and access to Google’s amazing perks.

I started reading Ray Dalio’s Principles (see this explanation) throughout this process, and “It is a fundamental law of nature that to evolve one has to push one’s limits, which is painful, in order to gain strength—whether it’s in the form of lifting weights, facing problems head-on, or in any other way” really sums up my feelings at this point. I want to try more, and I’m willing to sacrifice my short term comfort to have a new experience under my belt. Twitter is an attractive but painful move. Which makes me think that a change at this point was an effective way to push my limits and see what kind of impact I can have next.

For those of you considering a Developer Relations job, I have nothing but good things to say about Google’s team. And I’m sure that they have at least one more opening, now.

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