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Ask HN: I've been slacking off at Google for 6 years. How can I stop this?
1337 points by futur321 on Jan 5, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 970 comments
I joined Google straight from college 6 years ago as a SWE, and by now I'm used to the style of work of "do the minimal work possible to do the job", I never challenge myself to deeply learn about what I'm doing, it's almost like I've been using only 10% of my mental capacity for work (the rest was on dating/dealing with breakups/dealing with depression/gaming/...). Even when I get a meaningful project, all I do is copy code from the internal codebase and patch things together until they work. I was promoted only once.

Now that I'm thinking of jumping ship to other interesting companies, I'm having serious doubts that I really learned what I should have learned during all those years. Especially since I'm considering companies with a higher hiring bar than Google.

How can I keep myself accountable while I'm still at the company to deeply learn the FE/BE technologies to be better prepared for other companies? Should I start by preparing a checklist of technologies and dive into each of them for a month and continue from there?

I think you underestimate your value to the company.

“All I do is copy code from the internal codebase and patch things together until they work” — this is exactly what established tech companies mostly need from their engineers. They want people with enough CS competence to not fuck things up while patching together new solutions from the institutional code soup that everyone knows how to navigate and review.

If you can do this reliably at 10% of your capacity and don’t have ambitions of applying creative solutions with unproven tech, you’re a real asset. Don’t leave rashly unless you’re genuinely bored or frustrated.

You didn’t read his whole post. They’re bored. Their value to google is high enough to keep them employed but the job is beneath their capabilities.

The failing for google is not providing this person a path to do more or at least understanding their ambition to do more.

Their value to google is high enough to keep them employed but the job is beneath their capabilities.

That's what we call "the perfect job." It pays the bills, but leaves you the maximum amount of (mental|emotional|psychological|spiritual|whatever) energy to work on the things that really interest you ... outside of work.

Of course different people will approach this differently, but I don't want my job to be interesting. I don't draw any sense of self-worth / self-satisfaction / joy-in-life / etc. from my job. My job is just a means to an end, where that end is to pay the rent, pay the electric bill, buy food etc. I have enough other ways to achieve those other things, and an "interesting" (and by extension, "demanding") job just gets in the way.

For me personally, being bored at work actually leaves me more tired at home afterwards. I'm working on something so boring at work now and I can't handle it. It's just going to kill me very slowly over the course of the next month.

Now for your second point, I completely agree--I don't want to feel like my job is my worth or joy in life, and it isn't. But at the same time, I wouldn't take a job at an assembly line even if it paid $1M a year.

That's why you work on your side projects at work. I plan and design and write in a text editor my personal stuff all the time. It's just a text editor so it doesn't look suspect.

make sure it stays on personal accounts and equipment to avoid ownership issues but ianal

Or better work on gpl code, then it's s win win I think.

Agreed. Boring jobs leave me unhappy and increase the odds I'll quit and move on.

In fact, I've changed jobs roughly every 2 to 3 years precisely due to boredom.

It sounds nice to be able to get by day-to-day in a full job but it's not a good fit for me personally.

> but leaves you the maximum amount of (mental|emotional|psychological|spiritual|whatever) energy

That's probably not the case. It looks counterintuitive but being bored and feeling unmotivated at work can leave you at the end of the day with much less energy than an very intensive but interesting work.

Your 2nd paragraph makes sense for a person like you, but I'd guess that the OP is one of those different people, for who self-satisfaction at work is a key thing.

That's probably not the case. It looks counterintuitive but being bored and feeling unmotivated at work can leave you at the end of the day with much less energy than an very intensive but interesting work.

I actually agree with you on that. With the caveat that this is true if you do (by choice, or by inclination) really want your job to provide self-fulfillment / self-actualization / blah / etc.

What I'm not sure about, is whether or not that is a personality trait which is basically fixed and can't be changed, or whether this is something where you can make a conscious choice to change. I think it's the latter, because my own subjective experience has been that I used to be more of the "if my job is boring that leaves me feeling dis-spirited" or whatever, but over time I found that I cared less and less about the "day job" and more and more about what I chose to focus on outside. But I'll freely concede that this just one anecdote, and that what makes sense for me may not work for others.

Thanks for this follow up. Really got me thinking.

Pro-tip: don't tell or show this sentiment to a potential employer if you ever look to switch jobs. This is probably the worst possible mindset for an employee to have from employer's perspective.

- Investment Bankers get paid handsomely to reformat power-point slides and pitch decks

- Management Consultants get paid handsomely to clean spreadsheets and make nice charts

- Software Engineers get paid handsomely to copypaste a couple of lines of code here and there.

Lots of these people sacrificed their youth to get into the right school and work.

But still a lot of them are stuck with menial task for years and years.

In the end, you don't get paid because you're so damn smart - you get paid for your time, and the assurance that you won't fk up things.

A lot of the interesting work sadly doesn't come before years down the road, after you've proven yourself, and made it through the promotions.

BILL Ooh, uh, yeah. I'm going to have to go ahead and sort of disagree with you there. Yeah. Uh, he's been real flaky lately and I'm not sure that he's the caliber person you want for upper management. He's been having some problems with his TPS reports.

BOB PORTER I'll handle this. We feel that the problem isn't with Peter.


BOB PORTER It's that you haven't challenged him enough to get him really motivated.

BOB SLYDELL There it is.

BILL Yeah, I'm not sure about that now.

BOB PORTER All right, Bill. Let me ask you this. How much time each week would you say you deal with these TPS reports?

TIL - the bobs had a surname

99% of jobs are boring. You're just solving other people's business problems after all.

Yah, that's why you're paid well, because why else would you do it? If you want meaningful work get into research or work at a uni, but don't expect much money.


> The failing for google is not providing this person a path to do more or at least understanding their ambition to do more.

That's not a failure of Google. People need to be self-driven.

People who want to do more should talk to their manager about it, or pursue other opportunities within the company, or leave. Google and all the other big tech companies offer plenty of things to do for ambitious people if they express an interest.

Google and the OP are failing in different ways.

Google is failing to identify and extract more valuable labor from OP.

OP failing to manage their emotional engagement is a separate criticism.

> Google is failing to identify and extract more valuable labor from OP.

Google is doing a pretty good job extracting labor value in general. If they miss a specific individual who doesn't seem very motivated (to the extent of being a self-described slacker), I wouldn't view that as a failing. Ambitious people generally make themselves noticed, and trying to extract ambition from every slacker in the company is probably not very rewarding.

It's impossible for an organization on Google's scale to recognize everyone's potential perfectly, and match them with a perfectly challenging and rewarding position. At the end of the day, even Google has mundane jobs still need to be done.

The fault is on OP here, for not moving on earlier. FAANG is not the end all be all of software development. Consider joining a startup where you'll have a much larger influence over critical pieces of the software stack.

Regardless of what their understanding of Big O is, Google still needs a lot people to do CRUD work or make another mobile app, like any other company.

The issue seems to be hiring the highly educated and entitled to do boring but necessary work. GSUs can only motivate people so much.

I think it is just an optimal solution for large companies with disposable income.

A company I worked at hired smart engineer with a masters from Berkeley, and then tasked him with breaking down cardboard boxes and other mundane tasks. The fact that they were grossly overqualified for any of the tasks was a advantage because they were flexible, and reliably needed no oversight.

If money isn't an object, why not get the best tools possible.

Because those 'best tools' are easily bored and feel entitled to more?

Look at the political discourse spewing out of Googlers at the moment. It's bursting at the seams from internal ideological friction.

>They’re bored.

Welcome to working.

phone it in while starting other businesses. Work on developing enough passive/semipassive income streams to replace your full time job.

Follow your passions.

You don't realize how good you have it:

1. you work for a company that is an excellent resume booster outside of the valley. I'm from central texas and most everyone I know in tech has worked at Dell and once complained how boring it was to work at Dell. The moment they decided to move away from Austin their Dell experience made them very hot commodities to non-Austin tech companies. Every day you stay at Google the more valuable you become.

2.you presumably make enough money to not worry about your monthly Bills and probably have enough to save as well. At age 28 you are well ahead of the vast majority of 28 year olds from the last 100 years. Not saying you should be content but still...

As others have said you have a great opportunity to do some new things, both in terms of mental and financial capacity. Nevermind learning more tech stuff...get a hobby. Try different things to make you the kind of person you've always wanted to be. Most people are not able to do that because of stress at work or stress about money. You seem to have neither.

> Nevermind learning more tech stuff...get a hobby.

100% agree. A lot of young tech people seem to go directly from school to career level job without developing hobbies/interests outside of work. While that’s fine...you should at least see if activities outside of work/dating/breaking up appeal to you.

Buy a mountain bike, get into woodworking, learn about bird watching, or anything else that interests you. Maybe getting more enjoyment outside of work will make having a chill job an asset instead of a source of stress.

Every programmer / tech person I know desperately tries to define themselves by the hobbies they pursue outside of work, myself included. My tinder bio is just a bunch of interests.

Not sure anyone has put k8s on their tinder bio though

Absolutely someone has.

k8s and chill?

I think this highlights the fundamental problem with hiring at many large companies. They think they are getting the best, but are they? They sure are overpaying for their employees.

I think if OP isn't motivated enough to learn, excel, and build cool things on the side while he has a catered life at google, I don't think she/he will put in much effort elsewhere? That intrinsic motivation isn't there. And it honestly doesn't make sense to leave, take a pay cut, and hope that you will be given responsibilities to do new things that require learning. If you haven't been learning new things on the fly, you missed years of practice trying new things, and they won't give those responsibilities to you.

So much salt in here, geez.

I have issues with the leetcode hiring process. I think it is unfair to people with performance anxiety and that there is much more bias than people realize, in terms of the demographics of people making hiring decisions.

But I think this reverse circle jerk about FANG is so silly. Its super subjective, but having worked at a couple and having worked at a multitude of non-FANG organizations, it's hard to argue that people there are not pretty impressive. You could say this about any elite institution. Who is to say that Harvard is getting the best?

As far as the overpaying, FANG companies are not even the highest paying. And moreover, they pay a salary that is a function of a market and the value generated by employees. Are NBA players overpaid?

I'll probably get a little downvoted for being a bit defensive, but I really think the backlash is getting a bit out of hand. Yes, large tech companies are not the end all be all. Yes, you often wont work on the coolest thing. But compared to the work that 99.9% of people on the planet have to do every day, it's pretty spectacular.

>That intrinsic motivation isn't there

it took me leaving a job that i thought i was stuck in to find my inner musician, snowboard daily, and ultimately start my first business.

sometimes being an employee is just a soul-sucking adventure

Yeah just having to be at my office for 9 hours makes me sleep worse, and drains your spice for life that you would normally be able to parlay into diving into your interests.

Did you just quit and spend a year or whatever with your interests and thinking of business ideas?

I took a new job in a new city. Moving to the new city made me focus on my interests, I think after realizing that I could leave work at 4pm and head straight to the mountain made me realize I have control of my life. I spent 2-3 months exploring this, then ideas just sort of came out of the woodworks. Taking control of my life was instrumental to pursuing the business idea. I wouldn't have put up $30k before then, and it took losing $30k in this venture to realize the freedom that owning your own business really provides.

