Last week was a big week for me. I started a new job at Google and my kid graduated from high school. These big changes seem to have arrived all at once, though in reality change is constant.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past 4 months reflecting on US Government transformation and the small, yet significant impact that one human can make. When I decided to leave at the end of my two-year term at 18F, I knew exactly what I wanted: find a group of smart, fun people who are trying to do something challenging, yet possible, that has the potential to make a big impact on a lot of people’s lives. I wanted to make (or improve) products for regular people. I didn’t need to save the world. I wanted something intellectually challenging that would let me solve different kinds of hard problems, the familiar kind that I’ve been solving my whole career.
At this point in my career, given my tech experience, folks think it is easy to find a job. And, yes, it is easy to find a job, but finding the job where I’ll be happy and be able to effectively apply my skills is hard. Those of us who don’t look like Mark Zuckerberg need to do a bit of homework to validate that we’re joining the right kind of team, and a company where you can be an effective leader and collaborate with difference. I knew the kind of people I wanted to work with, but was pretty flexible of the kind of tech, so it took a bit of research.
I started to get together with people I’ve worked with before who I respect and they introduced me to new people… in almost 5 months I only got about a quarter of the way through my list and met many more folks. To keep track of my random schedule of meetings and introductions, I started tracking everything in a spreadsheet… since December 26th, I’ve had almost 100 meetings or phone calls with 83 people, which led me to seriously consider 10 companies. I interviewed with 5 of them, had job offers from 3, and finally had a really difficult choice. This was actually my goal. I’ve never actually done this kind of job search before, but it is similar to how I usually approach hiring. I like to have good, tough choices.
On of the reasons the choice was hard was that I was biased against Google based on their hiring process. I still think their hiring process is a problem for them attracting and selecting the best talent, but having spent the last three years working for the federal government, I have a lot more empathy for large systems and organizations. I talked to a lot of people inside Google to assess their internal culture and the groups I considered joining. I found a lot of genuinely good and caring people who share my values about building great teams and creating great software. Also, after working for the federal government, I joke that I’m ready to join a small company, like Google, which is about half the size of the US Dept. of Agriculture.
In selecting a new job, I found that the journey, as well as the destination, helped me figure out some things that really matter to me.
An Open Source Project
I hadn’t really understood until last month that open source is not only something I believe is important for government services and non-profit work, but that I value how it enables me to work. I love the impromptu collaboration with like-minded strangers that happens when you work in the open.
Some time ago, Google quietly released Vanadium on github. If you search for it on google you find lots of information on the element which is an essential mineral in the lives of sea squirts.
The technology emerged from a research group at Google, and allows for secure peer-to-peer messaging.
Connected applications have become widespread in the last decade, with the rise of social networks, messaging apps, and online collaborative tools like Google Docs which let people see each others’ edits in real-time. For the convenience of developers, these online interactions require people to be connected to the Internet. We have transformed the Internet from a resilient, distributed network to a more fragile place where we all have to be connected via central servers. I love Google docs, and understand how powerful it can be to use in the classroom; however, I agree with parents’ concerns about privacy. There’s really no technical need to store all of our personal information in the “cloud.” Technically we could create local clouds, where information never leaves a classroom, home or office. This could have a significant positive impact for privacy, and also for the developing world where Internet connectivity is expensive, intermittent or simply unavailable. So, I guess part of me wants to keep trying to save the world, after all.
I’ll be leading a small team within the Vanadium group. For me, this connects to the work I was doing at the turn of the century with multiparty communication. Under-the-hood it’s a lot like what I was working on when we created the Flash Media Server, except it’s not focused on media, and it doesn’t require a server, and it has nothing to do with Flash. I have a lot of ideas about how technology can help humans connect with each other, and maybe I can help bring some of those to life… or, even more exciting, develop new ideas that make sense in this future we’re creating.
I just started at Google. I’m not sure yet whether all of my ideas align with theirs, but I can already tell that I’m joining an ambitious group of talented engineers who aspire to create a positive impact on the world. I’m looking forward to whatever happens next!