Archive for September, 2014|Monthly archive page

My current good fortune

As of today, I’ve been working at Google for four years. It is officially the longest I’ve ever been at any one employer in my life. It feels good, but it’s the nervous kind of good, the kind where you wait for the other shoe to drop.

In my “plan” ten years ago, such as it was, I had a tenure-track job at a university ages ago. I’m mostly at peace with the failed state of my mathematical career, but there’s still a twinge of disappointment. What there also is, though, is the recognition that the bar for tenure-track jobs is much higher than I ever realized. I wasn’t looking at tenure correctly. I saw tenure in terms of its ideal benefit to society (academic freedom), while the people in a position to offer tenure-track jobs see tenure in terms of its benefit to them (perk to attract talent), and its inconvenience to them (can’t fire at will). As soon as the academic job market tipped in favour of employers, the inconvenience outweighed the benefit to employers and the principle of academic freedom didn’t matter worth a damn.

Problem is, this principle doesn’t just apply to academia, hence me waiting for the other shoe to drop. Google is flying high: they offer a great deal of job security at the moment. They also have a great many words to say about ideal benefits and principles. My task, right now, is to be damned sure I don’t value those words any more than they’re worth. Microsoft offered a great deal of job security once. So did IBM.

The mistake I made was believing I’d made a deal with society: pay your dues and get security. But society, by which I mean the interests of the powerful, will shiv you in a heartbeat if it can get a short-term benefit from your cooling corpse. I’m still getting off relatively easy; society’s barely noticed me yet. For that I feel truly fortunate.