The Organization, Culture, and Me (My Path to SRM)

I believe that seriously interviewing with an organization should be a two-way endeavour. The organization has an interview process in place that is designed around gathering signal from the candidate. Most organizations have worked out criteria that enable success within the organization’s culture, adhere to the organization’s values, support the organization’s mission, and respect the broader environment and market the organization operates in.

As a candidate, on the other side, it wasn’t immediately clear to me which organization or company best matches my personal values. I wasn’t sure about the size and scale at which I would love to work or the culture I would feel most comfortable in. In short, I did not know which company was the right one for me. I sensed that not only mid-sized startups but also Google would be a good match. I had to get to know Google to find out. But how does one get to know Google? I can’t interview the organization and find out if it matches my personal values, or can I?

small The Goomics book, an unexpected deep dive into Google’s culture as seen by an engineer.

I have a question…

If I had the chance to interview Google my questions would be along these lines:

  • What are Google’s values? What is the mission? Is it any good? Do they really mean it? How has the company dealt with failure in adhering to its own values? Did they get back on track? Are reliable corrective forces at work? Is there a system of checks and balances in place?
  • What is the culture like? Will I be able to strive there? Will working in this culture be fun or will it result in negative stress?
  • What is the scale at which Google operates? Will I be a part of building something great or will I end up doing something unfulfilling in some giant machinery?
  • How are decisions made? To what extent would I be able to influence decisions? What is the state of technology at Google? Is the company drowning in complexity and tech debt or are they doing most things right?
  • What excites me so much that I would consider giving up my job and role which I like very much?
  • What does managing look like at Google? Will I be getting an army of Minions or do I have to earn respect and build a fellowship? How is authority established and are people empowered to challenge authority to move everyone forward?
  • How is it different from my current job? Will I gain autonomy or will I lose some? Will someone watch me moving tickets from left to right on a board or would I be able to define and execute my own projects?
  • Finally: Are there any open positions?

Answers

Luckily, Google is a mostly open company with the exception scale and assigned headcount. It is almost impossible to get concrete numbers on the actual scale of things or how many engineers are assigned to a certain product or technology. All I knew was that Google has many computers and smart engineers working on the forefront of technology.

Most other topics, however, are not not so secret. Most of them are documented in books, blog post, and conference talks. Especially in the realm of SRE, Google is very open and regularly shares technology advancements, lessons learned, and advocates for operational best practices. The must read to understand the cultural aspects of SRE at Google is Site Reliability Engineering - How Google runs production systems by Betsy Beyer, Chris Jones, Jennifer Petoff, and Niall Richard Murphy.

Younger (and arguably cooler) me visiting The Googleplex (Mountain View) in 2013. Five years later I would apply for a job with the company.

Google scientifically researched how management is helping (or not helping) the company to achieve its greater goals. Lucky for aspiring managers who think about joining Google: The results are publicly available under the name re:work.

Another area that the company is particularly open about is what it calls PeopleOps (read: Human Resources). Most of my questions regarding the workplace culture and processes where answered in Work Rules by Laszlo Bock. The book also goes into great detail regarding the influence employees have in identifying problems and demanding improved working conditions from management via internal surveys. The results are shared widely within the company and encourage leaders to address issues in a timely manner.

I furthermore learned How Google Works from Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg. I got an entertaining, sometimes thrilling history lesson from reading In The Plex by Steven Levy.

The last one was such an addictive read that I more than once missed my station when reading in the subway. I had to walk the extra mile…

Summary

To minimize surprise I passively interviewed Google as thoroughly as they would later interview me. They passed. 😂 Fair game!



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