The following reflects my own personal opinions, not those of my past, current, or future employers.
If you came to this post hoping to find an anti-Google screed, you’ll be quite disappointed. In this post, I’ll provide an honest recap of what I loved about my time at Google and also why I chose to leave. There were many aspects I wish I better understood about joining industry, especially straight out of law school. I hope that this post helps anyone else who’s considering similar career moves.
Lastly, the organization I’m joining next has asked that I hold on announcing where I’m going until I start this upcoming Monday. What I can say is that I look forward to joining an organization that is closely aligned with my principles, values, and politics, especially when it comes to the First Amendment, and Section 230. Stay tuned!
Voluntarily walking away from Google was by far the scariest career move I’ve ever had to make. The decision was especially difficult in light of hiring freezes and recent layoffs within the tech sector. Indeed, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t at least once second-guess my decision this week.
But leaving Google was also the most empowering decision for me personally because I got to leave on my own terms. And instead of simply running away from the things that made my time at Google less enjoyable, I’m running toward an opportunity at which I know I will thrive.
I’ve spent the past two weeks thinking about this post, and what I realized is that I can’t really pinpoint one particular reason for why I left. It was a culmination of many things, coupled with simply receiving the right offer at the right time. And in fact, I left Google with nothing but gratitude. Google put me through the necessary fires and training that prepared me to step into this next role. I would not be ready otherwise.
I started law school with the ultimate goal of joining Google because I knew I wanted to work in the Internet law and policy space and I believed that the only way to make a significant impact on tech policy was to work at the biggest Internet company in the world.
But throughout my (albeit short) career at Google, I learned that law and policy isn’t influenced by one large entity but by many stakeholders working collectively towards a greater goal. In fact, there are many ways to influence tech policy, whether that be as a lawyer, an academic, or a think tank policy wonk. Or even within the government itself. Tech policy is in every way a multi-stakeholder effort, and tech companies are just one of many players.
I joined the Government Affairs and Public Policy (“GAPP”) org in May 2021 after I spent a year in Google’s Trust & Safety organization. Looking back, I’m glad I spent a year in T&S because it allowed me to finally apply all of the things I learned and appreciated about Section 230, Internet governance, and content moderation, to real-world challenges. Now when I say “content moderation is hard” I’m speaking from experience: it’s actually really fucking hard.
In fact, I’ve been asked since leaving Google whether my position on 230 has at all shifted, and it has. I’ve somehow become even more of a 230 absolutist than I was when I first joined Google, because of my first-hand experiences in Trust & Safety. Many of us think that because Google is…Google…they should be able to support perfect content moderation. Without getting too far into the weeds, I can assure you, that is not the case. And if even Google struggles with content moderation, imagine how other smaller companies with limited headcount and resources are getting along.
Content moderation (at scale) presents hard problems that the smartest people in the world with access to an abundance of resources, have not been able to figure out. And that, among many other reasons, is why I remain so absolute about Section 230’s necessity.
But I digress – this isn’t supposed to be a post about my renewed devotion to Internet exceptionalism.
In GAPP, my portfolio primarily covered U.S. intermediary liability law. That of course includes Section 230, but also things like online marketplace regulations, intellectual property, and really any proposal within the U.S. that had to do with content reg. With that, I also supported the State and Local team—alongside the litigation strategy team—in their efforts to push back on the frenzy of emerging State content policy. I spent the majority of my time this year working on just California tech policy alone.
Tangent: the Congressional debate on Section 230 is no longer what keeps me up at night. Rather, the war on content regulation is being fought (and in many ways lost) in the States. And now that California has figured out how to evade the First Amendment, just as the courts are positioned to undermine Section 230, a perfect storm of patchwork censorship is on the radar for 2023.
Despite the regulatory chaos, I really enjoyed the majority of my work in GAPP.
What I didn’t enjoy was the internal company politics, the swirl, the territorial-ness, the egos, and the corporate drama, inherent in any corporate setting. Granted, any job will have its ups and downs. I don’t think there’s anyone that could honestly say they love every single minute of their day-to-day. But the problem was that the longer I stayed at Google, I spent less time doing the work I enjoyed and more time wrestling with bureaucracy.
