When I left Google

post by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2021-02-28T21:40:05.426Z · LW · GW · None comments

About five years ago a friend had recently started at Wave, and encouraged me to join them. It sounded like a great startup doing really important work in East Africa, and potentially more valuable than continuing my "earning to give" approach, but because it was a fully remote company and I like being in the same place as my coworkers I told him I wasn't interested.

(With the pandemic, after nearly a year of working remotely for an "in person" company this is still a strong preference!)

About a year later we ended up talking again, and there were now several other Wave engineers in Boston; if I joined I would potentially be the fourth engineer here. We could get a coworking space, possibly hire more local people, and I wouldn't need to be entirely remote.

I was still unsure about the remote aspect, and whether four Boston engineers would feel good, but I already knew the three others socially, and it seemed promising. We spent some time together and I decided to interview. Throughout the interview I was thinking about fit: would I like working at Wave? Would I work well with people? Did their current engineering staff and I have similar enough ways of thinking about it?

They ended up deciding to make me an offer, and I accepted! I planned to stay at Google until I got my annual bonus, and then switch.

A few weeks later, though, I realized something and my stomach dropped: I hadn't properly thought through this decision from an impact perspective. Yes, it seemed plausibly very important, but how sure was I? Especially compared to GiveWell's recommendations which had stood up to a lot of scrutiny? I had made the mistake of letting "it's remote" expand subconsciously from being a blocker to being my only reason for not taking the job.

I felt very stuck. If it wasn't actually better than what I was already doing I really shouldn't switch. I'd already accepted the job, and I don't like going back on my word, but I still could if I really needed to.

As it was I was in luck. Days earlier, Tavneet Suri and William Jack had published "The long-run poverty and gender impacts of mobile money" (pdf) which looked at almost exactly the question I was interested in. I dug into it, wrote a draft of Estimating the Value of Mobile Money, and ran it by some friends for help. After working through the numbers it looked like the work I would be doing at Wave was, if we succeeded, really valuable stuff. I did go ahead with the transition, though it ended up not working out. [1]

I'm still open to potentially moving away from earning to give at some point (especially if the money I would be donating is going to be lost to means testing), but next time I'm considering making such a big decision I need to be much more careful to thoroughly think it through first.


[1] My options did end up being worth something, unlike the previous time, though I don't fully know how much yet.

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