I ended up quitting the new job and for the next 6 months worked on a business plan and opened up shop. Today I am back to sitting in a strict 8-5 and spend all of my free time honing the next venture.

So you went from a city city like NYC to a city closer to nature like Seattle? I find NYC constricting sometimes because you're always around people and products of people, never just out on a trail going for a run/bike/hike.

I am thinking that whatever it takes to rekindle that sense of agency, that's the way to go. Everyone had some sense of agency as a kid playing with legos, games, etc.

You have to ask yourself: Do people join FAANG companies because they feel those are the places where they'll get most challenged, and where they're able to develop their craft to the fullest extent


Is it because they know the experience is worth its weight in gold on a resume, for any future endeavors - very much like how going to HYPS schools will open up doors which remain locked up for others.

In any case, I think you will get a bunch of both. Some talented devs that think too highly of said companies, some type-A go-getters that just want to put in their 2-3 years, etc.

I know its entirely possible to end up at the "best" companies in the world, and still get disillusioned. Hell, a lot of people don't even hold the same interests after 5-10 years. Things change, and being trapped in some place due to inactiveness can slowly eat you away. Doesn't help that you may fall victim to sunk-cost fallacy after a couple of years, where you feel too invested to leave, but too indifferent to take charge.

You may be right, but intrinsic motivation can be strangled by poorly managed organizations.

> Every day you stay at Google the more valuable you become.

Ehhh, to a point. Straight out of college and then (e.g.) 10 or 15 years at the same company says a lot about a person.

While I see what you're getting at, and don't disagree, I have also noticed that the people that stay put while everyone else jumps ship provide a line of consistency that can get them promoted up. They say the stupid ones stay, and the smart ones leave.... but it isn't always intelligence that gets one promoted in such cases.

Knowing when to stick and when to twist is a vastly underrated skill.

A mentor of mine told me about his dot com bubble experience: he was in a company that was in trouble - leadership changes, the mission became diluted, and top talent started planning exits. Rather than leave, he stayed, they improved, he became CTO.

I took his advice when my last job was going through a "digital transformation": read "downsizing and outsourcing". I knew where the winds were blowing but took his advice because it was a large enterprise and these changes move slowly. Waiting gave me a measurable impact in terms of salary, bonus, and title – and that impact carried over.

If this is a negative it is probably fairly specific to tech. In most industries a long tenure at a single company would been seen as positive.

What do you mean?

It's pretty simple. He's saying OP worked at Google for 6 years but his career progression has been largely static.

I can only guess, but to my mind, if the individual hadn't progressed significantly in that period, they may appear as a "sucker" of sorts. "Naive" and "holding out forever for nothing."

I mean, maybe if you aren't progressing, but an L6 who was hired from college and has been at Google for 12 years it's probably an asset.

Yeah but OP says they were only promoted once, so they're probably not on track to make L6 in six years.

> 1. [...] Every day you stay at Google the more valuable you become.

I'd argue that posts like these decrease the value of Google engineers (and Dell engineers) in my eyes. Maybe that's too shallow though.

I'm involved in hiring a lot and interviewed potential candidates coming from Google and Amazon--none of them seemed like slackers, but also none of them were hired.

I have three friends at Google who are nice, smart people, but terrible employees. All three of them seem to be doing just fine in their Google careers.

One is very smart, but he's been telling me literally for years that he has zero motivation, to the point where he sometimes won't actually start working until 6PM. He's moved around within Google trying to find something he's interested in, but it's just the same thing on a new team. I've suggested a number of times that he leave and find something that inspires him, but he's too used to the salary, perks, and lifestyle to try something new.

Another friend is very similar - nice guy, but there was a consensus at his last startup that he wasn't really accomplishing very much, and he would have been fired if he hadn't left voluntarily.

Another friend is a nice guy, but the most irresponsible person I know. He's been fired from other jobs for being unable to show up before 1PM, and he keeps making some truly irresponsible life choices (ghosting people, drugs, prostitutes).

I know this is anecdotal, but do other people have this experience with Google engineers? It seems like Google is the kind of environment where (at least if you're an SWE) you can get away with doing the minimum for a very long time.

When your company is a monopoly that has a printing press for money, the normal competitive pressures don't apply. There's no need to aggressively cut head count because employee salaries are such a small percentage of their expenses relative to other companies of similar size.

Google is like an ivy league school: the hard part is getting in.

Google is like an ivy league school: the hard part is getting in.

Having worked at Google myself, unfortunately this sums it up just perfectly.

Yes I've seen the same thing and more than once. Why should anyone leave, it's easy enough, and probably would be worse somewhere else. To me it's sad when this happens, because it's slowing down people who could be contributing to innovation and cool stuff, but I get it, paychecks are good.

They have probably got to the stage where they don't want innovation. They have a machine that prints money like there is no tomorrow. Why risk that with new ideas.

I think that might be what inspired the “rooftop assignment” plotline in the first season of Silicon Valley.

I know companies that won't hire Google employees because of this reputation.

Is this serious? I replied to another person in the thread with a similar take. I agree that large tech companies are not the heavenly place that people depict them to be where everyone is a super genius, but I just don't find what you're saying to be consistent with my experience.

I joined Amazon as a new grad and spent 3 years there. I went from a 0% callback rate on cold applications to like 60%. I've been at Google for 2 years, and I am approaching 80% callback. A third of the time, I get to skip phone screens entirely and go directly onsite.

I don't think that the vibe irl is the same as on HN. I never get the impression that people are weary of Googlers. Maybe my Amazon experience is the difference maker? I think if anything, sometimes I get the impression that the person interviewing me is a bit defensive at the beginning of interviews as they feel me out.

People are extremely defensive about elite institutions like FAANG or the Ivies. Those are generally not the people making the hiring decisions, but they can be.

> I know companies that won't hire Google employees because of this reputation.

come on...


god damn this site can be ridiculous at times

Exactly what reputation is this? I have heard that about a former employer British Telecom, I suspect it varies I can imagine the sort that went into CS and rote learned their way to a Degree might have a problem.

Not that some of googles published api's and standards work can sometimes a little shonky and could do with a lot more rigor.

I wouldn't say it's a red flag to have Google on your resume, but I will say that I do make a point of understanding what exactly an applicant did during their time at Google. Like any company, there are good teams and bad teams -- but at Google, it's possible to contribute nothing and still not get fired due to the way they're structured internally.

But isn't that the case with all companies of that size? It might be easier at some, but pretty much everyone I know at large company knows stories of some people doing next to nothing. As structures grow complex it's easy to hide behind politics if you're smart.

>It seems like Google is the kind of environment where (at least if you're an SWE) you can get away with doing the minimum for a very long time.

Is this by design? i.e. taking talent out of the marketplace and placating them comfortably while working at <100% to ensure they don't go to competition, or prospective competition, and churn 100%+?

I think it's by design, but I believe the main intent was just to make it a desirable place to work.

For most people, that meant not being worked at 100% until they burn out. It also meant giving people latitude to transfer teams, take on side projects, and find work that resonated with them. That works for a lot of people, but others work better with more pressure or more structure.

Time is the only nonrenewable resource. And you just lost some reading this response. Act accordingly.

It's sad and revealing to see the other comments here. Many of them say, don't seek fulfillment in your job, just keep on cruising. What a change from the exciting atmosphere of the 2000s. Seems like software engineering has become a safe, dull career nowadays. Don't listen to them. Your 20s are the time to learn, push yourself and discover who you are. Autopilot is for middle age.

Software engineering just isn't that hard. Tedious yes, but not remotely difficult. We've been fed the narrative of economic success that many folks have forgotten what personal success looks like. You can be successful in your career and still feel like a failure.

Therapy is the answer here. You have to un-brainwash yourself from the notion that your job is your life and figure out what really matters to you. Then focus on that, and use your job to fill the boring hours in between.

I agree that you need to push yourself and discover who you are -- but the answers to those questions aren't going to be found at work. This sort of mid-life crisis is pretty common for career-focused people in their late 20s - early 30s and the solution is to find interests and friendships outside of work.

Software engineering can be hard and it can be tedious, either or neither... I think it's what you make of it. That's one of the most entrancing things about it to me. It's one of the few jobs that's truly "choose your own adventure". There's a thousand ways to solve every problem and you get to decide the difficulty at every turn.

This is the sinister part to me, that the right way is so hard to find, if it even exists. Try something -> get error -> fix error -> working might be ok for most uses, but this probably isn't going to yield the best way of doing things.

It's the equivalent of building a bridge, watching it fall apart, then figuring out how to artfully tie a rope around the bridge to keep it upright, rather than just designing a bridge that can stand on it's own. Most practical knowledge is therefore about artfully wrapping different ropes in clever ways around various problems, rather than fundamental theory on how to build the best design.

As a result of these thoughts, I doubt my code, I doubt everyone's code, and I've lost that naive optimism about technology. Good enough is good enough to ship, after all.

Humanity has built a /lot/ of bridges that have fallen apart before we were able to learn how to do it correctly. It’s sometimes easy to forget just how young the software industry is.

> Software engineering just isn't that hard

1) I agree that this is often true! Code can be pretty boring. That doesn’t mean there are no interesting problems that you can tackle with programming. It just means most people work on incredibly boring stuff and think that’s all there is and totally fine. Find something that’s a better use of your time.

2) There is more and less difficult software engineering. If yours is really boring why wouldn’t you try something more challenging? It doesn’t always pay as well but it can be a lot less terrible to experience on a daily basis.

3) Most of the hardest problems in making interesting technology that touches the world isn’t in exactly how the code is written. Learning this is the first step towards starting to be equipped to tackle the actually hard problems in our field. Which you could work on directly, if you wanted.

None of this is to say that anyone has to do this. You don’t have to have fulfillment in your job. Though you and most others should frankly probably look around and make sure the code you’re writing is doing actually good things in the world rather than bad ones, that’s an ethical obligation but one that is pretty orthogonal whether or not you’re working on interesting problems. (If people optimize solely for money though, they bend towards writing code that makes that empowers companies over people and generally makes the world a worst place. People have a responsibility to evaluate this and try and avoid the ones that don’t.)

Mostly: it’s fine to make the choice to not work on something fulfilling. But stating that there’s nothing fulfilling to work on in this world is just nonsense, defeatist and mostly means you’ve resigned yourself and everyone who takes your advice to unfulfilling, boring and miserable work that doesn’t grow you worth a damn.

And that probably sucks. So why take that approach?

If you want to do this, and you can consistently find interesting work, then go for it! What I mean by "these jobs aren't hard" is that one person is easy to replace, and you are not guaranteed a job in the future just because you have one now. There are always high periods and low periods in a person's career, and you have to mentally / emotionally prepare for those.

Tech has a nasty age bias once you hit 40, and I've seen people fall apart when they get laid off and finding a new job is hard for reasons that aren't exactly fair. Finding meaning in your life outside your job is how you keep sane when economic circumstances aren't working in your favor.

