Sunday, December 26, 2010

Day in the Life of a Googler

I was thinking recently about how different my workdays are now that I'm at Google, compared to the faculty job at Harvard. The biggest difference is that I spent nearly 90% (or more) of my time writing code, compared to Harvard where I was lucky if I got half an hour a week to do any programming. I also spend a lot less time at Google procrastinating and reading a zillion stupid websites -- mostly because I'm enjoying the work a lot more.

Here's a short rundown of my typical day at Google:
6:30am - Wake up, get son up, shower, breakfast, take dog to the park.
8:30am - Leave for work (I take the subway most days).
9:00am - Arrive at work. Type passwords into half a dozen different windows to get my work environment back to a sane state. Check email. Check on status of my several jobs running in various datacenters. Page in work from day before.
9:30am-10:15am - Work on code to add requested feature to the system I'm working on. Debug it until it's working, write a unit test or two. Fire off code changelist for review. Grab third free Diet Coke of the day.
10:15-11:00 - Switch git branches to another project. Take a look at code review comments from a colleague. Go through the code and address the comments. Build new version, re-run tests, re-run lint on the code to make sure it's working and looks pretty. Submit revised changelist and responses to comments.
11:00-11:30 - Switch git branches again. Rebuild code to be safe, then fire off a three-hour MapReduce job to crunch log data to analyze network latencies.
11:30 - 12:00 - Quick videoconference meeting with team members in Mountain View.
12:00-12:35 - Lunch of free yummy food in cafeteria. Regale coworkers with stories of Apple IIgs hacking when I was in middle school.
12:35-2:00 - Back at desk. Check email. Check status of MapReduce job - about halfway done. Respond to last set of comments from code review done in the morning and submit the code. Merge and clean up the git branch. Take a look at task list to decide what to work on next.
2:00-3:00 - Project meeting with teams in Cambridge, Mountain View, and elsewhere by videoconference. This is my only hour-long meeting of the whole week. It is mildly amusing and I mostly spend the time doing some light hacking on my laptop and hitting reload on the MapReduce status page to see if it's done yet. Check Buzz and post a snarky comment or two.
3:00-4:00 - Red Bull infusion to keep energy going for the rest of the day.  MapReduce is finally done. Generate graphs of the resulting data and stare at them for a while. Think about why the results are different than expected and write next version of code to generate another set of statistics. Try to get the code to the point where I can fire off another MapReduce before leaving for the day.
4:00-5:00 - Whiskey Thursday! Round up a group of colleagues to drink scotch and play Guitar Hero. (I have a nice collection of scotch under my desk. Somehow I have been designated as the guardian of the alcohol supply, which suits me fine.)
5:00 - Pack up laptop and head home.
5:30-8:00 - Dinner and family time until son goes to bed.
8:00 until bedtime - More hacking, if there's stuff I want to get done tonight, or make a few nice cocktails if not.
Contrast this to my typical work day at Harvard:
 6:30am - Wake up, get son up, shower, breakfast, take dog to the park
8:30am - Leave for work (a 20-minute walk from home to the office, and I bring the dog with me).
9:00am - Arrive at office. Check email. Groan at the amount of work I have to do before the onslaught of meetings in the afternoon.
9:15am - Start working on outline for a grant proposal. About three minutes later, decide I don't know what I want to write about so spend next 45 minutes reading Engadget, Hacker News, and Facebook instead.
10:00am - Try to snap out of the Web-induced stupor and try to make headway on a pile of recommendation letters that I have to write. Fortunately these are easy and many of them are cut-and-paste jobs from other recommendation letters I have written for other people before.
11:00am - Check calendar, realize I have only an hour left to get any real work done. Respond to some emails that have been sitting in my inbox for weeks. Email my assistant to set up three more meetings for the following week.
11:30am - Try to make some token headway on the grant proposal by drafting up a budget and sending off the three emails to various support staff to get the paperwork going. Make up a title and a total budget for the proposal that sound reasonable. Still undecided on what the project should be about.
12:00pm - Take dog out for a 20-minute walk around campus. Sometimes spend longer if we run into other dogs to play with.
12:30pm - Run over to Law School cafeteria to grab overpriced and not-very-appetizing lunch, which I eat sullen and alone in my office, while reading Engadget and Hacker News.
1:00pm - First meeting of the day with random person visiting from a random company in Taiwan who will never give me any money but wants me to spend half an hour explaining my research projects to them in extraordinary detail.
1:30pm - Second meeting of the day with second-semester senior who has suddenly decided after four aimless years in college that he wants to do a PhD at Berkeley or MIT. Explain that this will not be possible given zero research track record, but somehow end up promising to write a recommendation letter anyway. Mentally note which other recommendation letters I will cut and paste from later.
2:00pm - Realize that I have to give lecture in half an hour. Pull up lecture notes from last year. Change "2009" to "2010" on the title slide. Skim over them and remember that this lecture was a total disaster but that I don't have time to fix it now. 
2:30pm - 4:00pm - Give lecture on cache algorithms to 70 or so somewhat perplexed and bored undergrads. Try to make the lecture more exciting using extensive PowerPoint animations and wild gesticulations with the laser pointer. Answer a bunch of questions that remind me why the lecture was a disaster last year and vow to fix it before delivering again next year.
4:00-4:10pm - Hide in office with door closed trying to calm down after adrenaline rush of lecturing. Gulp large amounts of Diet Coke to re-energize and re-hydrate.
4:10-4:20pm - Check email. Check Engadget. Check Facebook.
4:30-5:00pm - Last meeting of the day with two grad students working on a paper due in less than a week. They have no outline and no results yet but are very optimistic that they will make it in time. Spend half an hour sketching ideas and possible graphs on the whiteboard while they scribble furiously in their notebooks. Make vague promises about reviewing a draft if I see one later in the week.
5:00pm - Walk home with my dog. This is the best part of my day.
5:30pm - Get home, immediately sit down to check enormous pile of email that accumulated while I was in lecture and meetings. Forward five new meeting requests to my assistant for scheduling next week.
5:45pm - 8:00pm - Family time, dinner.
8:00pm - Pretend to "work" by reading email and tinkering with PowerPoint slides for a talk I have to give the next week. Too exhausted to do anything useful, make a drink and read Engadget again. 

Startup Life: Three Months In

I've posted a story to Medium on what it's been like to work at a startup, after years at Google. Check it out here.