Updated: Nov 30, 2021
Apart from the minor, unimportant fact that Google didn’t hire me.
Humans are the only species that have to work for a living. It is a curse that we have invited upon us. OK, other animals have to make an effort to find food, seek a mate, or find a safe place to sleep. But all that is not “work” in my opinion. It’s the same as ordering groceries, working hard to make an impression on your first date, and locking the door before going to bed. It is just survival.
But humans have to work, not because we have to survive, but because it is the norm. Even if you are a billionaire’s progeny (I won’t take names, but look around), you can’t just sit around and enjoy. You still have to put in 8 hours a day of work, be it working for your foundation or sitting on board meetings.
So, to work or not is not a choice. But some do have a choice in who they work for, what they do and how they spend one-third of their lives (make that half their waking lives) at “work”. Despite my dad not being a billionaire, or even a thousandaire, I am one of those who had a choice. I got lucky breaks, being at the right place at the right time.
I must say I have enjoyed most of my career. But there was a phase when I was not enjoying what I was doing, which led me to introspect. I had choices, but I had to pick one. I thought hard about what mattered to me and arrived at something very close to the Japanese concept of Ikigai.
But my framework was a little different. In mine, what the world NEEDS and what you can be PAID FOR were the same. Further, I found that the Ikigai framework missed one important aspect: how much of each. I love playing the guitar, and I can get paid for it, but not enough to make a living. I like software programming, and I can get paid quite a lot for it in comparison.
The key thing was the word enough. What I am good enough at. What I can get paid enough for. What I love enough to continue doing most of my waking hours. Once I understood that it became easy. I set my compensation target to a quarter of what I was earning because that was more than enough. I raised the bar on the love aspect of what I was doing. I laid down rules such as the freedom to pick things I wanted to do, innovation, challenging work, and not having to manage people. There was also an unvoiced expectation that I realized much later.
I set out to find such a company. One that would let me be myself and value that, rather than “promote” me to something that I was capable of if stretched but didn’t aspire to. Let me innovate, find problems to solve, issues to fix and go after them — one that would value my technical experience just for that and not for extending it to management.
When I met the founders of AgroStar for a job, I told them these expectations. “Let me explore the challenges and opportunities, and give me time to work to solve them,” I said. They laughed, “That is exactly how we work too!” We didn’t talk about a joining date. We didn’t talk about a designation or title. I had a problem with the location (I lived in Bangalore, but the company was in Pune), but they said they’d take care of the travel and the stay. So we shook hands and said, “Great. Let’s get to work!” And that was it.
But there was something subconscious, yet an important aspect, that helped the decision. You see, I was consulting with AgroStar and had met their team many times before the chat about a job. In all those visits, one thing stood out: the warmth I felt when I walked into the office. Even though I was not an employee, I saw the team conscious of my comfort and well-being. I would find lunch at my desk without my asking. Someone would move to a beanbag and give me their desk if I had trouble finding a place to work. Someone else bought me a keyboard and monitor because I was uncomfortable on my laptop. So many little things showed that everyone cared.
The funny thing is that all this was business-as-usual for AgroStar. When they re-did the culture and value statements, I found no mention of warmth and caring. It took an outsider like me to point out something so valuable. But once I did, 12 principles became a lucky 13, with “We care!” as the last entry.
I think I am a nerd. But every person, however nerdish, needs the human touch, the caring and belonging. I can find many coding challenges, problems to solve at Leetcode or GeeksForGeeks. We can fill our lives with them. But it is wonderful to find a company that cares for you and values whatever little you do and love to do. This was the unvoiced expectation, one that I didn’t even know I had.
And that’s why I didn’t apply to Google.