A few years ago, I got a bottle of wine from the Android team and decided to save it for the day I left Android. Cheers!
It's been 5 years on Android, from Android Market / Google Play, carrier partnerships, some to-be-launched projects, Nexus hardware, and incredible growth of Android. But even more, I remember the people. I already have to do a quick mental check of when and on what project I worked with people. Google and the Valley are so small, I've crossed paths with coworkers multiple times. So, cheers to everyone I've worked with and who I'll likely work with again!
Now the why, what's next, when. After a short staycation I'll be joining the Google Maps team with some former Android coworkers. As for the why, that's difficult and convoluted.
Leaving Android was the hardest work decision I've ever made. It wasn't like leaving Boeing or moving between any other team I've been on at Google. It was a gut-wrenching decision that I was way more emotionally tangled with. For a long time, I had the nagging feeling that my time had come--some confluence of things changed to the point that my work didn't feel right. But I perservered, didn't want to give up, was stressed, and burned out.
I finally talked to others for support, both men and women, tech and non-tech, younger and older, and up to the exec level. I'm amazed at how common burnout and this ordeal is, and how little's actually written and spoken about it. Society acknowledges when you go through a relationship breakup or mourn for someone deceased: others expect you to go through phases and you know what to expect. Burnout and job change isn't much different in terms of stress level and phases of recovery, but it's talked about much less. Trust me, even after talking with a dozen people, writing it all out is still extremely difficult.
I absolutely enjoyed Android and don't mean to diminish anything. I'm writing to let others know it's normal and convoluted; it isn't black-and-white whether you fit the project or the project fits you; your other relationships, life events, and timing of the universe all have a part.
I tried for nearly a year to figure myself out and bucket my ever-growing emotional tangle into reasons vs. emotions vs. auxiliary events. I was going to figure out the root causes and deal with them, which would resolve the symptoms. After a point, it really doesn't matter, and I still haven't untangled myself. Life's complex, and sometimes you and your situation just changes, regardless of whether work's changed or not, and it may not be worth shoehorning yourself to continue to fit. Sometimes you just need change. I'm still astounded at how many people I talked to have been in the same confused state, where reasons, emotions, excuses, and life events muddle together, and how long we put up with the situation:
- you've put so much sweat and muscle into the project you can't leave now
- you've got personal relationships and friends on the project
- you've got too much pride to leave
- you've gone so long like this, you forgot what happiness and balance used to be
- it's you; you're too sensitive
- persevering through it is a good learning experience
- you're stressed
- you're a survivor; leaving means you're weak and can't hang with the big league
- you feel indebted
- you have work notifications on your phone for chat and email and respond all the time. You even keep your phone by your bed for one last check right before you go to sleep.
- you're done with long hours and weekend work; even if you only check email once at night, you're never mentally disengaged
- you're depressed and burned out
- you start a new hobby or life priorities change and you need more time to pursue it
- you're so burned that the thought of a new team is more work than pushing through
- it's not all bad, there's some good days with the bad so it'll get better
- your personal relationships are changing (breakup, new interest, getting married)
- you're trying to survive until the next launch
- you can't sleep and you dream about work
- others are successful long-term here, so you should be too
- you've gone through physical trauma (tore my ACL)
- you don't have your outlet anymore (I couldn't climb)
- you're so exhausted from work you don't have energy for your hobbies
- you see so many people at work who have energy and are happy so you should be too (food for thought: how many of them are putting on the same happy face as you?)
- you dread driving into work everyday and it's day-to-day survival
- you lash out at your close personal relationships
- you're constantly in reactive mode vs. being motivated to do your best
- you lose self-respect for how you work since you have no motivation
- you're there for the golden handcuffs of a bonus payout or promo or launch
- those who know you well like a best friend can see change when they look in your eyes
- you're so confused about yourself, you don't know where to even begin talking with someone
- vacations, no matter how long, don't re-energize you
In hindsight I took too long to open up and talk to others. I tried for probably over a year to "fix" myself and how I dealt with work, tried to detach in the "work is just work" mentality, thinking even that it was a good lesson for me to work through. I ended up burning out in the full definition of burning out. I had work nightmares, couldn't eat, woke up a couple times with stress-induced hives, and would break out crying in the bathroom at work. I put on a happy face in front of coworkers and climbing folks, mostly as a survival tactic--I had to make myself believe I was handling it and on a path to recovery.
That all sounds super dismal, so why did I put up with it for so long? All through this there were still great launches, fun, and laughs with coworkers, but there was a slow undercurrent growing. Burnout is a slow creeper and I didn't know when that scale tipped until I talked with others. And, teamwork is a powerful force. I was on Android early on. I was a survivor. I lived and breathed Android and I wasn't going to be weak.
I'm taking a 2-week staycation with no plans. No climbing, no traveling, just enjoying each day. The hardest part for me is turning off and not feeling guilty with no plan and no project. I'm reading, gardening, catching up with old friends, and listening to my body.