Is working at Google overrated?

Some say it’s the best company in the world to work for, but is a job at Google really all it’s cracked up to be? We found out…

Peter Iantorno October 8, 2015

A job at Google is seen by many as the golden ticket to success. The company is one of the biggest and fastest-growing on the planet, it pays excellently and provides its staff with the kind of benefits most employees could only dream of.

But behind the well-documented free gym memberships, shuttle busses to work and unlimited on-campus meals, what is working at Google actually like? To find out, we took to questions and answers site Quora to get the lowdown from people who have worked – or still work – at the Silicon Valley giant.

“One of the biggest risks is falling through the cracks, says former Google employee Jeff Nelson, who is credited with inventing the Chromebook. “In particular, you have no control over the project you are assigned to, but your project is an important factor in your success or failure.”

Another former Googler, programmer Michael Church, agrees: “Pre-existing expertise is not valued; if you didn't do it at Google, you don't know it,” he says. “It's rather random what kind of project you get when you start, impossible to transfer before you've ‘paid dues’ for 18 months, and extremely competitive to transfer to something much better if you landed on a stinker." 

He continues, “If you're attracted by the perks (which I find superficial) then you won't be disappointed. Yes, you get a free massage per year. The food is quite good. You'll be surrounded by intelligent people. If you're happy with the average corporate job, you'll be fine with the above-average corporate job that you're most likely to get at Google.”

Another downside to working at Google is highlighted by engineer Robert Rossney, who is still employed by the company: “Imagine that you've spent a year getting really, really good at something – some very hard problem that the company has pointed you at because only a few dozen people in the world are smart enough to tackle it,” he says.

“Then a new quarter starts, and you find that the company has decided that because what you're doing isn't social, or doesn't run on a smartphone, or doesn't advance cloud computing, or whatever the new thing that has (correctly) been identified as critical to the business is, you need to stop working on it now and scramble to catch up on the new hotness.”

Such assertions from both former and current staff make for pretty grim reading for the bigwigs at Mountain View, but it’s not all bad news, as there are plenty of people who reported really enjoying their roles at Google – and a big part of that enjoyment came down to the company’s famous free-food policy.

“There are about 20 cafes with new menus every day, and even the cafes change over time as they reinvent themselves or change leadership,” says Jeremy Hoffman, a software engineer at Google who claims that he hasn’t paid for a single lunch in more than five years at the company.

Bruce Miller, a current staff engineer at Google, is also a big fan of the food there, and he jokingly suggests that there might be a hidden reason behind it. “I’ve been at Google for two-and-a-half years and never eaten lunch off campus,” he says. “There's a joke at Google: The meals have to be free, because all those nerds with lunch money would attract too many bullies.”

And it’s not just the food that has Google employees pleased. Another of the company’s software engineers Dimitry Belenko puts his job satisfaction down to two things, “the people I work with (it's nice to not have any bozos around), and the company itself.”

He adds that in his opinion, the company is one of the fairest around. “Coming to Google from elsewhere for the first six months or so I struggled to figure out what the catch was. Then I realised there's no catch, and that's just the way it is around here. You don't get screwed, period.”

While for another former Googler, Matthew Carpenter-Arevalo, it was the simple pleasures that made him appreciate working at the company. “For me by far and away the best perk working at Google's Mountain View Headquarters was being able to take my dog to work.”

So, is a job at Google all it’s cracked up to be? Well, if you value great free food, the chance to work without “any bozos around” and the freedom to bring your dog to work then it certainly is. However, for those who want to take their preexisting knowledge and use it to progress quickly in their careers, maybe it’s not such a great choice after all.

Quora respondents are required to use their real names and job titles. The site asks some individuals, such as doctors and lawyers, to prove their expertise.