Quick FAQ since its MBA recruiting season: What's your job like?

[Updated (a teeny bit): Oct 2012]
[Updated again (a super-teeny bit): Oct 2014]

Q: Why this post?

For the last few years, every Fall as students head back to campus to start recruiting season, I get a similar set of emails from students at my MBA alma mater.

Either students look me up in the Chicago MBA Alumni directory, or through friends of friends ask me for 15-20 mins of my time to discuss my job, Google or product management in general. I've done at least about 7-10 calls like these around Sep-Oct every year for the last four years. Last year, I tried to get a little efficient by asking folks to schedule a conference call with 4-5 students at once, and still ended up talking about 20-25 second-year students or recent grads on the phone.

I really like doing these calls, even though I think I'm only slightly helpful to most people. I  know what it feels like when you're in school and trying to figure out what to do next and the future seems like a bit of a mess and highly uncertain. Every piece of advice (even if its just reenforcing something that you already know) is helpful.

But this year, given everything that's happening in my life, I'm not going to be able to spend time on the phone doing these.

The overhead of scheduling these calls + the unpredictability of my schedule + my annoying tendency to not refuse others since I already helped one person mean that this is up to a good 15-20 hours over the next 2-ish months that I'd like to use elsewhere, especially since I actually see the number of people pinging me increasing dramatically.

So I'm going to try to answer, the most frequently asked of these questions here, since I end up saying the same few things pretty often. I hope this helps a few people, and apologies in advance to the folks that think I'm a self-important, pompous idiot for responding to your email with short reply and a link to this post.

I'm helping with Google MBA recruiting this year again though, and expect to be on campus later this Fall where I'll be happy to answer any of your questions in-person.

Q: How do you like working at Google?

I f-ing love it!

I didn't think I'd last past two years (cos y'know, everyone does a startup in two years :-)) ; suddenly its been just over four five seven years - and I barely noticed.

Q: What keeps you working at Google?
  • The people 
    • working with people smarter than I'll ever be, is energizing
    • most of them are really nice too - which is just am important
    • they're deeply committed to their products and the company. Many understand that they truly can change the world, and they care deeply about what they're doing - which is even more important.
    • the leadership is filled with people that I look at and go "Wow..that's what I want to grow up and be." or "Wow... I'll never be that good"
  • The company
    • this sounds a little corny especially if you haven't worked at too many places, but the company culture matters, and ours is unmatched: you're proud to work for a company with this set of values
    • Google is incredibly internally transparent and committed to its employees well being
  • The ability to have an impact:
    • this is biggest reason to come to Google is the impact that you can have on the world
    • and everyone around you wants to have that impact - to create that dent in the universe.

Q: What is it like to be a PM at Google?

Its awesome.

I'm going to paste my quora answer on what its like below.
The summary I use when people ask me about the role is  
  • you're responsible for getting "success" defined for your product
  • and then responsible for getting your team there.

The expectation is that besides that tingling "product spidey-sense" you have the fuzzy ability to get things done without formal authority but through influence, enthusiasm and because its the right thing to do. You need to think big, but break that down into a discrete set of product requirements, go-to-market plans, marketing tactics, business conversations etc.  
Building and shipping products is a team sport so there is always a cross-functional team (i.e. BD, marketing, Sales, Operations etc.) working together but recruiting and staffing-up that team and then being the glue that holds it together is part of the day-to-day with the role as well. 
Most PMs at Google have a technical background and work very closely with the engineers on their team. 

There are a bunch of great posts about being a PM that apply to being at PM at Google.

Here are two really good ones:

Q: Is being a PM at Google like being a CEO?

Yes, but without the fame, money, glory or any real authority over people actually doing the work. 

Q: Isn't being a PM at Google really like being a coach?

Yes, too many think you're replaceable and that almost anybody else could do your job better.

When things go south, everyone wonders what the PM is doing. When things are going well, everyone wonders what the heck the PM does anyway.

Q: Are you kidding in the two questions above?


Q: Is being a PM at Google still an awesome job?

Yes, without a doubt. I seriously can't imagine a better one for me given my background and interests.

Q: Does Google offer PM internships?


Q: What did you think about working in Partner Solutions at Google?

I loved that too. Partner Solutions is an engineering team within Google that works on Google's most strategic partnerships. The role there involved both building partner-specific tool and systems, and helping Google's partnerships scale.

Its was an incredible set of products and challenges, and a pretty spectacular group of people (even within the Google cohort) to boot.

Q: Is there anything you'd warn people joining Google about?

Yup. One of the things that folks said to me while I was interviewing here and I've heard many people say since is "If you're the kind of person, who likes structure or needs hand-holding this is probably not the place for you."

Folks say this like this is a good thing - like there's something wrong with you if this doesn't work for you. Its not.

I do think that's the one place as a company we can get better at: providing more structure and guidance for new people joining the group. Right now its too dependent on the style of your immediate manager. Sometimes you get lucky; sometime you don't.

I think one of the reasons former entrepreneurs do well at Google as PMs is they're used to dealing with ambiguity and forging their own path.

Q: What are the hours and lifestyle like?

A lot of MBA students considering careers in companies in general and wondering in particular about Google, naturally compare them with the hours and lifestyle of common MBA careers like consulting and investment banking.

I get asked this a lot, so if you're expecting a cushy 9-to-5 gig because this is a "big company", this probably isn't the job for you. There's a lot to do, so you may need to spend a lot of time doing it.

However, the company has a strong respect for work-life-balance and little interest in people that try to create the appearance of working, so I work long hours but don't think twice about things like what people think if I step out for a couple of hours in the middle of day to attend to a personal matter (or go watch a taping of "The Daily Show" for example - Jon Stewart is just as hilarious by the way.)

Q: What's your favorite part of working at Google?

Three things really

  1. The people: despite growing so much, most people at Google are amazing - they're smart, motivated and nice. Its rare that you'll be able to find this quality of people, both in terms of talent and character anywhere else.
  2. The impact: you'll have a chance to affect the lives of billions people. We once decided to not do something because at most just a million people might care.
  3. The culture: no other company is as open or lets you feel as connected to everything else that's going on within it than Google. Imagine learning about Android years before the rest of the world, or Chrome, or self-driving cars... At Google, I've felt part of a giant team that's working on all this awesomeness.

Q: Should I apply to Google? What if it isn't for me?

Yes! You should apply, even if you think you might possibly interested. You'll find out more about the company as part of the interview process, and can make an informed decision then.

Q: What if Google isn't recruiting on my campus?

Do two things:
  • Apply on the website - http://www.google.com/jobs ! Make sure your resume is tailored for the role you're applying for
  • There are a lot of people that apply that way, so the most important way to distinguish yourself is if a Googler who has worked with you can give you a referral for the role.  
Unlike a lot of other MBA recruiting, Google isn't as big on pre-interview networking so don't worry if there isn't an opportunity to do that.

I'll continue to add more questions to this FAQ as the questions for me come in... 


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