Fortunately, I still had a job when I got back. If anything, I was more eager than ever to excel, to make up for lost time. I was able to earn a very high performance rating — my second in a row. But it seemed clear I would not be a candidate for promotion. After my leave, the manager I loved started treating me as fragile. He tried to analyze me, suggesting that I drank too much caffeine, didn’t sleep enough or needed more cardiovascular exercise. Speaking out irreparably damaged one of my most treasured relationships. Six months after my return, when I broached the subject of promotion, he told me, “People in wood houses shouldn’t light matches.”
When I didn’t get a promotion, some of my stock grants ran out and so I effectively took a big pay cut. Nevertheless, I wanted to stay at Google. I still believed, despite everything, that Google was the best company in the world. Now I see that my judgment was clouded, but after years of idolizing my workplace, I couldn’t imagine life beyond its walls.
So I interviewed with and got offers from two other top tech companies, hoping that Google would match. In response, Google offered me slightly more money than I was making, but it was still significantly less than my competing offers. I was told that the Google finance office calculated what I was worth to the company. I couldn’t help thinking that this calculus included the complaint I’d filed and the time I’d taken off as a consequence.
I felt I had no choice but to leave, this time for good. Google’s meager counteroffer was final proof that this job was just a job and that I’d be more valued if I went elsewhere.
After I quit, I promised myself to never love a job again. Not in the way I loved Google. Not with the devotion businesses wish to inspire when they provide for employees’ most basic needs like food and health care and belonging. No publicly traded company is a family. I fell for the fantasy that it could be.
So I took a role at a firm to which I felt no emotional attachment. I like my colleagues, but I’ve never met them in person. I found my own doctor; I cook my own food. My manager is 26 — too young for me to expect any parental warmth from him. When people ask me how I feel about my new position, I shrug: It’s a job.
Emi Nietfeld is a software engineer in New York City and the author of a forthcoming memoir, “Acceptance.” She is working on a book about her time at Google.
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