I’ve never had much trouble finding an interesting thing to spend my work time on. The biggest problem is usually deciding when to look for something new and what I want to do next. Getting the opportunity to do that usually comes quickly from there, even if it’s not always the pathway I expected. :) I’ll admit I’ve got advantages that maybe everyone doesn’t have (a deep set of experience from a variety of areas organizations value) but I firmly believe that the world and our field would be a better place if more people fought for meaning in their work and didn’t accept roles where they weren’t finding it.

(Also like, to be clear these roles aren’t all high paying if you’ve adjusted your life so that without 300k/yr you can’t function then like, I agree you have boxed yourself into a harder corner. That said, I currently have found a combination that is both impactful and lucrative. So that’s super cool when it works out. I am desperately trying to structure my life so I’m not boxed into needing this to be true in the future because meaning in my work is still more important to me than money from my work.)

I mean this in the nicest way possible (I envy your optimism!), but I'm curious how long you've been working as the last 12 years have been an exceptionally good period in tech. My career started in the middle of the dot-com era in the late 90s, so I've been through a few cycles where finding engineering work was hard and people who had crappy jobs were grateful for the income. Those experiences dulled my optimism about the meaningfulness work -- I spent a year in the early 2000s eating ramen and freelancing websites in PHP because I couldn't find a "real" job after the startup I worked for that was going to save the world went bust. Maybe I'm just a cynical old lady at this point, but I do feel emotionally well-prepared for whatever happens next.

I was still in school during the big crash, so you’re right, my experience may be colored by that. But I keep a pad that essentially allows me to be completely without income for at least 6 months without withdrawing from any accounts which incur penalties or are tied to stock market performance. I’ve done freelancing and could spin that back up. It would be harder to land contracts during a rough economy but often people who just fired their staff need short term contracts to keep the lights on and so there’s usually opportunities for something...

You’re right. I don’t know what it’s like to cobble together work during a downturn like that if I were to lose my primary job and be unable to find another. I would likely take the most fulfilling work I could find. Then when times were good I’d resume more fulfilling work. Just like I’ve done through out the time I’ve been in the field so far.

Given that we have been in a 12 year period of one of the largest tech expansions in the history of our industry, I don’t see why it makes any sense to argue that people shouldn’t be seeking fulfilling work now.

It sounds like you have a pretty good idea of who you are and what you want, so I doubt you would have a problem finding meaning in your life even if you hated your job. You're probably not destined for a mid-life crisis like this, and it's not universal by any means.

But there are a lot of folks like OP who were focused hard on getting a job at Google and making boatloads of money and never took the time to figure out what they wanted in life besides a high paying job. For people in that position, I would say keep the unfulfilling job, let it be unfulfilling until you know what drives you, and figure out what you want in life. Then you'll be in a position to decide whether to seek meaning at work or not. I personally chose to find it outside of work, which has made the career bumps a lot easier to handle because my identity isn't wrapped up in my job.

> Therapy is the answer here. You have to un-brainwash yourself from the notion that your job is your life and figure out what really matters to you. Then focus on that, and use your job to fill the boring hours in between.

You’re going to spend more time at work than doing almost anything else during those years of your life where you work. Why not do something meaningful with those hours if you can? And if OP can get a job at Google they almost certainly can.

What percentage of software engineers are doing "something meaningful"? That seems like a small number, no?

Contrast with teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers, etc., almost all of whom I think would say they do something meaningful.

I’ve been a teacher. It’s basically just a job. If you want meaning have your own children.

I have no idea what proportion of software engineers consider what they do meaningful but the team who work on Google Scholar have done a great deal for me and I’m not even an academic. The drivers at Uber and Lyft and their riders have almost all had their lives improved by their existence. Amazon has made the experience of buying books so much better it’s ridiculous. Lambda School is taking 1000s of people from basically useless as programmers to a new career. Those are all pretty meaningful, at least as meaningful as your list, which seems be about displaying caring as much as actually effecting people’s lives.

If you build something people want and it isn’t harmful you’re having an effect.

I'm not sure I agree that Amazon has done meaningful work in the world of books. They've crippled the book industry. They've ran a ton of brick and mortar bookstores out of business, which has effectively destroyed community centers. There are other alternatives to Amazon that have "made the experience of buying books so much easier". Visit powells.com or alibris.com.

And what they've done to the publishing industry is a whole nother beast.

Likewise for Lyft and Uber; they just haven't fully collapsed yet -- but give them another 2 years. There will be a smoking pit in the short-range transit market because it costs at least twice what riders pay today just to keep the drivers making the same amount when the VC subsidies go away, and nobody is willing to pay that. You're already starting to see the subsidies dry up with food delivery services where there's an additional $15-20 in fees.

The next recession is going to be a bloodbath for a lot of low-income people when the demand for the gig economy dries up.

> They've ran a ton of brick and mortar bookstores out of business, which has effectively destroyed community centers.

Can you really blame Amazon for destroying community centers because they put bookstores out of business?

Bookstores aren't the only viable community center, after all. Most cities and counties have a public library that's supposed to exist for the community's benefit. Additionally, in rural parts of the US, the only real community center you used to find was a church, not a library or a bookstore.

Personally speaking, my community centers exist on Signal, WhatsApp, IRC, Mastodon, Slack, Twitter, Telegram, and Facebook. (And I neglect half of those entirely.) I don't see any need to have a physical watering hole.

I guess it depends on the place, honestly. The best communities I've been a part of -- in my short existence -- revolved around bookstores. Maybe that's subjective, but I can also argue that Signal, WhatsApp, etc aren't the only viable community centers.

Also, I'm from rural US, and those places do revolve around churches, but the pockets of enlightenment revolve around bookstores. IMO, a healthy community has a strong group of intellectuals. Intellectuals tend to gravitate to bookstores.

And yes, you can definitely blame Amazon for putting bookstores out of business. I'm too lazy to find stats to support that, but there is definitely evidence that Amazon is to blame.

And sure, libraries are for the community's benefit in an ideal world, but I'm talking about the real world.

I never disputed the premise anyway. Just that the conclusion doesn't follow from it.

If communities die when bookstores die, sure, you can blame that on what killed the bookstore. But regardless of blame, whose responsibility is it to ensure communities continue? (This isn't the same thing as blame.)

My point isn't "bookstores are the wrong answer". My point is "bookstores aren't the only correct answer". Diversify.

Yeah. I'd agree with that. I also think you, CiPHPerCoder, should implant yourself in a local bookstore and maybe you'll see what I'm talking about :)

There isn't one within 20 miles of my house, so I think I'll pass on that. :P

Blame Amazon! :P

All of those you list as doing something meaningful can multiply their efforts if only there's a good software developer upstream from them.

Software developers invent the tools and environments that enable other people to do more efficient work. Sometimes it enables entire classes of meaning work that weren't possible before. How can that not be meaningful?

For better or worse, everything is driven by software these days. All work is, directly or indirectly, powered by software. Being in software is like the most meaningful thing you can do.

Many jobs in our society enable others to do efficient work. From the bus drivers that get Google employees to work to the teachers that work 60 hour days educating future doctors and lawyers--it's hard to say that engineers are particularly special in this regard.

Sorry for coming across as implying we're special! I have to learn to watch my hyperbole. While I do value teaching highly on the meaningfulness scale[1], I don't think driving compares just as well with the mathematical argument that the effort expanded/effort saved is constant given the number of passengers you take (which in turn is practically bounded to small-ish n), whereas for software engineering that measure scales entirely differently.

[1]: If anything, I think teaching is more meaningful, using the same argument: do software engineering and you can do one human's job of software engineering. Teach 10 software engineers and you are by extension doing software engineering as 10 humans.

On a side note: if anyone here hasn't tried tutoring/teaching natural sciences/programming in a one-on-one setting or very small group, I seriously recommend it. It's surprisingly similar to software engineering; in many ways, it's wetware engineering! You get to debug the logic in people's brains as they work through problems.

Teachers do not work 60 hours a week. Bureau of Labor Statistics time use studies find that the only age group of teachers that work more than forty hours a week are those over 50.


It looks like those statistics have summer months included. That changes things from "60 hour work weeks when school is in session" to "60 hour work weeks amortized over a year".

In addition that study notes that teachers are more likely to work a second job, something a Google engineer wouldn't need to do to make a decent wage.

The median household income in California is $70K[1].

> The average salary of public school teachers in 2017 – 18 for the State of California was $80,680. [2]

Teachers make a perfectly decent wage as is, more than the average household .

[1] https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/MEHOINUSCAA646N

[2] https://www.cde.ca.gov/fg/fr/sa/cefavgsalaries.asp

The meaning is what you define and draw from. Even the job of driving a garbage truck has a meaning. Software is no different - short of doing something actively harmful or you are morally against, you can find a meaning in any job. It may not satisfy your ambition or ego, but that's a different problem that finding a meaning.

I think you absolutely can find meaning at work, but it cannot replace the meaning you find outside of work. You can tolerate doing a meaningless job if you have other things in your life to sustain you, but you can't guarantee your work will always be meaningful. Finding meaning outside work is resiliency.

> Software engineering just isn't that hard.

Surely that depends on the problem being solved, right? Some problems are harder than others. The variety of knowledge domains presented though the lens of engineering here at HN always surprises me.

I think it's just the perspective. Most software engineering that provides significant value to businesses isn't very hard from the perspective of the person doing it. It just requires a shit ton of specific knowledge, and a bunch of time and tedious work. Of course mustering those things is hard. Try and find someone to replace you in all the things you do, and see how much work they have to put into it. Depending on how deep you're into it, or on how wide the spectrum is, it might even require a really talented person to achieve the skill required to not find the work hard ;)

"Software engineering just isn't that hard. Tedious yes, but not remotely difficult. "

This is every job after you've mastered everything you need to be successful. The key is to keep learning more or just completely find a new challenge.

" ... find interests and friendships outside of work."

100% agree.

> Software engineering just isn't that hard.

That doesn't even make sense. Software engineering is using software to solve problems. How hard software engineering is depends entirely on the problem you are trying to solve.

Software engineering just isn't that hard. Tedious yes, but not remotely difficult.

Come back and say this after you’ve had to fix concurrency bugs or had to maintain some overseas contractor’s terrible codebase with no documentation.

Both of those sound tedious, neither of them sound particularly hard.

Would it qualify if time was a factor?

I think you could almost say: if those things aren't hard you are working to slow and if you are bored you could benefit by raising your own expectations for yourself?

I have; I was a software engineer for over a decade before I moved up through architecture and laterally into product. Those problems are tedious. Not difficult.

While I agree that there are parts of software engineering that are merely 'tedious' rather than 'hard', there are definitely parts that are legitimately 'hard' too. Just because you've had a particular set of experiences that you've classified as tedious doesn't mean your perspective represents the totality of the industry.

The problem here is that 'hard' is dimensionless and relative. There are people in Australia right now storming the gates of hell with a shovel and a hose because that's the job they signed up for. If that type of work is on the spectrum, I can't really think of anything in software/systems engineering that's 'hard'.

