from pwc to google

[I wrote this a while ago about my decision in 2009 to leave my job at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and start a new role at Google]

By early 2009, I was a Director in the International Tax Services practice of PwC San Jose.  I liked my clients, and I loved my coworkers.  The partners and other directors who I worked with were amazing, smart, and very supportive.  The staff who I did my best to help were very eager.  We were in the middle of a very bad recession, and layoffs were happening on an almost weekly basis.  I felt my job was secure though.

Once a month or so I was contacted by a recruiter looking to fill a position that I was more or less qualified for.  I was never interested in leaving PwC for any of those positions, even the international tax manager position at Yahoo, which had been open for quite a while.

PwC had treated me well, and did a lot of favors for me. I was a very loyal employee in return.  I often joked with coworkers and friends that the only company I would even consider leaving for was Google.

In February 2009, my friend Dave, also a lawyer, forwarded an email from a classmate of his who was working at Google.  Google had an opening for international tax counsel.  I read over the job requirements, and my background matched the requirements almost perfectly.  

I felt like a traitor to PwC for even considering the position, but it was Google.  I knew that Google only hires the best and brightest, so I figured that despite matching the job requirements, my chances of getting hired were slim.  I applied online, the same day I received the email from Dave.

Within a few days a recruiter emailed me and wanted to set up a phone interview with a recruiter.  I was surprised.  The phone screening lasted about fifteen minutes and went over my resume in detail.  

A few days later, the recruiter arranged a phone interview with the hiring manager.  We talked for about 30 minutes, focusing on my resume and types of projects I had worked for.  He asked me what made me "Googley" - being a tax lawyer for an accounting firm, I had a lot of trouble answering that question.  But I was impressed by him and what he told me about the position.

This was the point at which I realized I might have to make a decision about my career in the near future.  I was terrified, but excited.

I was brought in for a half-day office interview with the hiring manager, the tax director, another manager, an analyst, and a non-tax person.  In arranging the office visit interview, I mentioned to the recruiting coordinator that PwC is often at Google, and to please arrange for the interview in a building other than the building they old be in.  They agreed.  But the night before the interview, I had a premonition that I was going to run into my colleagues.

The day of the interview I showed up at the building I was told to be at.  Suddenly, the hiring manager and one of the analysts came rushing into the building, hastily introduced themselves, and whisked me away down a hallway, explaining that my PwC colleagues were unexpectedly on their way over to that building.  I remained calm, but aware I was likely going to run into them at some point during the day.

I completed one interview, and was being moved to a different room on another floor.  The elevator door opened, and I was staring at a PwC partner and two directors, all of whom I knew very well.  I remained calm, said hello to them, and walked out of the elevator.  Word spread among my interviewers, and they were concerned about my job security at PwC.  Some discussions took place behind the scenes, and I was assured everything would be okay.  I wasn't concerned.  I knew the PwC people would act professionally.

The rest of the interviews went well.  When I got back to my car, the PwC partner had emailed me, telling me he would keep the situation confidential, and to reach out to him if I wanted his guidance.  I took him up on that offer.

I was brought back to Google for a second round of in-office interviews, this time without any surprises.  I was excited about the possibility of working at Google, but also nervous about what that career trajectory would mean.

As it turned out, the decision of whether or not to hire me would take several months to finalize.  In July, I was recovering from minor surgery when I received a call from Google HR informing me they were going to make me an offer.  Since I was on pain medication, I told them to email me the details and I would look it over.  The next call was from the hiring manager.  The third call was from my supervising partner at PwC.  She had found out about my offer, and she wanted to talk. We agreed to talk the following Monday when I would be back in the office.

At that point I had two issues to resolve:  Did I want the position, and would I resign from PwC for it?  

To get comfortable with the issue of whether or not I wanted the position, I headed over to Google's campus and spent a few hours walking around to get a feel for the company.  Employees were biking between buildings, wearing shorts and sandals.  A volleyball game was in progress on the sand court, and people were sitting on patio furniture sipping smoothies doing work on laptops.  The people were young and energetic, and there was an energy of excitement. I was getting excited, and felt that assuming I could get myself to resign from PwC, that Google would be a good fit.

Resigning from PwC required two things:  First, I had to be comfortable with my career direction.  Second, I had to actually tell my coworkers of my decision, and I knew that was going to be traumatic for everyone. In terms of a career decision, if I stayed at PwC, I was looking at being either a career Director or possibly Managing Director (I really had no desire to be Partner).  If I went to Google, I wasn't sure what that would lead to five to ten years down the road. But I knew that companies like Google only come around once a decade, and if I was going to work for one of those revolutionary companies, I had to take a chance when it was offered to me.

The partners were very professional and discussed my decision with me at length.  It was not an easy discussion by any means.  But I gave my final decision, and word spread fast.  My coworkers were extremely supportive, but disappointed that I was leaving.  I was very sad as well.  I had to fight back tears when the staff brought me a goodbye card signed by everyone I worked closely with. 

My first day at Google was orientation.  It was exciting, but I had gone through new hire orientation at other companies before. I knew I would learn about HR, benefits, the computer system, and company culture.  The luxury bus tour of the campus was a surprising twist.

The first few weeks I focused on learning what I needed to know substantively about the company to do my job.  I was also learning that what people know publicly about Google is mostly true:

  • Three meals a day of incredible, gourmet food.  Completely free.
  • Constantly stocked kitchens on every floor of every building with healthy, organic snacks, fruits, vegetables, and drinks.
  • Luxury shuttle busses to and from work, with WiFi.
  • 401(k) plan that matches 50%, and vests immediately.
  • Great health insurance.
  • On-site health care in several medical facilities staffed with doctors and nurses.
  • 24-hour fitness centers.
  • Generous stock options, a holiday bonus, and the opportunity to test the latest cell phones and other technology.
  • A company proud to be innovative with employee diversity.
Every Friday afternoon, the founders host an all-hands meeting ("TGIF") where a topic is discussed, and employees can ask questions of the company's leadership.  The discussions are often critical, and it was eye-opening to witness engineers questioning the decisions of the company leadership.  That was an openness that I would never see in the Big-4 accounting firms.  At the first TGIF that I attended, the two founders (Larry Page and Sergey Brin) and the then-CEO (Eric Schmidt) were on stage.  Seeing them in person was amazing.  I'm still star-struck when I run into them on campus.

The biggest benefit that I felt though was the opportunity to work with brilliant people.  I don't mean just smart. I mean brilliant. The ideas I was exposed to in my first year were revolutionary. Literally.  One of my coworkers was imprisoned for leading a democratic movement in Egypt.

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