Is Working At Google Actually Terrible For Your Career?

Google won’t save your life. And, according to some who would know, it can even kill your career.

Is Working At Google Actually Terrible For Your Career?
[Image: Flickr user Bruno Girin]

“Then it is fucking Monday again and you have to do what it is that you do”: that’s David H. Hansson, the cofounder of the 37Signals and creator of the Ruby on Rails programming language. The author-entrepreneur-programmer told This Week In Startups that he’s in the “epicenter of happiness,” since he gets to do the work he wants to do with the people he wants to work with. This, he explains, is why he’d never want 37Signals to sell out or get acquired: “Would I give all that up for somebody to give me a lot of money and then like (say) ‘Oh. Now you have to work in the bowels of Google or whatever?'”


Thing is, those bowels are pretty dang prestigious: we all study Google and their perks. The search giant gets mentioned in the same breath as Goldman Sachs as a destination for bright young world-conquerers. And we try to train ourselves in such a way that we, yes we, may one day land a gig at the Googleplex.

So when we read this Quora thread about the worst parts of working at Googleplex, it hit us in the solar plexus. Understandably, many of the testimonials are anonymous–so we’ll advise taking them with a grain of salt–but the thread is illuminating in the way it re-romanticizes the dream job.

The problems include:

There’s way too many insanely qualified people there.

Since every body is hyper-educated, you’ll find high-level grads “providing tech support for Google’s ads products, or manually taking down flagged content from YouTube, or writing basic code to A|B test the color of a button on a site.”

It’s tough to get promoted

Since everybody below, beside, and above you has the same ridiculous education and hardcore work ethic. And if the work doesn’t let you show yourself to be exceptional, you won’t be able to show that you are.

You don’t get to do individual, standout work

Google has 30,000 of the world’s brightest people, which is amazing in and of itself, but makes it difficult to find the opportunity to do your own work. As one user says:


“I habitually describe my time working as an AdWords monkey as being like a janitor at the UN. You know that theoretically great world changing things are going on in the building, but all you ever really see is shit.”

You’ll get malaise-y

User Vlad Patryshev, who left Google and uses his name, says that a strange internal-external dynamic begins to take shape: a combination of “constant professional boredom and intellectual malaise” that gets sugar-coated by “constant awe on the part of people you meet outside Google who want to know all about the perks, the culture, and the interview without ever really asking about the work.”

And you won’t be growing as fast

The Google name is super presitigous and awesome and amazing and everything, but as Stephen Cohen, co-founder of Palantir told a Stanford class on startups, the cushion comes at the expense of your personal development:

We tend to massively underestimate the compounding returns of intelligence. As humans, we need to solve big problems. If you graduate Stanford at 22 and Google recruits you, you’ll work a 9-to-5. It’s probably more like an 11-to-3 in terms of hard work. They’ll pay well. It’s relaxing. But what they are actually doing is paying you to accept a much lower intellectual growth rate. When you recognize that intelligence is compounding, the cost of that missing long-term compounding is enormous. They’re not giving you the best opportunity of your life. Then a scary thing can happen: You might realize one day that you’ve lost your competitive edge. You won’t be the best anymore. You won’t be able to fall in love with new stuff. Things are cushy where you are. You get complacent and stall. So, run your prospective engineering hires through that narrative. Then show them the alternative: working at your startup.

File under: the happiest people have the hardest jobs.

Hat tip: Quora

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.