That sounds more like courage to me. Many of those shovel and hose carrying people would not make very successful software developers from my experience.

It takes a certain kind of mindset; attention to detail and an ability to visualize and work at high levels of abstraction.

To do it well, that is. Copy-pasting framework cruft until it sort of works is simply boring and the world would be a better place if we stopped doing that.

Hard as in unpleasant, obviously not. Hard as in mentally challenging, obviously yes.

10 years ago everything was tedious but possible because you had full control. Now it's super easy until impossible/difficult.

> Now it's super easy until impossible/difficult.

That's interesting, I've never thought of it this way. I'm bored out of my mind at work more often than not due to not having full access to a monolith where it's actually possible to understand/work on the whole thing. Instead, I have to work until I hit a black box/3rd party and I have to either work around it or knock on the black box and ask the proprietors for help. I know that's a generalization, but it's a real cost of componentization of everything into services and the like, at least in the web world. It's _super_ fucking easy to get like 95% to a solution to almost anything on the web, but that last 5% where you spend the most time is like a constant root-canal.

Do those once and you’ve done them a hundred times.

Vast majority of software engineering is tedious and boring. Almost no developing cutting edge optimal algorithms. Occasionally interesting design/architecture problems but the majority of the time spent on those is on writing docs, consensus building/communication, and implementation. It’s hard to find the motivation and force yourself to spend week after week chasing down bugs through poorly written code, but almost no task itself is challenging.

> Therapy is the answer here. You have to un-brainwash yourself from the notion that your job is your life

Yeah, but where is the guarantee that therapy really un-brainwashes instead of re-brainwashing you to just be content with a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. I guess it is a totally rational strategy if you want to maximize happiness (whatever that means) but it still feels like a cop-out.

It's a cop out to try and find a way to be happy regardless of your circumstance in life? What standards for life is that?

> Software engineering just isn't that hard. Tedious yes, but not remotely difficult.

I find doing it well constantly really hard.

> Software engineering just isn't that hard. Tedious yes, but not remotely difficult.

If you're ever feeling this way, move to a games company. Plenty of hard programming problems...

> That your job is not your life and figure out what really matters to you. Then focus on that, and use your job to fill the boring hours in between

This hit me very hard.

How do you figure out what really matters?

This one is long but I recommend trying to finish it. If it resonates at all you'll probably get sucked in to it before the halfway point. (The whole blog is fantastic)


Everyone spends their whole lives trying to answer that.

It's a process. There is no manual, but some have found therapy helpful.

No, most comments say to find fulfillment through personal projects/hobbies.

Work is work; it doesn't necessarily have to be the most satisfying or fulfilling experience ever. That's always going to be the case if you're working for someone else. Earning a boatload of money (and saving it) to retire early isn't anything to scoff at.

This also assumes one can find a more fulfilling job elsewhere (with ideal compensation). Which is just that, an assumption. If, and only if, such a job were lined up, then it might be time to move on.

We spend a LOT of time at work. It's ridiculous not to seek fulfillment at work as well as elsewhere.

Edit: I think maybe I didn't communicate well. I just mean that being fulfilled at work can be _very_ significant because work is such a huge part of our lives whether we like it or not. And so not _seeking_ fulfillment in work can be a huge blind spot.

I didn't mean to imply it should be prioritized above all else, or that it's shameful not to have the luxury to achieve this to a high degree, as the OP presumably does.

In an Ideal World, sure.

The Reality that most people live in is that we need money to pay the rent, like right about now. This limits the opportunities available to us because we simply cannot wait to find a fulfilling and justly compensated job.

I simply will not work for low(er) income just to satisfy my need for fulfillment (at work). You know what's better than that? Financial security. Retiring Early. Owning my own house instead of renting.

I would rather get paid a lot of money and not really work on very interesting things, if that meant I could retire a lot earlier and then do whatever I wanted for the rest of my life.

When work ends for the day, I work on my personal & open source projects, or engage in other intellectually stimulating activities like learning a language, etc.

I think the only exception at this point would be me taking slightly lower pay if it meant living and working comfortably abroad, because I want to live abroad for an extended amount of time, personally, so that tradeoff would be fine for me. In all likeliness that's going to be exactly what I do after I own my own house (at 26yo), and work under my own consulting business.

why would you want to own a house in your home country if you're working abroad?

Security. Because you don’t plan to stay abroad forever and your house will still be there for you when you come back, whether permanently or on holiday.

Very few people have that luxury. The career path for your average software dev in Silicon Valley does not have a lot of interesting work involved -- it's a bunch of middleware stuff like parsing data, CRUD operations and updating documentation. It's the 21st century version of being an auto mechanic -- super interesting at first, but there's a definite ceiling on the knowledge.

There is only so much interesting work to go around, and you're usually not going to be doing it. You can seek fulfillment at work, but you also have to be prepared not to find it. Seeking fulfillment elsewhere is the secret to not burning out.

People aren't advocating that OP should stop learning (although there is nothing wrong with Software Engineering being a safe, predictable career for some people). They're advocating that OP should focus on learning things outside of work.

A lot of exciting opportunities open up when you don't need to care about money. You can do experimental, innovative stuff just because it's worth doing, and not just because a VC investor wants another cash-out.

Although, given Google's policies towards employee IP, that alone might be a reason to look for another company to work at -- keeping in mind that you almost certainly will be accepting a drop in pay if you leave.

being poor is bad, but being cushy is demotivating. “Experimental, innovative stuff” requires a certain level of hunger, or disregard for money. In both cases this person should seek elsewhere.

You will have a hard time finding a tech employer that doesn't have a restrictive IP clause.

Maybe at large companies, but at small companies in California, this has not been my experience. Plenty of employers realize that programmers tend to program on the side, and as long as you don't use company hardware or facilities, they claim no ownership of your IP.

This hasn't been my experience. My current employer doesn't have a clause like this, and although they wouldn't have needed to, they also in-writing cleared my side-projects when I joined, even commercial ones.

Autopilot is for middle age? That's a pretty terrible thing to say. My 20s were a total waste. Now, mature and sorta burned out on nonsense distractions, I'm on fire.

Yeah, I agree here. I can't imagine going on autopilot even decades and decades from now as I hit 80. The point is to drive to learn AND create always gives you opportunity.

I agree with most of your statements. However, I don’t believe you should ever auto pilot. Life is about constantly, and consistently challenging yourself. Auto pilot, at any age, are for duds. Why auto pilot during middle age? I’d argue that you have acquired so much wisdom, leading into your middle age. Why stop the momentum. Use all your wisdom ALWAYS! :)

I have read that certain earth beings sometimes replicate themselves, and navigating the needy replicants needs & wants requires rejiggering how much life is spent where.

I think many of the folks here agree with your latter point, that the point OP is at in his or her life is one for experimentation and discovery. I think they’re saying this is easier when you can pull in fat, fat stacks with little effort. Fulfillment probably won’t come from working at Google, so use the security it affords to find out where it _can_ come from.

What a change from the exciting atmosphere of the 2000s.

I miss this every day.

A welcome change from the exciting atmosphere of exploiting young brains and sucking the marrow out of others' 20's?

> Autopilot is for middle age

??? I thought that middle age was where you still had the energy and the brainpower, but also had a bunch of hard-earned experience to bring it all to the highest level.

Oh, wait. I forgot. You slacked off when you were in your 20's and 30's so you don't. Never mind.

> Your 20s are the time to learn, push yourself and discover who you are.

I agree with this, but it's not going to happen with any job. You'll never discover yourself sitting in an office. If you look at jobs as a means to an end to let you live you're real life I think your better off.

At this point in my life, an "exciting" software job is for suckers

I do develop some insights working in an office though. For the most part, no, I can't even totally be myself in this corporate office and my life feels too routined. I'm looking for something more

Well, exciting can mean different things. I have a job where I never know what I'll be doing at 2PM when I walk in at 8AM.

AND, I am not a sucker.

LOL are you me, because that sounds very familiar. I cruised along at Google for many years, got bored, quit to try my own startup idea, didn't work out, now working in some SV startup. (Can't say I'm getting better challenges, but at least I'm tackling them better.)

I think you got enough advice, so I'll just add a few points:

* Challenging oneself to try harder is itself a skill. Don't lie to yourself that you're only using 10% of your capacity - it implies that given the right condition you'll be 10x as productive, but we all know "the right condition" never happens. Truly productive engineers (and I saw a lot of them at Google) bring the right conditions to themselves. At best, you will be something like ~2.5x productive, if you try your damnest.

* Google still has tons of different projects. I don't know how easy it is to transfer internally these days, but at least try to find something that sounds interesting to you. A lot easier than changing the company.

* Googlers have complained that "all we do is moving protocol buffers from one place to another," since forever. That's part of the job: truly interesting stuff doesn't happen that often. And yes, I think the problem is more pronounced at Google, because really interesting problems were already solved by much better people, so you end up moving protobufs. But all other places have similar issues, more or less (see point 1 above).

* If you decide to change places, do NOT look for higher hiring bars. (I'm not telling you to avoid them: I'm just saying they're irrelevant.) Google already has a pretty high bar, and tons of incredibly talented engineers. Having extra hoops during the interview did't motivate anyone, and it wouldn't you, either.

These are good, practical advice.

I'd say moving to a different company/team every few years is a very useful way to keep oneself motivated. I personally make it a habit to look for different opportunities every few years. Even if I decide not to move after evaluating options, it helps me keep motivated. And when you do move, there's nothing like the excitement of learning new things and feeling a bit nervous/anxious in a new field and having/wanting to prove oneself that will keep you motivated and focused.

As for "moving protocol buffers" - indeed, all code does, at the smallest level, is just moving bits and flipping bits. There's no amazingly interesting things in computer science when broken down. What's interesting is what happens in between and what the combination of all of those accomplishes together. What it accomplishes is what matters. We're all just standing on top of the shoulders of giants that is collective human knowledge, adding tiny bits of our own contributions on our luckiest days, and just barely holding onto the shoulders in our normal days. If you're not advancing human knowledge, keeping some tools used by millions working is useful and meaningful. Keeping millions of people entertained is useful. Providing tools for other thousands of engineers is meaningful. The meaning of a job is what you define it to be.

Even if you decide you won't find meaning in the job itself and decide to take it purely as a "to-make-a-living", necessary-evil endeavor, what you achieve through it can be personally meaningful (provide for your family, for your personal experience, for society, etc).

I was at Google for five years, and by the end of it, I'd reached a similar place as you. Alas, my leaving Google was precipitated by us deciding to move, not a well-thought or self-directed intentional impulse on my part. But it turned out to be the best thing ever. For some reason or other, I had the interview day of my life at Square, and got offered a position where they expected a lot from me. It has been wonderful, and I should have switched companies sooner.

Leading up to that, part of my path out of the doldrums was (a) therapy, and (b) going through the list of technical subjects that seemed out -of-reach-wizardly (writing a compiler, writing an emulator), and chipping away at them one plush, cushy Google bus ride at a time until they were working. But the change of scenery — and especially of expectation — was invigorating.

