Apparently, the understated Edmund Hillary’s first words upon reaching camp after he and Tenzing Norgay summited Everest were “Well, George, we knocked that bastard off.” Made it sound casual, making light of the enormous institutional preparation and effort that went into the expedition. Four hundred men and ten thousand pounds of equipment hauled up to successive stages of the mountain. Climbers were paired into teams establishing camps higher and higher along the route: Bourdillon and Evans, Ward and Wylie, Noyce and Annulli (younger brother of Tenzing Norgay). And, of course, Hillary and Norgay. Bourdillon and Evans were tasked with making the first summit attempt, and made it to the South Summit, just 300’ shy of the mountain’s final peak. But they encountered problems with their oxygen system and (wisely) turned back, leaving the next attempt to the next team up on the expedition roster. The rest is history, but the point here is that it wasn’t just Hillary and Norgay heading out saying “Let’s climb the damned thing”. His casual remark of having “knocked that bastard off” was an elegant understatement of the magnitude of what they’d just done.
So, in the spirit of of Hillary’s proclamation, let me try an understatement of my own, with respect to the ten years, seven months and fifteen days (plus one hour and 25 minutes, if you have to know) I’ve spent as a software engineer, research scientist, tech lead and Instigator at Large with Google: “Well, that was fun. Now on the the next thing.”
Yeah, it’s been a while. When I joined, back in 2002, I was in my 30’s – now I’m 50. When I joined, Google was a scrappy startup of about 450 people – now we’re a global, yes global powerhouse upwards of 70,000. It’s still an amazing, addictive place to be a part of; living inside Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for over a decade, it doesn’t surprise me that of those original 450, almost half are still with the company.
But it’s time. Google’s changed, but I’ve changed, too. Think about the changes, the growth, of ten years’ time: that’s the same time it took to go from high school senior to Dr. David Cohn, visiting professor*, and all the lives and stories and travels in between. With luck, there are plenty more decades to come, and that’s room for many more changes. When you’ve finished high school, finished college, and learned what you could from them, it’s time to move on. And well, it’s time.
First: the question everyone asks: no, I have no idea. The current plan is to not have any plans, at least not for a little while. Not until I’ve had the chance to be away from things for a while, until I’ve had a chance to let the noise settle and tune into whatever faint sounds have been getting drowned out for all these years. My tenure at Google has given us the breathing space to take that time and, with Devon’s support, I intend to take it. Clearly, there’ll be some writing involved – maybe I’ll finally even write that book. But no promises. I’ve spent the last decade sleeping with my ear to the heart of the Great Machine, tending it as it grew and flourished into something wonderful (and occasionally terrifying). Honestly, Google doesn’t need me anymore; there are better, and more important things I can do with the rest of the time I have on this planet. And I intend to find out what they are.
*(Yeah, it’s a little stretch, but when I took the summer off after my Ph.D., prior to heading to MIT for my post-doc, the University of Oregon granted me “visiting professor”, and I even co-advised a couple of students.)
Original one-sided Google badge issued to me on Oct 24, 2002, next to the “new improved” holographic security badge that we were given a few years ago.