I also fell into a routine. I would wake up, work on the same policy issues, write the same talking points, make the same legal arguments, talk to the same stakeholders, rinse and repeat. In other words, I didn’t feel like I was growing as much as I was before. Contrary to the reasons I originally joined Google, I increasingly felt limited in the amount of impact I could actually have within this space.
The words “young” and “passionate” were often thrown around regarding my approach to advocacy. While I don’t think my colleagues meant any harm in using those descriptors, it was still discouraging at times. I often felt that my junior status, paired with my eagerness to make an impact, curbed my overall trajectory.
Indeed, I became quite familiar with the phrase “lack of tenure,” typically in response to being passed over for promotions. Up until just a couple weeks ago, I was kept at the level and compensation I came into Google with as a third-year law student. Nothing changed when I graduated with my law degree, nor when I passed the California Bar exam. The only factor I was consistently missing was that I didn’t physically exist at the company for an arbitrary length of time. To which many advised I “just leave and come back at a higher level.” The “revolving door” is a commonly accepted hack within the tech industry.
Granted, I was warned that I would not be eligible for promotion as a lateral from T&S to GAPP, and that I would be required to essentially start over. I overlooked those warnings, and I underestimated how long it would take me to rebuild that tenure. At the same time, a system that penalizes employees for moving around the company, especially to positions for which they’re more appropriately suited, seems inherently flawed.
As noted, the real impetus for my departure was my continued absence from the public discourse. There were many times I was asked to turn down speaking and writing opportunities. My Twitter was often a source of controversy, to the point where I decided it wasn’t worth navigating the ever-shifting corporate goalposts. Eventually, I stopped tweeting, I stopped writing, and I got used to turning down speaking requests. Over time, I lost my voice, which inevitably extinguished my spark.
Consequently, Google’s voice is also noticeably absent in these policy debates. To their credit, Google isn’t the same company it was decades ago, and the same can be said about the current global regulatory environment with which the industry is faced. Advocacy carries with it far more legal and political risk today than in the glory days of SOPA / PIPA. In turn, the opposition has become far more sophisticated in their fight against tech. When kids are regularly used as the ultimate tech policy poison pill, it’s unsurprising that tech companies are increasingly averse to pushing back.
These are not problems unique to Google but ones that plague the industry as a whole.
I knew there would be trade-offs—in fact, I was warned of those trade-offs—with going corporate. I overlooked those trade-offs because I was so enamored with the idea of becoming a Googler; a position in which many students find themselves post-graduation. In fact, it was an important lesson to learn both as a professional but also as a lawyer. At the end of the day, regardless of the job, our role as legal experts and advisors is to guide but also protect our employers and our colleagues.
Even in my new role, there will be limits as to what I can and can’t say or do. Though I don’t expect to compromise as much on my individuality.
Looking back, perhaps I entered the industry too early in my career. When I made the difficult decision to leave Google, it was ultimately because I realized I still have so much more fight left in me, and at 26 years old, I’m not ready to settle.
Put another way, I don’t want to sit on the sidelines anymore, especially these days as Tech leans into a more “EU-centric” approach to content regulation. I won’t sit idly by as Texas and Florida become the models for state-sponsored censorship. And I refuse to concede Section 230 in the same way that I refuse to concede free speech and expression. There’s simply too much at stake to lose.
With that, while I’m closing the door on Google, for now, I’m opening the door to an organization that not only embraces who I am but also trusts and empowers me to be a public-facing expert on the issues I know and care most about.
Despite the corporate challenges, I’m grateful for the time I had at Google. I learned a ton, I got to work with incredible and brilliant individuals (many of whom I now consider friends and mentors), and I’m now a smarter, more experienced, more creative, and a hell of a tougher lawyer and advocate than I was when I started. I also learned a lot about myself and what I value the most in my career. For that, the experience that is “being a Googler” is invaluable.
I’m looking forward to fighting for online speech and expression in this new capacity, and I hope to see all of you fighting just as hard alongside me.
One thought on “Today Is My (Official) Last Day At Google. Some Closing Thoughts.”
Hi Jess. I’ve read your blog on and off since you were a student, when you got the job & now to see this update as you leave it. I love that you’ve documented all these moments. My mom loved to say that the taste of the pudding is in the eating – and I’m happy you found value in your experience. Well done for the work you did at Google, for being courageous to step forward in this most uncertain time & I wish you all the best in your next chapter!