A few miscellaneous comments (“advice is a form of nostalgia”…):

- the feeling that you're only idling at 10% mental capacity will kill you slowly.

- you might want to investigate the idea that you're procrastinating because of anxiety or depression, rather than the reverse

- assuming you're giving programming interviews, and using borg/bigtable/cns/etc/etc/etc day-to-day, you'll be amazed at how much knowledge you've picked up in 6 years. You probably have a practical fluency with distributed and sharded capacity design that most interviewees lack. Depends on where inside Google you landed…

- just preparing for and attempting the interviews at “companies with a higher hiring bar than Google” will probably wake you up a bit. Good luck!

> just preparing for and attempting the interviews at [better companies]

This really rings true, I attempted and utterly failed an interview recently and was a real kick up the arse to improve myself - I'm no longer the hot shit I was 10 years ago.

Something that really helped me when I was younger and in a similar boat, was to grit my teeth and throw myself into the work; by that I mean, force yourself to be first in, last out every day, take on literally every task - no matter how shitty - that is available to you, your team, or anyone you know that needs help. Take some work home with you if you can. And keep doing this for 4-6 months. By that time you will probably be heading towards burnout, and you'll need to slow things down for a bit.

But when you do take some slack and reflect, then you will realise that you just learned a ton of really practical things that can help you in your next job. You've also learned the discipline of hard work (which in the long term trumps any deep knowledge of tech because ultimately every job eventually becomes a grind, and tech is ever-changing anyways). Plus you've probably made a good reputation for yourself which never hurts.

You will also be able to decide if you found that last few months energising or if you would rather gnaw off your arm than do it again. And that helps to answer if you should leave the job or not :)

While I don't agree with going overboard and burning yourself out, I do agree with the premise.

So many people want to find their passion first and then they think they'll work hard once they find it.

It's actually the other way around.

Give 100% to what you're working on (no more though) and you'll find that you become passionate about it.

Honestly, start a side project or get a hobby. Take a vacation. Go for long walks on the beach.

I really doubt any other tech company that pays as well as Google will be any more interesting. And most people eventually get bored with their jobs. There is no job that isn't repetitive to some degree.

Also, you seem to be downplaying your experience and what you've learned but I highly doubt you'd have kept your job if you were truly slacking. Odds are you just got efficient at doing your job and are getting bored.

Anyhow, there is something to be said for a stable, well-paying job, so go figure things out in your personal life before you shake up your professional life.

Switch teams, ideally to something entirely different than what you’re doing now. Google makes it easy and painless (in most cases) for a reason. I stayed at my first team at Google for years longer than most people do, and though I started strong, by the end I found I was feeling similarly to what you describe. I took that as an impetuous to switch teams and moved to doing something very different, and now a year later I’ve got my fire back and I’m learning tons every day. I’m sure at some point I’ll get comfortable and complacent here again, but now I know to keep an eye out for it and take that as a signal that it’s time to move forward again.

I am not kidding: you are all set to be CTO or dev lead (mind: only if there’s actually a team so you don’t have to do much development) at some late-early stage funded startup, that wants a long-time Google alum on their staff, in leadership. Without even a change in your work ethic. Not even slightly a joke.

Hahahaha. There's absolutely nothing in the OPs post that suggests they would be a good CTO or dev lead. That's exactly the counter to the question made by OP.

Can you expand on this?

Leadership positions like that mean doing a whole other set of stuff that feels like "not-work" if work has always meant personally, directly moving a product forward. Those meetings you always hated because they killed your productivity? Now they are your productivity. Sitting at your desk and can't think of a single thing to do that anyone's likely to care about? Try not to look like you're relaxing, but relax. You did your thing. Doing more now would be doing worse at your job because you're probably going to be annoying and slowing down the people doing the work. Maybe shoot off an email to someone else to see if you can get a chain going, just to keep up visibility. I mean, you can just "lead" a meeting (to be clear, this is actually valuable when done well!) and come out of it feeling like you contributed nothing at all, but guess what? You just did your job. Shit, sometimes just telling two other people to go talk, without you, and tell you what they come up with, is your job!

IME the weirdest thing about those sorts of middle- to upper-management software positions is that almost all the actual work feels like slacking or time-filler you might do when too burnt out to do real work, until you get used to it. Write up some proposals for something, write some specs or go over some stories with someone. Get some face-time with a stakeholder to go over some feature, propose some new ones. Talk timeline with some manager. Coach sales on the product. It is actual work that someone wants to be done, but to me (and I suspect to OP) it feels like you're no longer doing any work at all, you're just, like, someone who hangs around the people doing the work and chats with folks.

Yet (in most orgs—perhaps not FAANG) you are better-respected (you can feel this in meetings, it's incredibly weird at first) and better-compensated than you would be as a developer.

And then the Google pedigree thing is obvious. Youngish startups with a little money just starting to build their team past "a co-founder and these two recent grads" are hungry to get FAANG alums into leadership. I don't know whether that's a good thing for them to care about—maybe it is—but they do seem to show a very strong preference for them.

I feel like that is me, and I feel like that would be a perfect job for me. I am, too, at a point where I am as productive as my peers with just about 10% of effort.

Thanks for your elaboration, opened my eyes on the situation.

In your experience, would this be a good time to start your own business, like a SaaS?

> And then the Google pedigree thing is obvious. Youngish startups with a little money just starting to build their team past "a co-founder and these two recent grads" are hungry to get FAANG alums into leadership. I don't know whether that's a good thing for them to care about—maybe it is—but they do seem to show a very strong preference for them.

It generally isn't a bad idea for inexperienced founders to have some insight into how larger tech companies operate. Especially when it comes to scaling, knowing how companies typically handle this can be quite valuable.

How can you keep yourself accountable? What motivates me is to focus on the other, instead of on myself.

If you're doing the minimal amount of work, does that mean that the users are suffering? If you had put in more effort, would they be able to get more out of your software with less effort? The drive to make the best experience for my users motivates me to learn everything I can about design.

What about your fellow programmers? Does anyone else have to deal with the code you wrote? If so, is your code sloppier or harder to maintain than you could have made it, had you put in more than 10%? The drive to make code a joy to work on, for others and myself, motivates me to learn.

What about Google? Are they getting their money's worth out of you? This is a bit harder to sympathize with, being that now we're talking about a rich company instead of particular people. But think of it as a test of your honesty. Did you agree to work a certain number of hours but are really working a fraction thereof? Don't get me wrong, no one that I know can code for 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, without burning out. But I think your managers, if they understand programming, expect some reasonable fraction of your day to spent working hard, doing your best, etc.

If you're looking to have kids eventually, your job situation is perfect for that: good salary and low stress.

If you're having issues with dating and work at Google HQ, the problem may be that you're in an area over-saturated with your demographic (nerdy 20-something men). Strongly consider seeking a transfer to another office, any(?) of which will have more favorable area demographics for dating.

I’m in the same boat as you. I’ve been working at the same tech company for 6.5 years making around 500 (used to be 1.2 but my stock grant ran out). I only show up one day a week to have lunch with friends and do nothing. My advice is to keep the money flowing and do something else on the side.

This blows my mind. I make 120k as a young person in SWE, and I feel like a fraud often for making that money, and being able to work from basically anywhere I want in the world. How do you justify it to yourself? Do other things fulfill you? I’m already feeling pangs of doubt about my life, and I work more and earn less than you. I’m passing no judgement at all, I’m just curious about how that dynamic effects you and your life.

I don’t really care about stuff like that. I assume I’ll get laid off at some point, but I’ve made so much that I don’t really worry about it. It’s hard for big companies to find people who aren’t doing anything.

Yeah this is crazy to me too. I don't work in software, I teach engineering at a local tech institute and I make like 55k Canadian. I'm fairly autonomous in that as long as I fulfill my class hours and workload I'm free to work from home and all that. I have a great work life balance and I love it but the pay is abysmally if I want to start a family in the future and save for retirement.

I've started getting into software development in my free time and planning for a career change but I feel as if I'd be trading my free time for more money. And if there's a kid on the way, what's more valuable to get from your dad? A dad that makes lots of money but isn't around much or a fad that is around a bunch but can't support you as well? Maybe real life isn't so cut and dry and I can find a happy medium between the two in software. Any advice?

30 year old dad of a 2 year old. I did software dev fulltime for 3 years then a consultant for the last 5. Having the flexibility to be at my kid's doctor appointments and go to the park on a weekday is cool. But I pay for it with either not getting things done or staying up way too late and killing myself. I'm just now starting a more traditional 9-5 schedule (still as a consultant) and I'm hoping that will translate into less stress with being able to work and be a parent and take care of myself. There's hopefully always a happy medium for anybody but it depends on what your priorities are. I definitely noticed a change in my childs behavior when I stopped spending every night in the basement working and learning. Even if it was only for 30 minutes at a time. But obviously my ability to be "in the zone" for hours after billing time was over changed too. But it matters to me, so that's why I do it.

I don't mind having a 9-5 as long as it means I definitely finish at 5 and don't have to take my work home with me. I guess it depends on the company and what their work life balance is.

As someone pointed out in this thread, a lot of this is strength of resume and where you went to college. Without that you’ll be pushing upstream. I don’t find my advice is very useful to people because they can’t replicate my situation.

How did you get to $15m? 500k per year x 7 years into index ETFs is still like $8m ish

What is your actual base salary?

300 plus bonus plus stock plus sundries like 401k match

is it a FAANG/unicorn?

It’s not but it’s a well known Silicon Valley company.

Not a FAANG/Unicorn? Seems like you might be a fairly early employee at a fairly successful private SV company?

Nope, but there was a stock increase that made my initial grant worth way more. There was no magic here. I was hired at a fairly established company, got a decent package and then sat around.

I think you're downplaying something here.

You got hired as a manger, so at the very least, you must have had a pretty prosperous and impressive background as an engineer for some time.

You might be cruising now, but snapshots of one's life are hardly the full story.

Oh sure that’s definitely true. I have a strong resume. At some point I just stopped having to do any work, and instead of trying to “fix” it I just went along with it. Another key element is there’s no way I’ll ever get promoted. I decided I don’t care. The difference between making 500 and 800 or whatever is sort of meaningless after taxes.

I'd love to be in that position. I have a strong resume too, and I'm more than ready to be rewarded for it with a high paying job which I can more or less cruise in. So count your blessings!

You don't have a boss who wants you to do x y or z?

Wow what level or how did you manage this?

I don’t want to dox myself here. My level range should be obvious from my salary. I’m a manager not an IC. Yes everyone on my team knows what’s up.

Ah, so you're probably one of those overpaid non-managers that everyone hates... We have a bunch of those, they avoid work and responsibility like the plague, and in result the project is in severe leadership crisis.

> it's almost like I've been using only 10% of my mental capacity for work (the rest was on dating/dealing with breakups/dealing with depression/gaming/...)

