Authors: Gayle Laakmann McDowell
Tags: #Business & Economics, #Careers, #Job Hunting, #General
Copyright © 2011 by Gayle Laakmann. All rights reserved.
Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey.
Published simultaneously in Canada.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:
McDowell, Gayle Laakmann, 1982-The google résumé : how to prepare for a career and land a job at Apple, Microsoft, Google, or any top tech company / Gayle Laakmann McDowell.
ISBN 978-0-470-92762-5 (hardback) ISBN 978-1-118-01313-7 (ebk)
ISBN 978-1-118-01314-4 (ebk)
ISBN 978-1-118-01315-1 (ebk)
1. Résumés (Employment) 2. High technology industries—Vocational guidance. 3. Job hunting. I. Title.
To my mother and grandmother, whose engineering endeavors paved the way for my own.
Just so you’re clear: it was not my idea to give a talk to Microsoft Research. I had learned embarrassingly little about computer science in my 18 years of life, and the last thing I wanted to do is to have that exposed in front of a bunch of genius PhDs in MSR. But my manager thought it’d be a great “opportunity,” and so there I was, blabbing on about my summer project.
I finished up my talk at lightning speed. As I was dealing with a somewhat severe case of stage fright, I considered my haste a good thing. And then the questions started. Did I consider doing X? Yes, I told them, I did, and this is what happened. Why not implement it with Y? You could, but that would cause problem Z.
I almost hesitated to admit it to myself afterwards, but things went fine. Just fine.
That whole summer I had been convinced that Microsoft would discover that I knew practically nothing and cut me loose. I had only gotten my internship offer through some brilliant streak of luck, I reasoned, and didn’t really deserve it. Not like my fellow interns did anyway. They had done three times as much college as me, completed three times as many projects, and basically knew three times as much as me.
Four years later, with a job at Google about to start, I reflected on my incredible luck. I landed a Microsoft internship at an incredibly young age, and that turned into three consecutive internships. Then I got an Apple internship, even though Apple never even recruited at my university. And then I happened to get hooked up with just the right people who referred me to the up-and-coming Google. I must be the luckiest person alive.
Or am I?
Maybe, while Lady Luck was certainly in my favor, I had somehow, accidentally, done everything just right. I completed several large projects in high school, offering me considerably more experience than my peers. I got an entry-level job as a web designer, which developed my professional and technical credibility. I created a résumé that, while atrocious in many respects, demonstrated my passion for technology and showcased my limited experience. And finally, I built a network of more senior professionals, managed relationships with mentors, and leveraged these connections to land one dream job after another.
And that, my dear readers, is how you get a job at the world’s greatest tech companies.
Life at Infinite Loop and Microsoft Way
Even their addresses are suggestive of company stereotypes. Microsoft, at One Microsoft Way, screams big and mammoth. Google’s 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway address is understated, like its user interfaces. Apple, of course, takes the bold “think different” step with One Infinite Loop—a play on words that could come back to bite a less beloved company.
Despite the little eccentricities of each company, these companies are much more alike than they are different. Software companies are youthful—at heart, if not in actuality. They scorn the stuffy suits-and-ties atmosphere of their predecessors and elect to wear just jeans and a T-shirt. In fact, this casual attitude is so potent that it’s pervaded even the social scenes of tech hubs; only a small handful of restaurants in Seattle and San Francisco would request anything beyond jeans, and a woman in a suit gets more stares than a girl with a purple mohawk.
Desperate to attract and retain the best and the brightest, tech firms shower their employees with perks. Microsoft offers free drinks, a heavily discounted gym membership, and an all-expenses-paid health care plan. Google matched and then one-upped Microsoft on almost all of these. Free sodas? Try free breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Free gym membership? Use the on-site gym and pool. Deluxe health care plan? We’ll give you a good one, and throw in an on-site doctor. Nerds everywhere can only hope that the “next Google,” whatever it is, will engage in its own perk war.
Of course, cynics argue that these benefits are really just a way to trick employees into staying at the office longer. You can fulfill almost any regular appointment, from a haircut to dry cleaning, without leaving campus. But the fact that you
doesn’t mean you have to. No one will think worse of you because you declined to get your dental work done from the on-site dentist parked in the van out back.
The severe shortage of engineers in the United States forces companies to take good care of their employees. They would lose too many qualified candidates otherwise.
Workers are encouraged to find a reasonable work/life balance, and work comparatively short hours compared to people from other industries.
