I was a Google engineer. It always felt like that was the fact that defined my life, and when I joined the company after graduating from college in 2015, it was about to start its multi-year reign at the top of Forbes’ Best Places to Work list.
I completely bought into the Google dream. At one point in high school, I was homeless and in the foster care system because acting like a nerd was always out of place. I longed for the scenery of working for a blue-chip company, the security it offered, and a college-style environment where I could work with people as driven as I was.
What I found was a foster home. I eat three meals a day in the office midweek. I see Google’s doctors and go to Google’s gym. My coworkers and I would squeeze into an Audemars Piguet (Airbnb) room on business trips, play volleyball on Maui after big product launches, and even spend weekends together, once spending $170 to drive a few hours to train on an obstacle course on a cold, rainy day.
My manager is like the father I longed to have. He believed in my potential and cared about how I felt. All I wanted was to continue to be promoted so that the star under him would rise and we could continue to work together. This gave every job assignment a sense of purpose, no matter how strenuous or tedious.
The few people who have worked for other companies remind us that there is no better place to be. I took them at their word, even though my technical supervisor (not my manager, but the male in charge of my day-to-day work) described me as “beautiful” and “stunning,” even though I had asked him to stop saying that. (Finally, I agreed that he could call me “my queen. During our one-on-one meetings, he repeatedly asked me to introduce him to a friend, and then said he wanted “a blonde. Tall blonde. Someone who looked like me.
Just mentioning his behavior meant questioning the stories we told ourselves about how special Google was. The company that anticipates our every need – nap pods, massage chairs, bathroom swabs, a commuter system to make up for San Francisco’s crippled public transportation – until the outside world looks hostile. Google is the Garden of Eden; and I live in fear of being banished from it.
When I mention the harassment I experience to outsiders, they can’t understand: I’m doing one of the most enjoyable jobs in the world. How bad could it be? I’ve asked myself that same question. I was afraid that I would be too emotional and that if people found out I was angry, they would think I wasn’t strong enough to handle it in our stressful work environment.
So, for over a year, I didn’t tell my manager about my technical supervisor’s behavior. Acting submissively seemed to be the price of fitting in. Only when he was about to replace the man I revered as the official manager – that is, my manager – with more power over me, did I speak up about it all. In addition to the two senior engineers who had already made it clear that they did not want to work with him, at least four other women claimed that he made them feel uncomfortable.
The moment I complained to HR, Google went from being a top workplace to any other company: the first thing it did was protect itself. As they had hoped, I had turned my job into the center of my life, but when I found out that the workplace I cherished treated me simply as an employee who was at the disposal of many others, it only made the consequences worse.
The whole process lasted for almost three months. During this time, I had to meet with and sit next to the person who was harassing me alone. Every time I approached the investigators to ask about progress and to express my unease about having to continue working near the harasser, they would say that I could seek counseling, work from home, or take a leave of absence. I later learned that Google had a similar response to other employees who reported racial or gender discrimination.Claire Stapleton, one of the organizers of the 2018 strike, was advised to take a leave of absence, and Timnit Gebru, a lead researcher on Google’s Ethical AI team, was forced to He was advised to seek psychotherapy before leaving his job.
I refused to do so. What good would it do for me to be alone all day without colleagues, friends, and a support system? I also feared that if I left, the company would not continue its investigation.
Eventually, the investigator confirmed my story and found that my technical supervisor had violated the code of conduct and anti-harassment policy. The person who harassed me was still sitting next to me. My manager told me that Manpower would not even let him change his workstation, let alone work from home or take a vacation. He also told me that the harasser had suffered serious consequences and that maybe I would feel better if I could know what it was, but it looked like nothing had happened.
The consequences of speaking out broke me. It reminded me of the betrayals I had experienced in the past, and I went into the tech industry to get away from that. I made myself unbearable to managers and investigators, but I don’t think I got anything substantial in return. I was always nervous when I saw harassers in the hallways and in the restaurant. I became increasingly easily startled when someone came behind my workstation and my screams echoed through the open office. I was afraid my performance evaluations would be poor, ruining my trajectory for promotion and setting my career back even more.
For weeks I didn’t get a full night’s sleep.
I decided to take three months of paid leave. I was worried that a leave would prevent me from moving up in a place where almost everyone’s progress was public and seen as a measure of an engineer’s value and professionalism. Like most of my colleagues, my life revolved around the company. It’s too easy to take away. People on sabbatical shouldn’t be in the office – that’s where I go to the gym, and where my entire social life is.
Fortunately, when I came back, I still had a job. If there was any difference, it was that I was more eager than ever to excel and to make up for lost time. I received a very high performance rating, my second high rating in a row. But it was clear that I would not be a candidate for promotion. After I left, the manager I had liked so much began to see me as vulnerable. He tried to analyze me, thinking I was consuming too much caffeine, not getting enough sleep, or needed more cardio workouts. The words that came out irrevocably damaged one of my most precious relationships. I came back six months later and asked him about a promotion, and he told me, “People who live in wooden houses shouldn’t light matches.”
I didn’t get the promotion, and some of my stock awards ran out, so I actually took a significant pay cut. Nonetheless, I wanted to stay at Google. Regardless, I still believe that Google is the best company in the world. Now I understand that my judgment was clouded, but after all these years of adoring my workplace, I couldn’t imagine my life after leaving it.
So I interviewed with two other top tech companies and got offers from them, hoping that Google would match my offer. In response, Google offered me a little more than I was making at the time, but still well below the bids from the other two companies. I was told that Google’s finance office had calculated my value to the company. I couldn’t help but think that this calculation included the complaints I had filed and the time I had taken off work as a result.
I felt I had no choice but to leave, this time for good. Google’s meager counter offer ultimately proved that the job was just a job and that I would be more valuable if I went elsewhere.
After I quit, I promised myself that I would never love a job again. Not as much as I love Google. When companies provide their employees with the most basic needs of food, health care and a sense of belonging, they hope to inspire a sense of dedication, a feeling I will never have again. No public company can ever be anything like a family. Instead, I fell in love with the illusion that it was a family.
So I went to work for a company I wasn’t attached to. I liked my coworkers, but I never met them in person. I got my own doctor; I cooked my own food. My supervisor was 26 years old; he was too young for me to get parental warmth from him. People ask me how I feel about my new job, and I shrug: It’s just a job.
(Note: The author of this article is a New York-based software engineer who is about to publish her memoir, Acceptance, a book about her experience at Google.)