I think that could give an indication of what might be wrong here, I can relate (somewhat!). I work for a top-flight tech firm, straight out of school, for about 5 years or so, and for a long time I felt just like that: I focused for a very long time on achieving the next goal - passing an exam, getting into University, getting that job, and not really focusing on what that was all for, not really focusing on my personal life etc. Once I got my job I was like “what is all of this for?”

So I changed tack, I rotated positions at my job, I tried to “live with purpose”, do something with a super-high impact, and not put myself under such relentless pressure to succeed. It may not feel like you have a super-high impact, but I’d say you do - the services you run help to improve literally millions of people’s lives. Try to think about it like that, instead of “I’m not living up to my potential”, think about the enormous impact you already have. If you just don’t find the work interesting, talk to your manager about the possibility of a secondment to another team.

I’d also advise that relationships are hard, and it is OK to feel miserable when they end. But one thing I only realised recently is that if your misery extends by more than a two months, it could be indicative that you need to see a doctor. Depression is a terrible condition that’s still (IMO unfairly) stigmatised and it’s often hard to disentangle from the rest of what goes on, but it is not a weakness to admit that we all need some help sometimes. If you need an impartial but sympathetic ear, you can find my email in my profile. Good luck! :D

Heartbreak often lasts longer than 2 months. It's not necessarily a medical condition though. Counseling can help, but also more time helps too.

> I work for a top-flight tech firm, straight out of school, for about 5 years or so, and for a long time I felt just like that:

Hah, I misread as "I work for top flight-sim firm" and though - aaaawww, I thought at least this kind of work would be fun.

A) I saw “boss as a service” on HN some months ago. This might teach you diligence and accountability by rote. B) Jumping ship won’t change this problem. This IS actually about you, and guess what, until you address it, it will go with you everywhere you go.

Or you can become a skillful slacker as some here have mentioned. That personally wouldn’t work for me; maybe it will for you.

I have been at this situation at Microsoft for four years straight out of college. I would achieve notable things without putting too much into the work. Then I figured out what kind of a role and technology area I wanted to work on, changed ship and jumped to Google —now still happy after three years.

Since you are new grad employee, I assume your comp wasn’t competitive as it could be. 6 years at L4 also probably indicates you are at/below median comp for that level/location. You might be due for a change if you want more money.

In my opinion, Google is still an amazing place to practice all sorts of different technologies. Internal education programs and mobility between teams would let you work anywhere in the company that’s interesting to you. I suspect unless you find that passion, this might repeat anyhwere you go.

......I don't know what to say. I know a few people are like this too. On the other hand, I think I do a lot of things for my employer and constantly learn/challenge myself, but don't make anywhere near FAANG SWE. I am trying hard to pass onsite FAANG interviews, and still failing. So I'm still Leetcoding now.

But hearing stories like this just kinda demotivates me and confuses me more. Most non FAANG companies have no interest in keeping people who wants to stay purely technical like me, so in the end I'll have to end up at FAANG/unicorns to get better compensation. But on the other hand, joining FAANG seems soul crushing.

Don't confuse the mystique for reality. Google is just a large company now. The mystique helps them recruit talent. The interviews are mostly a filtering process since they have far more people applying than they actually need. Being a large company, they have more than their fair share of bozos who are now the gatekeepers of that process. The only thing that Google management really cares about at this point is maximizing profit. It's just a business and that's reflected in everything they do and don't do these days.

There's nothing wrong with any of that. If you want to make more money and/or get Google on the resume to open up some new doors, keep trying and you'll probably eventually find a way in. Just don't think it's going to be some sort of techie nirvana... it's going to be a lumbering bureaucratic beast ruled by politics as virtually all large companies are.

If you're looking for technical challenge and growth, you probably want to be looking at smaller tech companies who are where Google was 10+ years ago.

Thank you for the reply. I'll consider this.

Don't read too much into it. You can certainly find soul-crushing stuff in FAANG, but it doesn't mean that it's all that's available there. You might still have to deal with it as a stepping stone towards more interesting things in your career - but when you know that it's merely means to an end, not the thing you're going to be doing for decades to come, it's a very different story.

Try looking at what smaller companies are doing interesting things but don't have the whole FAANG "halo".

I've never worked at a FAANG, but from my reading here and other places I think that the path to an interesting job would probably be easier at a smaller company than at a FAANG.

Ex-Amazon employee here. I started at Amazon right out of college so I definitely learned a lot, but the work itself wasn't really challenging. Most of what I worked on were basic CRUD services and web UI's.

Once the newness of the job wore off, I started getting really depressed because it felt like my work was meaningless, but there were also really high expectations. 90% of the work at FAANG companies is boring, and the really interesting, cutting-edge stuff is only done by a handful of teams.

I thought about this over the weekend, and I have two comments. First, to commenters, this kind of dead end happens at all large companies, so it's unfair to criticize this individual or Google without taking into account that the same thing happens at Apple, Microsoft, Walmart, IBM, Siemens and any other big organization that will survive its founders. While the large corporation participates in a market economy to make revenue, internally it is a command economy, and to my mind resembles an assemblage of regiments, directed by commanders who have different marching orders, rationally designed by the executive to head off competition for both the core business and the future business. The number of people required to make the core business work is absurdly small. The odds against the success of any of the speculative projects are absurdly high. So most people working at a big company are working as bench players in the core business, or on fanciful, doomed projects. This has to be the case -- we're in the business of automation after all.

Second, it's immoral for an individual contributor to resign themselves to this fate. The lost opportunity is terrible for both the individual and society. Be where the action is!

I was in a similar situation, but even though I have an engineering background I was in GTech.

I thought I was doing meaningful work at first. But after 7 years of the grinding it took its toll, I burned out and I left in September.

I'm not sure our situation is comparable, but I'll share some of my experience.

I was very well paid and that kept me on the job longer than it was healthy for me. Still I can't tell you if I made the right decision or not. My job was not stressful at all and not demanding, but I had some periods that I slacked too much and that took a toll on my perf. A bad perf made internal movements harder.

I wish I could have stayed longer for the money, I wish I had better scores that internal movement was possible. In the end I just got up one day and quit, and I don't regret.

I'm taking my time now to rest, travel and work on some side projects before restarting my career. I lived a pretty scrappy life in the bay that I can now not worry too much about money for some time.

I don't share the Google hate so common in this forum, I think it's a wonderful company to work for. A lot of opportunities, great people and comp. I blame only myself for my mental health deteriorating and affecting the quality and balance of my work. I'll work on getting that in order before finding a new job, and if I get back to Google I'll feel lucky.

This was more a rambling than anything. But to summarize my advice would be to prioritize your mental health, that's a lot more important than you realize. If you feel like the grinding is affecting you seek help or quit and find something else more fulfilling. If you feel you are ok maybe try an internal transfer and stay longer, add a side project if you need a challenge. If you do decide to quit give yourself a quarter to rest at least.

And lastly you're probably better than you think you are, impostor syndrome is real and affects everyone.

Make sure you save up the money, pay off all your debts. Start doing stuff at work "properly". Then once you got yourself back upto "match fitness", start looking around.

Honestly, if I were you I'd just keep chugging along and collect as much money as possible. Start investing, and make yourself financially independent. After that, you can quit and do whatever you want.

Clearly you're not very interested in the work you're now doing at google. So the question is, is it this particular job that you're not interested in, or is it that you're just not that interested in programming? Probably the best way to find out is to try a different job.

P.S. -- there would be no need to 'keep yourself accountable' if you were genuinely interested in what you were doing.

> P.S. -- there would be no need to 'keep yourself accountable' if you were genuinely interested in what you were doing.

Unless the dullness burns you out / demotivates you.

'Burnout' tends to imply overwork, but that doesn't sound like the case here; OP states they are doing the minimum amount of work to get by.

IME, boredom at a particular job coupled with a genuine interest in programming in general tends to result in finding a more interesting job or more time spent on side/personal projects. But that's not what I'm getting from OP's description.

Sometimes people are very reluctant to ask fundamental questions of themselves, like 'is this really what I want to be doing with my life?', especially when they have a lot invested in the status quo. So to me this sounds like the kind of problem where the first step is sufficient understanding of oneself.

True, although btw you can be burned out outside of work as well.

There may be good reasons to try going to another company rather than Google. If you've only been promoted once in six years, especially straight out of college --- that's not a normal career trajectory, and so it's probably obvious to your manager and your colleagues that you have been slacking.

On the other hand, going to another company may or may not help that much either, and for two reasons. First, depending on where you are inside Google, the technologies which you have picked up may not be all that useful outside of Google. More importantly, and you've pointed that out for yourself, if you don'y have habit --- and the curiosity --- to deeply learn new the technologies you are working with, you're probably going to struggle wherever you are.

Spending a month for each new technology that you think you need to learn is not going to be enough to deeply become an expert in any of them. Also, it sounds like you have some not-so-great work habits, such as not doing the best possible job you can with any assignment you have been given. Shaking those is also going to be helpful for you, no matter where you are.

So... here's what I would suggest for you. First, spend as much time working on yourself as you so working on "new technologies". Try reading books such as Steven Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective people. I found listening to books such as Brian Tracey's Success Audio Tapes to be helpful in my early career. If you are more spiritually minded, some of Og Mandino's books are old classics.

Secondly, try to bump your performance review ranking at least one level each cycle, until you are getting strongly exceeds expectations. Not because you necessarily want to stay at Google, but because of the self-confidence that this will hopefully help you gain. And tell your manager that (a) you feel that you've been slacking, and (b) that you want to do better. If your manager is any good, they will want to work with you. Try to get promoted at least once more at Google. Why? Because if you are going to try to strike out at some other company, people who understood Google's performance levels will not necessarily be impressed if you have been at Google for six years, and are still a SWE III.

Finally, once you have a string of good ratings so it will be easier for you to try moving to another teams, you might want to consider working at some team which has contact with outside customers, especially in the Cloud PA. This will give you a lot of contact with external technologies, since customers will use a variety of different software components.

Please do keep in mind, first and foremost, that it's all about how you can add the most business value, no matter what company you happen to be working at, and no matter which customers you are trying to help. It's that work attitude which is going to be the most important, which is why I started this by suggesting that you work on your soft skills as much as your technology skills. In addition to listening to various success tapes while I was commuting to work, I also made sure I knew how to read a balance sheet and monthly income/expense reports. I also took supplementary classes in management (which my employer paid for) for subjects such as "Law for the I/T Manager" at the MIT Sloan School. This is all going to be super useful, especially if you think you want to leave Google; at large companies, you can get by just being a technology specialist, but if you are working for yourself, or at a small company, being a well-rounded employee who can understand various business and legal issues will stand you in good stead.

The bottom line is you need to wake your curiosity to learn as much as you can in a wide variety of subjects; not because you want to get a good/interesting job elsewhere, but for its own sake. And you need to develop good work habits and have the internal drive to do the best that you can no matter where you are. Jumping ship to some other company isn't going to change who you are; and you may find that it is much more about you than your environment.

If you want to discuss this more, look me at at Google and I'm happy to chat some more. My ldap is the obvious one at google.com.

