Sep 012011

I haven’t posted in a little while, but it’s not because I haven’t been busy. Indeed, from the day of my prior post, we purchased a new home, sold our existing condo, and I announced to my colleagues at Alcatel-Lucent that I’d be moving on to a new role at Google – working out the Kirkland office in the greater Seattle area. While some of those things were in progress for a while, others went very quickly; we listed our condo last Wednesday and accepted an offer on it on Monday. There’s thoughts I wanted to share on this from many angles – why I decided to change jobs, the real estate process, moving money between currencies efficiently, and several other topics – some of which will have to wait for a later post. But I’ll keep this post to the “why” – why move, and why Kirkland?

Why Move?

In spite of the unpleasantly long winters, Valerie and I really like Toronto. Perhaps it’s familiarity, the multicultural nature of the city, having family nearby, or being part of “socialist” Canada where taxes may be a little higher in exchange for the fact that we don’t really have to worry about healthcare (for ourselves or others) and have lots of social programs that help with raising kids, etc. In fact, as we looked at a report on the best places to live globally, Toronto was ranked higher than every single U.S. city.  In this respect, it’s really a shame to be leaving.

It doesn’t take much insight to conclude from this remark that the job was the compelling reason for going somewhere else, and indeed it was. But while the automatic assumption is that the new job must be better than the old one, I think that’s something I’m only going to really know in a year from now – perhaps more. Indeed, the unit I work in at Alcatel-Lucent is going through some exciting times, and in a year I might wish I had been a part of its transformation. So why then make the move? In a nutshell, change and challenge, but I’ll elaborate a little on this:

  • Change: It’s been a little over 15 years – covering my entire full time working career – since I started working on a VoIP project at Array Systems Computing while I was a co-op student. That turned into a start-up that was subsequently acquired, then later spun off. From there, I stayed in the communications domain, working on voice platforms at another startup (VoiceGenie) that was acquired by a customer service company (Genesys) that was a division of one of the largest communications equipment manufacturers (Alcatel-Lucent). While I’ve had a wide range of roles, across a huge range of technologies and markets – for which I am very grateful – I’ve essentially been in communications for my entire career. Before I get too entrenched to ever make the switch, I really wanted to try something different, and to get professional exposure to a different domain.
  • Challenge: As humans, we naturally tend to seek out safe, comfortable situations. And while my current job was not always easy (actually, some tasks seemed impossible), it was always relatively comfortable; I had usually an idea what I thought needed to be done, a team and a network to work with on those tasks, a supportive boss, and with focus I was generally able to do a good job on any given task. Naturally, there are many projects where I wish I could have accomplished more, but overall I had a very positive career trajectory with no real risk of losing my job. Part of me wanted – even still wants – to preserve that situation, to stay with what’s safe, to remain confident that I’m at least basically competent. But I believe that if I challenge myself, and jump into a new domain, in a new role, surrounded by highly competent people that know far more than I do, that the challenge will cause me to grow and develop faster, and to learn in ways that I just wouldn’t if I was “safe”. And even if I utterly fail, I’ll come to know the limits of my potential.
  • It’s Google: There’s only a small handful of companies I would have responded to a recruiter from, but Google is one of those companies. I use and love their products; like most techies I was an early convert to search, but I’ve even written here about Picasa, and most recently about Gmail. I also use Chrome, Reader, occasionally Docs for personal items, and my next phone will definitely be an Android (and not just because of my choice of employer). Google Maps blew me away in comparison to Mapquest when it first went into beta, and I was very sad when Wave died relatively early. I actually really feel like I owe Google something for all this, because I never even click on ads! The chance to have a role in building products and features that reach not just millions but potentially hundreds of millions of people is amazing and inspiring, and was ultimately worth giving up some creature comforts for. That they’re well known for being full of top-notch people, and that everyone I met as I went through the hiring process impressed me tremendously. And yes, the food there really is very good!
Only time will tell whether this winds up being the right career decision, but I do feel confident that it was the right personal decision for me at this point in time, regardless of what happens. But I am hoping for the best!

Why Kirkland/Seattle?

A quick glance at Google’s jobs page confirms the obvious, which is that they’ve been growing very fast. With opportunities in many locations, even after deciding to work for Google, we had to make a choice about where. Like the decision to move itself, only time will tell if we made the right decision, but after much consideration we picked the Kirkland office, just outside Seattle. What drove this decision?

  • Schools. Resources like as well as people we talked to indicated that the Seattle East Side (Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland, Sammamish, etc) have some of the best public schools in the United States. While public vs. private is a whole separate debate, with two young kids the availability of very good schools was critically important to us, and at least as far as the public system is concerned, Kirkland wound up ahead of other options. Though if there had been openings in the Singapore office, it would have made things much more interesting (as Asian schools, at least measured based on test achievements, produce students that vastly outperform their North American counterparts).
  • Cost of Living.  Comparable real estate in the Greater Seattle Area is cheaper, by a decent margin, than Toronto equivalents. While the price tag on housing certainly went up once we restricted our search to the best school zones, value in the suburbs is definitely good, and for what we were willing/able to spend, we managed to get a place that I think our family will be very comfortable in. In comparison, had we located near Google’s headquarters in Mountain View (which offered a huge array of projects), it would have been impossibly expensive to find similar accommodations.  The lack of a state tax in Washington helps too!
  • Weather. This one is a bit of a mixed bag; it’s overcast a lot in Seattle, and people say it rains a lot – though it’s total annual precipitation is the same as Toronto and rarely comes in the form of snow that needs to be shoveled. And certainly, Mountain View wins this criteria hands down. But with the other major option being Waterloo, Canada – where Valerie and I both went to school, with memories of sliding and falling in an ice-covered parking lot on the way to class during one particular storm – a little rain seemed like a better choice. Let’s hope we don’t become manically depressed!
  • Projects. Every location has different projects; Kirkland is big enough to be home to a good variety of projects, which may provide some future flexibility.
  • Environment. There’s a lot of natural beauty and greenery in the area, the air quality is great, and fresh produce and seafood seem to be in good supply.

Of course, you can never really know a place till you’ve lived there, and we’ll definitely miss many things about Toronto!

Overall, I’m pretty excited about the change, and am really thankful to Valerie – we’re really moving for the job, and that doesn’t benefit her in any way (in fact, it makes things harder since she’d need a visa to work there, though as a Canadian with a good education, a TN-1 is probably easy to get for at least some positions). I’ll greatly miss what we’re leaving behind, especially our friends, family, and colleagues, but I’m hopeful that this is a bet and a chance that will pay off. Perhaps in the form of something that I get to help create, that some of you reading this will someday use. And like, I hope!

 Posted by at 8:32 am

  One Response to “Moving”

  1. […] from where we do live. And I have to comment since a colleague, Nicolas, had asked about the earlier post about leaving Toronto about whether skyline picture I took was from my home.  (I said if it was, I wouldn’t have […]

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