Piaw Na, an ex-Googler, wrote an excellent post titled Tips for Noogler Engineers. Piaw correctly points out that what's great for Google isn't necessarily what's great for you or your career. For instance:
"Interviewing. It absolutely does not help your career one bit, even though it's absolutely critical for Google in the long term. It's not rewarded, considered during the promotion process, and it burns a lot of time. Put it off as long as possible. And don't even bother with hiring committees. That's even more of a time sink. ... 20% time. Depending on your manager, it could absolutely hurt your career. triple check to make sure your manager does not take a negative view on this. I liked my 20% time, but I was well aware of the trade-off for my career I was making."
I completely agree. I enjoyed interviewing (well, until I did too much of it), and I loved my 20% project, but he's right - it doesn't help your career. If you want to do this, you need to accept that this will be an unrewarded "vacation." (And, even more frustrating, once you start interviewing it can be difficult to stop. I spent 4 hours on interviewing every week, plus another 1 - 2 on hiring committee. Google needed female engineering interviews, so I always got assigned two interviews.)
So what can you do to succeed?
- Get a really good manager or tech lead: One thing that's nice about Google is that you can easily switch projects. Before switching projects, ask around about the career history of your TL/manager's underlings. Have they been successful?
- Pick high profile projects: Again, what's good for a company isn't necessarily what's going to be rewarded. The meaty maintenance issues are important, but they won't be rewarded. You want to pick the project that people know and understand. You want as many people as possible to recognize your impact.
- Tackle the meaty problems: You not only want to be on the coolest projects, but you also want to tackle the biggest problems. Seek out the problems that are widely understandable and have tangible, or ideally measurable, impacts.
Following these three tips will not only offer you a more successful career within the company, but they will also help you build a stronger resume when you leave the company.