>all I do is copy code from the internal codebase and patch things together until they work.

this is... a big and important thing (and difficult... a lot of people re-implement rather than trying to understand what is there.) when dealing with a giant big corporate codebase. This might be, the primary SWE job at big corporate? I mean, there's a lot there, and to understand what is there well enough to actually do something with it is not nothing.

All that said, 6 years is a long time to spend at your first job. There's nothing wrong with seeing what else is out there. Don't quit until you have the next job in the bag, and keep in mind, when you quit, that you might want to come back.

Interesting jobs are, kind of by definition, hard at the beginning: Many interesting and clever things are already in place that you have to learn in a short period of time: not just the big technologies, but a lot of smaller things like tools, environments and a lot of culture.

Inevitably you run out of cool things to learn, and very few jobs can keep challenging you mentally all the time. Almost by definition a job must get more boring over time.

You can do some learning and growing on your own, but that only goes so far: You can write a script and look up stuff and apply it at your job, but can't quite break out a sample project in the new framework.

Almost by definition, the person who can handle coming in at that kind of job and grok it all, can't be the one who does the job for years on end. Enjoy the ebb and flow of the job lifecycle - after a hectic start, settle in and enjoy it for a while.

But then: leave! If the company is smart, they'll put you on a new challenge if you ask. Most likely you'll have to quit and apply somewhere else. Then you will be on 100% of your mental capacity again in no time :)

I'm not employed as a programmer per se, but I work with a lot of programmers and other kinds of engineers. I wonder if you're talking yourself out of the value of your work. A great deal of engineering is not creating fundamentally new components, but organizing and arranging things, fitting them together, and so forth. Is this a bad thing?

As businesses and their products get more complex, "systems" behavior becomes a larger part of making things work, until you might only need a few people working on components, and everybody else on fitting those components together in different ways. There's hardly any loss of honor in doing the 90% of the work that needs to be done and makes the business successful.

I think you can do two things. First, look into new technologies that you'd like to dive into. Second, start to rehearse your elevator speech about how great your present work is, until you begin to believe it yourself, because it might be true. Doing great work and looking for better work are not mutually exclusive.

Google of today sounds a lot like the IBM of the early 90s. There were many clock watchers who came in, read the newspapers and left for the day - with a long lunch break in-between. A big chunk of these people were kicked out by the crisis that hit IBM in 1994.

I'm currently an engineering manager at Google (in the US, though not in the Bay Area), and I'm sympathetic to everything you've written here; I've done my time in Larry and Sergei's Protobuf Moving Company. Being in my 40's (fairly old for tech!), if I were in your position, I'd try to find my Sustaining Passion outside of my day-to-day work. That might mean picking a 20% project that excites you, or it might mean finding something meaningful outside of the company that doesn't require a new job. It might also mean finding a new team within Google, or even a new role (e.g., move to SRE, TSE, DPE, etc). With one promotion in 6 years, I'm assuming you're hitting CME/EE every cycle -- which is good -- so I'd position that as a good thing: for many roles, consistency and stability are a feature.

It's hard to know how to answer without knowing more. I slack off when I don't love the work. Whereas when I am building something that I think is really cool, you can't keep me away from the keyboard. When I'm a cog in the machine, I struggle to do more than the 10% you are doing.

First question I'd ask myself would be: "Why do I think this would be better elsewhere?" Is the issue Google, or is the issue you/the profession?

Depending on the answer it seems like there are a few reasonable landing zones: 1) find a new job at google that addresses the perceived issues at google. 2) jump to a new job at a new company that addresses the perceived issues at google. 3) approach your current job with a new attitude to work harder and do more. maybe set your sights on next promo. 4) embrace your slacking, saving money to prepare for a career change.

It's difficult when going to work and doing work doesn't feel like work. When copying files and patching stuff together is what they expect you to do but that only requires a little bit of mental capacity, welcome to corporate reality.

What you choose to do is completely up to you, but know that a lot of people would give up their right arm and a leg for this kind of job and the job security that entails.

That said, as long as what you are doing is keeping you relevant in the job market and you are building competency you should be fine.

Don't worry. Go to job interviews when you can, this is to ensure that your knowledge and persona are still relevant. If they give you an offer you are in a good situation to use that information to either improve your current position or change job. Don't forget you work to live, don't live for work.

i would second this and also add, that when you're interviewing for other companies, be upfront and tell them that you're just not challenged. That you've been pidgeon-holed.

It will give the employer to guage if you will be a good fit for the project and that you are more interested in learning that just pushing buttons.

You sound depressed, I think it takes one to know one. Working at Google in the US is a dream 99% of the world can only dream of make sure you value it.

Also as others have said, don’t expect that your job will fulfil you completely, unless you’re curing cancer it’s just a job, talk to your manager about a different role or a bigger challenge but don’t give up a job at Google because you’re bored.

And get some counselling, it’ll be the best thing you did in 3-6 months.

What people dream about doesn't really mean anything. They don't actually live and work at google, as a software engineer. They just see some kind of marketing version of "a day in the life of a software engineer at google". It has nothing to do with reality.

Every programmer I met is depressed, hates computers, and spends all of their day just pretending to work because they burned out in the first month of programming. Programming isn't a real job for actual humans. We can't do it. The market just demands it.

Claiming that humans intrinsically hate programming is a real hot take. Have anything to back that up besides sketchy anecdotal evidence?

The question you asked, "how can i stop this?" is commonly not possible to tackle directly. If you didn't care about the company before, there likely isn't much for you now.

I think you've got the right mentality - that staying where you are isn't the best long term move at your current stage of life.

Ask yourself what is it that you want to try? ML, FE, BE, Full stack? and simply build a project out of it. Dabble and dabble. It'll likely be hard at first since there's a mental rut, but at some point, something will pique your interest.

From there it's just diving deeper and deeper until you're ready to jump ship. You may even find it at the current company through a transfer.

I don't recommend jumping ship until you're sure. You've got a fantastic backstop.

What about joining a startup so you’re forced to do some real work?

I’ve done the startup scene before, and I can tell you, you will be doing 3 different jobs and using 100% of that mental capacity. You will be making changes that wouldn’t be possible without director-level oversight at larger companies. You will feel like you’re making a difference.

Does anyone else feel like a 3rd or 4th class citizen reading posts like these? How is someone supposed to "compete" financially or socially when there is a magic gate with so much privilege on the other side?

Yes. I should preface this by saying I'm not a CS type but Igross about 34k a year, I've been at my job 13 and a half years, I'm in the same position I hired into because in my OpCo it's only 5 rungs until I'm at the corporate level.

I do not get a bonus, the 401k contribution is fairly meh, our pensions will no longer be contributed to later this year. The company stock purchase is merely we pay whatever the price is but don't pay a buy commission, however, we pay a sell commission and a fee on top of that for direct deposit and an even higher fee for a paper check if we sell.

The only realistic way to move up in my OpCo is to get at least a 4-year degree, Masters preferred though, and be willig to physically move across the country chasing jobs. My manager worked here in Indiana when I started, to become a manager she had to take a job in the bay area and move there for several years before a manager position eventually opened here and she had to compete for it. Similarly around the same times a guy had to come here from NY to become manager and wait for a position to open in NY to move back. In another OpCo a friend of mine is equivalent to my boss's boss now after starting a month before me, getting her bachelors, getting her masters, and moving to 3 different states over that period for a total of 5 moves.

When I see people on HN "yeah, I make a bazillion dollars, plus bonus, we've got free rides to work, free gym, free food, free this and that, great stock options and 401k match, but man I'm bored" I get quite irritated. I hate my job, I work every holiday, we hot bunk desks with another shift, regulations are constantly changing, internal policies are constantly changing, Office Space looks like heaven compared to my office, I actually make less some years after you consider insurance increases... but I don't have a degree and I've been here for 13.5 years so if I go to a company doing a comparable thing I have to take a few dollar an hour pay cut and lose nearly a month of annual vacation to start as a new hire. That's if the competitors will take me, I've had a few reject me for not having a degree, one of which has only been in business about half as long as I've been doing the job...


But hey it's ok, I only have to work here until I die since I'll never be able to adequately fund retirement accounts to retire!

first step is to get out of competition mindset and focus on improving your own predicament.

i'm sure many would feel they are 3rd class citizens compared to you

Me lol.

Your current behaviour should mark you for fast track promotion.


Forming and subscribing to a world view based on a TV series script does not strike me as a good idea.

probably not, but I recommend checking out the whole article series. it's a fun read, if nothing else.

isn't OP employing the loser strategy? they are doing (what they consider) barely okay work. the prospective sociopath strategy in that serious of articles is to do below-acceptable work and vie for political advantages.

That's not entirely correct. The sociopath strategy is to employ your time looking for ways up - instead of whatever the company is paying you to do - i.e., the up or out strategy. However, there's no reason it can't be up _and_ out, such as starting your own thing.

You’ve lost your edge. This is actually pretty common amongst technical fields. You lack the inspiration required to achieve more either from life or work factors. Look after yourself as a priority and ground yourself. Your job is clearly stable enough to help you correct your foundations.

HN isn't the best place to ask for this since we can't really give actionable feedback. Look me up internally (jtgans) -- I've been at Google off and on for about 8 years cumulatively now. Happy to talk over VC if you'd like.

Have you been on the same team the whole time? I’ve found that how I feel about my work and my productivity has a lot to do with what kind of team I’m on. I don’t like being the superstar (too much pressure) and I hate being around a real superstar (all my code gets rewritten by the superstar so why bother writing it in the first place). When I’m with people at roughly my own level I have a ton of energy and actually enjoy my work.

I would love to know what Brin, Page or Pinchai would think about this entire thread? I have a friend who joined Google a couple of years ago, and he said that working at Google has killed his love of coding. He comes into work, does minimal work, and then goes and works out. So this sounds like a common theme. I'm curious how the founders and CEO would feel if they saw this or if they think this is just an aberration?

It sounds like you need someone who you feel accountable to. You mentioned depression. I’m not sure if you mean clinical depression, or post-breakup blues. But either ways consider talking to a therapist [0]. If it turns out your mental health is fine, consider a career or life coach to help you meet your goals.

0: I can personally recommend TalkSpace. Fixing my anxiety and ADHD has made my work life nearly immeasurably better.

Whoa there... you've got a blessing in disguise... use it wisely before you scamper off.

I've had two of these in my career - extended stays in a role which is "naturally prestigious" but had minimal actual challenge or operational responsibilities. They're fantastic...

The first one (at about your age) I used to court my wife and read / think EXTENSIVELY about business and life. It let me get my shit straight before the next leg up.

Rolled off that into a super-intense turnaround role and fatherhood (also super-intense) which took about 5 years. At the end of that, wound up as an "executive caretaker" managing group with instructions not to disrupt anything while they sold the company. So 3 - 4 years of sideways action with no meaningful opportunities for promotion.

Which turned out to be a MASSIVE gift. My bosses basically didn't care what I did with my time, so I learned how to code (full stack + database management) on company time and leveraged that into a successful side business. They funded me through the low-return slog of learning a new industry and starting a new business....

