I worked at Google as an SRE for almost six years. While no place is perfect, it was an amazing place to be. Why then did I leave?
The short version is that I didn't agree with the decisions and decision-making process surrounding social networking and identity in Google products, most specifically the highly-criticized mandatory "real names" policy for Google profiles which was introduced with Google Plus.
I know that many people disagree with the official stances of their employers' on many issues, and very few quit their jobs over it. I told myself this for some time, trying to convince myself that I could continue working at Google -- a company that does so many other things that I think help to make the world a better place.
But working at Google was making me frustrated and stressed, making me feel hypocritical and generally unhappy. I felt so strongly about the importance of pseudonymity and autonymity, but it was obvious that wasn't the direction the wind was blowing. I had ideas, but I didn't have any confidence that I could get them to be heard. I worried about possible outcomes. I wanted to tell my non-Google friends what I was thinking, but didn't really feel like I could. Rather than being inspired and wanting to throw myself at my work 120%, I found that despite my still-rewarding primary project and the cushy employee perks, I wasn't enjoying being at Google anymore. I'd been looking at buying a condo, but stopped because I didn't want to commit to another two or more years at Google.
I was taking language and linguistics classes part-time, because I like learning new and different things, and because it helped me to have something resembling a work-life balance. I found that I was enjoying classes so much more than working. I used my accumulated vacation days to attend a linguistic institute in July.
I'd been in a holding pattern for a long time, waiting for the folks making decisions to relax the strict name requirement. I didn't want to be waiting indefinitely. I decided that if the "real names" and gender requirements were still in place at the end of the month, I would quit. I had the extreme privilege to afford being willingly unemployed.
So I left Google and will be studying computational linguistics at San Jose State University instead.
Would I consider working at Google again? Sure, I'd consider it. I consider a lot of things. I still like many things about Google, and of course with time both myself and the company will change. But I'm also not holding my breath waiting for it to happen.
Addendum: October 2011
In the wake of the first public signs of upcoming G+ policy changes, I've written more about what supporting pseudonyms looks like to me.
Addendum: January 2012
G+ adds support for verified pseudonyms, as announced here.
Addendum: September 2012
I am now, in fact, an ex-ex-Googler, having rejoined Google. The decision was too complicated to fully explain here, but contributing factors included concessions in the real names policy/enforcement, my perception that Google was increasing staffing for its privacy team, and personal considerations. After spending a year accomplishing other things I wanted to do, I felt recuperated enough to try to make a difference at a place with potential for significant impact. I'm also not ready to abandon the tech industry, and as far as the tech industry is concerned, Google is a darned good place for me right now: great coworkers and ability to make an impact, oh, and the location and food. And, all things considered, pretty decent morals.
Addendum: July 2014
Google has since phased out their real names policy and enforcement, as announced here!
Addendum: January 2017
Google has also removed the gender requirement on Google account signup!
(Sara Smollett, last updated 2017)