The exception, as in most jobs, is during crunch times. Software releases will be stressful in any team.
Moving Up: Individual Contributors
Although other industries push high-performing employees into management roles, technology companies tend to be more open to the “individual contributor” role. After all, great engineers do not necessarily make the best managers.
An employee, particularly in engineering, can continue to get promotions and increased technical responsibilities, without becoming a people manager. Eventually, this employee can grow into an architect or a distinguished engineer, earning one of the most respected positions within the company. It’s perhaps not as glamorous as being a VP, but for some people, this is just right.
Cultural differences between companies can often be traced back to the company’s roots.
, many would argue, is more of a retail company than a software company. It faced extremely hard times during the dot-com crash, and continues to battle profit margins that are levels of magnitude lower than that of a “core” software company. It is consequently extremely frugal, and refrains from providing the lavish perks that others software companies might. Additionally, some employees have suggested that the company does not value technical innovation for its own sake, and instead looks for an immediate and causal link to profits. But, do not let that deter you too much; indeed, Amazon is leading in multiple industries (retail, cloud computing, etc.) largely because of its technical innovation. The company moves at a rapid pace and pending deadlines often mean late nights.
is just as secretive inside as it is outside. When your innovation lies so heavily in your look and feel and your market share depends on beautifully orchestrated hype, it’s no wonder. The company can’t afford to let its secrets slip. Employees are die-hard fans, just as one would expect, but rarely know what coworkers from other teams are working on. In my time at the company, I sensed a feared-but-revered attitude toward Steve Jobs; he called the shots, and no one would argue.
has dabbled (and reasonably successfully) with search and the web, but a large chunk of its earnings come from Windows and Office. Live patches to these products are expensive, so the company tends to operate on longer, multiyear release schedules. This means moving slower, taking fewer risks, and making sure to get everything right the first time (even if it’s never totally right). The bright side is that the company tends to have a good work/life balance, as ship dates are relatively infrequent. Many former employees say that though they loved the company, its mammoth size could stifle innovation and risk-taking. However, individual team cultures are all over the map, and some may be more innovative than others.
is the nerdiest of the nerdy. Founded by two former Stanford PhDs, the company is still, many claim, preferential to engineers over other positions. The company moves quickly, shipping products weekly, and can value technical innovation even to a fault. As a web-based company, it can afford to take some risks on products; after all, “shipping” a new application to the web is so much easier than boxing up and mailing software. Google values its flat hierarchy, but there’s a downside as well. Your manager may have too many people under her to fuss about the progress of your career, and moving up can be a challenge.
Big vs. Little: Is a Start-up Right for You?
Go to almost any business school and you’ll find that there are about three times as many people who claim to be “interested” in start-ups than actually pursuing this career path. Why? Because start-ups are sexy.
Newspapers splash stories about start-ups that made it big, or crashed and burned, and we always think,
we can do that
we can do better
. Start-ups are a high-stakes game, and you’re gambling with your time as well as your money.
For the right person with the right opportunity, however, a start-up environment can be fantastic.
Many say that for true “start-up people,” this high-risk career is just in their nature. They get that entrepreneurial itch, either in college or at some big company, and know they need to be somewhere much, much smaller. And their new career path offers a ton of value to them in return:
Me? I’m a start-up person. I love everything about it. I love that I get to do 10 things at once. And if I have no idea how to do it, then I get to learn. I see my impact immediately and I know that, for better or worse, I shaped the company’s future.
Start-up burnout is a very real thing. Sure, you may be passionate about your new social-location-group-buying-thingy-dot-com, but things change and passions die. The following stresses tend to wear on people the most.
Notice anything missing in that list? I never listed the lack of perks. The reality is that as much as people are drawn to companies like Google and Microsoft for their flashy benefits, even ex-employees tend not to miss them much once they’re gone. Having to scrimp and save due to your meager salary may frustrate you, but a lack of free food tends not to be an issue.
In Ryan’s first four years after leaving Amazon for the start-up scene, he’d worked for four different companies. He left one company because of a personality mismatch between him and the CEO. Words were exchanged. It wasn’t pretty. The next start-up folded. The third one started to veer in the wrong direction, and he decided to get out before it was too late. Lucky number four is a company he started himself.
Ryan’s story is fairly typical of start-up employees. With fewer than 40 percent of tech start-ups making it past four years, rapid job switching is just a fact of life. People joining start-ups should be mentally prepared for this constant change.