THANK GOD they didn't make me a fucking VP....

If you can not only survive at Google but slack along well enough to get promoted once on "10% of your mental capacity" I'd stay right where you are. You aren't going to find a better place to earn money for equivalent effort and it sounds like you've already adapted to the ecosystem. Sounds like you need an interesting side project or just a meaningful hobby.

Don't go looking for the missing sense of fulfillment you have at work, either for Google or any other company. Crack some classic literature and take some long walks, figure out what you haven't been doing.

Second this.

Keep slacking at Google. Unless you're ridiculously underpaid -- with a six year tenure -- you're probably in the top 2% in terms of income. You've probably got refreshers that have inflated in value quite handsomely. You're not going to find a better yielding security than your job.

Find something better to do with your time. Figure out what your goals are. Whatever they are, you have the resources. Make it happen!

To add to this, at least for myself, there's a certain existential dread that came with being in a similar position.

When you don't have resources, you do have excuses. Oh, I can't do X, Y, and Z because I don't have the time or money or this or that.

Once you have enough money, there's a certain point where you run out of excuses. It's a little uncomfortable. But it's literally the best first world problem you can ask for.

Strong disagree! I can't believe all the advice here telling you to stay in a situation where you don't feel challenged. Clearly you wouldn't have written the post if you were content with the status quo.

Find a role you thrive in, doing work that musters your enthusiasm. Whether it's at Google or elsewhere. Yes, it means giving up the cushy freeride, but there's no substitute for the deep sense of pride and satisfaction from solving a tough problem and building something you're passionate about.

I suppose this depends on whether you prefer to live to work or work to live. When I was younger I lived to work. Now I work to live. I've taken up backpacking, woodworking, and put a greater emphasis on my family life. If anyone is on the fence here, I definitely recommend working to live. If you can avoid misery at work, you're a lucky person, so do that if you can. But at the end of your life the odds you'll be most proud of selling a few more units of some software is very small.

This person is in the early stage of their career. Building the skills, network, and reputation necessary to carry them through the rest of their career while they are young and energetic _is_ working to live, particularly at a FAANG. Nobody wants to become a 50 year old with the skills and experience of a 30-year old.

If someone with the skills of a 30-year old can eek out a good comfortable living without much effort, what's wrong with wanting that? Most 50-somethings I know are doing basically what they were doing at 30.

If you want to have kids, time isn't on your side. Getting pregnant is harder later in life and it also introduces other risks like down syndrome.

This is a false dichotomy and just drives me up a wall. Why not get fulfillment in both the work and non-work areas of your life?

I couldn’t disagree more with this. A meaningful connection to your output is important, but most jobs are bullshit and won’t satisfy that need. Leaving a cushy job to pursue that is rarely a good idea. The grandparent post is right - get a hobby or find some way to volunteer and give back.

I agree with the first half of your reply and the overall sentiment that freeriding like this is just gonna leave you just further disappointed and dissatisfied in your life.

However, one thing i disagree with you and a lot of other similar replies on is that finding another more challenging job is the only way to solve it. Wouldn’t OP working on a side project or contributing to open source with all that free time he has solve the existential problems he is having just as well? Not even mentioning the fact that doing so sharpens his technical skills, adds projects to his resume, with the main difference (as opposed to working an intense job) being that he has way more freedom to choose what he wants to work on and how.

Employment is being paid to solve other people's business problems. Other people's business problems are rarely going to bring you passion and enthusiasm.

It's much more practical to find fulfilment outside of work.

But how many places do you feel challenged at? I've been unchallenged in my work for the majority of my career. The only time I remember mental challenge was in my first year. Now the challenge is unrealistic deadlines, or oh we've been outsourced again.

Finding a job that is challenging and mentally stimulating is very difficult. I know a number of people who echo this sentiment.

I find that if I focus on improving one aspect of my life (e.g. health/fitness, hobbies, time with family, etc) then other aspects tend to become more satisfying as well. I think this is due to a general sense of accomplishment and the motivation from a “win” to refocus on improving in other areas.

Doing capitalism better is the least interesting way to find fulfilment. Find a partner and build a family instead. Or find a hobby.

I know because my thoughts used to be very similar to yours.

Terrible advice. The FAANGs are highly competitive and people are eventually going to notice that this individual is not at the average job level they should be at relative to their years at the company. That will eventually make internal transfers very difficult (yes, hiring managers do check for duds for internal transfers) and motivate their management chain to wash this person out of the company as good attrition.

Maybe they are at the average job level but just aren't feeling challenged? They did get a promotion, so they can't be that bad... Maybe they're just bored? Either way, leaving a secure, good paying job is almost always bad advice, especially without a firm plan in place..

While L4 is terminal at Google, it's still not particularly high achieving for 6 years of career. Google also doesn't make it easy to jump from L4 to L5 either, so OP may feel like they're stuck in a rut because of that as well.

100% in agreement. One major risk you’ve accumulated by slacking is that you may not easily get another job if google does eventually push you out. Your next employer will say, tell us what you’ve done - specifically. At some point you either have pride and integrity as a person or you’re an asshole. Google might tolerate that now when you’re young but I think fewer and fewer others will as you age. It sounds like you have some time to make some changes in your life - I would recommend you start there before kids and other life events take priority.

Yea but that could take many months to years to happen. Keep milking it. They'll have a good financial cushion to find something else afterwards.

I won't say that's not a valid choice (I've seen it done) but if it comes down to that, the tarnished reputation is probably going to hurt them more than the money they get. This industry is not all that large at the FAANG level and the people who succeed or at least do moderately well at a FAANG tend to go on to senior positions at other companies. This person probably does not want a bunch of former co-workers around to say "Oh, that person; I remember them. A nice enough individual, I suppose, but no hire."

On top of that, the wash out process isn't likely to be all that pleasant, particularly if this person has depression problems already. Getting negative feedback and the cold shoulder from their colleagues for months/years is probably very demoralizing even if they are still drawing a big paycheck.

Nothing about the OP's provided context suggests they have 'depression problems', are getting negative feedback, or are about to wash out from Google.

They are simply asking for what they should be learning in order to be competitive in the job market.

> "Nothing about the OP's provided context suggests they have 'depression problems'..."

Really? "...(the rest was on dating/dealing with breakups/dealing with depression/gaming/...)..."

> "... are getting negative feedback, or are about to wash out from Google."

Those are the long-term consequences of his current state, as I stated quite clearly.

One promotion means he is L4 minimum, which is now the level which Google no longer requires you to move up. As long as he is getting "meets expectations" with the occasional "exceeds" every three cycles or so, he will be able to coast at the big G for a long time.

Sure but how do you do that without becoming depressed or very angry? I know a few people who can.

I was responding to the idea that he couldn't coast very long without losing his job. He can without too much trouble.

Whether or not he finds meaning that way is a different question.

You find meaning outside work.

> Crack some classic literature and take some long walks, figure out what you haven't been doing.

I'll plug a great New Years Resolution I did last year (2019) that really helped me: The Harvard Classics.


It's very old stuff (pre-WW1), but a fantastic guided dive into the Western Cannon. It was SOOO worth it to me at only ~15 minutes a day of reading. You can jump in at any time, readings are not connected. Today's (Jan 5) reading on Mazzini still sticks with me a year later. I didn't pay for it, I just downloaded all the volumes and read those, but I should have paid for it, it was that worth it to me in 2019.

Agreed. Most people are doing work, I would love to be able to coast on 10% and then be go build robots or something.

I have no clue what working at FAANG is really like, but from the comments I read it is said to be very much an "up or out" culture. So I wonder how it is even possible to stay for six years with only one promotion and how long this is going to go well?

It's not. You need to get one promo from L3 (new hire) to L4, but once you're there and still hitting your OKRs (loose team targets), you pretty much set the pace.

Some of the advice is about expanding yourself, that's good advice.

Some of the advice is about how you milk your current position. You said 6 years in industry so I'll take that at face value. Without promotions I'm assuming you'll be working till retirement even at google. Even an early retirement at 55 or 60 is another 25-30 years of this. Unless you're a hero out of Dilbert fiction you won't be able to milk things that long for many reasons.

I'm an PE at an Amazon subsidiary so I end up getting involved with engineers and teams who are having issues a lot, so this is advice from what I've seen. I've also got a lot of mentees and all of them have hit lulls (short or long) in their careers. This can happen with high performers or career in role type people and those who decide software isnt' for them (managers and go do somthing elsers).

What I see often are people who think that they're treading water but to their managers and leads they're slowing degrading. Unless you are somehow objectively measuring your performance versus your past self this is very likely happening. Lowering motivation leads to slower work. Unless highly trusted, managers avoid giving critical work to unmotivated emplyees. And worst off I usually see people in your place turn salty / bitter / angry. Then things really start to go down hill.

The real enemy here is boredom. As yoda once said "Boredom leads to stagnation, stagnation leads to getting passed by, getting passed by leads to salt, salt leads to PIP."

So now you're 30, pissed at your current job, salty, and not sure what to do. Not a great place to be and it shows in interviews.

I have one friend who this happens to every few years. They get tired of their current projects and get frustrated. Then they stop caring and think they're doing OK. Then about 6 months to a year later they get the talk (pip, letting you go etc). By this point it's usually too late, salt and mistrust have built up and it's hard to break free. (Note: unless you have a manager who is very good at managing your carreer path, they won't notice this slide until year review time when it's likely to late). I have a deal with them now that whenever they feel bored they talk to me and we try and find a good new place for them.

There's nothing wrong with staying at a certain level forever at a company. Some people really like that and love the work life separation. You gain trust with managers and mostly you are able to build what is needed and go home at the end of the day. The deal here is to just make sure you a) aren't bored, and b) you are providing value to the manager/lead and they trust you, talk with them often, c) your company will allow you to stay at that level forever. The last one is a kicker, some companies will manage out people who say stay at SDE1 for more than 5 years as low potential.

I've dealt with others who were actually performing well for their previous role but had stopped growing. They were promoted into place so they would grow and fill the expanded role. After several years of that person (lead) coasting, the team wasn't in a great spot. I got called in to evaluate poor team performance. This ended up with the lead leaving the team and essentially down leveling.

What I'm saying is it can happen to anyone regardless of trajectory.

The fix, however, is hard. You need to find what motivates you. I can't answer that for you. This is the worst / most annoying advice I give my mentees, or hell my teenager. This is because you don't know what you don't know.

Some people find the fix is job hopping. This is a great way to stay well compensated and working on greenfield projects while in a up market. However it does make it quite hard to grow to a senior position as you don't stay long enough to build up those relationships, and is harder to do in a down market. You also take on the risk of the new position not being what you expected.

So again it comes down to figuring out what drives you, as this is the best overall fix. And to that, I'd say what I said at the top differently: "Go Find Yourself". You said you're coasting anyway. Figure out what actually motivates you. Both at home (don't just consume content), and at work (If you still have trust, ask to experiment with roles).

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