Why I Quit Google to Work for Myself

My understanding is that if this doesn't work out and I become homeless, @csallen is honor-bound to let me live in his office at Stripe.

  1. 23

    Your article on HN brought me to IH. Thank you for a great article and the life redirect :D

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      Welcome! You're going to have a great time here. I highly recommend the Indie Hackers podcast.

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        Your article mad me aware of the site as well, thanks for that!

    2. 2

      same here. Read it during a boring 8-5 job day. This site looks awesome :-).

  2. 17

    Great post Michael! I don't have an office, unfortunately, but I will carve out a space for you to live underneath my standing desk in case this all goes south.

    1. 1

      it would be interesting to see a chart of subscribers before/after this post...

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  3. 7

    Congratulations on your freedom, Michael. This is going to be a huge shift after all the infrastructure you've enjoyed at Google and a huge opportunity for learning.

    One thing I've noticed that has torpedoed a lot of ex-Googlers' entrepreneurial efforts has been a tendency to be super focused on scalability way too early. If you haven't read it yet, I really recommend the "do things that don't scale" essay. Best of luck!

    1. 2

      One thing I've noticed that has torpedoed a lot of ex-Googlers' entrepreneurial efforts has been a tendency to be super focused on scalability way too early.

      Yeah, I'm definitely guilty of this and have to remind myself not to. Except more "maintainability" where I over-invest in making it production-grade and maintainable for 5 years even though I might throw it away when I pivot in a month.

      I've been trying to limit that on my project KetoHub, and it's been interesting. Sometimes it feels very freeing to not get mired in testing or refactoring. But then other times, I'll cause some really stupid break in production and think, "That wouldn't have happened if I had just done it right..."

      I will say I'm glad I chose a blog tech stack that scaled.

  4. 6

    People here in India who are working in IT firms dream about getting a job at Google! We think this kind of unfair judgments are a norm in Indian IT field, but your post spreads light on reality at Google! I think every Indian IT person should read this post once. A real eye opener.

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      That's interesting. I didn't realize that.

      I think this is true to some degree in the US as well. I think people in software are more jaded and know that Google has problems like any other company, but to people I talk to outside of tech, they usually have this idealized, Utopian vision of Google. When I tell them about my frustrations there, they're very surprised because they read about all the Google perks and how happy everyone is there.

    2. 1

      So true!

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      This comment was deleted 3 years ago.

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    I really appriciate the time you took to write this article. I think on some level, people realize that this is how all big corporations are, and at a high performing place like Google, you have to run even faster than other high performers in the rat race to get some cheese from the almighty managers.

    Personally this story motivates me to try and get out of working for someone else completely. Its all driven by the desire for fancy titles so we look special to our peers. What are we doing? Im actually fine "just" being an engineer and having fun building stuff. I was doing it for the fun of it when I started, not to get titles or fancy positions.

    1. 1

      Yeah, part of it is for practical reasons and part of it is for superficial, "rat race" kind of reasons. I'll admit I was probably more motivated by the latter.

      The practical answer is that a lot of people who can offer you jobs later will perceive you as less worthy if you stay in the same mid-level position for too long. I knew developers who had happily stayed at my same level for years, but then ran into issues if they tried to transfer teams because the assumption is that everyone wants to get promoted, so if you've been around 5-10 years and you haven't gotten one, you're bad at your job.

      The superficial answer is that you just want to move forward because everyone around you is moving forward. If you're a developer at Google, chances are you've spent your life trying to get into the best classes, the best college, the best internship, the best job. You're used to a system where you continually advance forward and you're surrounded by people who have the same mentality. So you kind of get sucked into feeling like you need this promotion, even if you'd be satisfied at your current level if promotions magically didn't exist.

      I remember about a year in, I had lunch with an old co-worker who started at Google before me but worked in Seattle. He was promoted to Senior about 2-3 years in, but he told me he didn't worry much about promotion because he wasn't hurting for money and the title was just a title. And I thought, "That's a good attitude! I'll do that!" And I did for another year or so. But the problem is he's one of the best developers I've ever worked with, so he could get promoted without even trying. I felt like if I didn't try, I could potentially sit at my level forever.

  6. 4

    Great article Michael, super interesting. Good luck with your next big project!

    As an indie hacker myself, I sometimes wonder "what if i'm wasting my time instead of climbing up the corporate/business ladder". Then I remember the freedom we have as freelance workers or small/medium business owners is just priceless.

    1. 3

      Thanks for reading!

      As an indie hacker myself, I sometimes wonder "what if i'm wasting my time instead of climbing up the corporate/business ladder". Then I remember the freedom we have as freelance workers or small/medium business owners is just priceless.

      Haha, that's how I feel right now as well. I'm hoping I can sustain it.

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        I'm hoping I can sustain it.

        I'm not an indie hacker, but I am a guy who has committed to avoiding the corporate ladder at the gigantic multinational corporation I work at (long story short: I don't want to be promoted to my level of incompetence; I feel I'm making the most positive impact where I am, and I like what I do).

        I occasionally deal with this issue in the form of "look, another guy I went to school/used to work with is earning way more than me and has a team under him." Just yesterday, I discovered one of my friends from high school that I'd lost touch with is some senior software architect with Amazon over in London. I had a brief existential crisis -- he's younger than me, and probably earning way more and doing a bunch of cool stuff.

        But then I have to sit back and remember what I have. I get paid more than I need. I work from home full time. I have a wonderful family I get to spend as much time with as I want. I'm doing real, meaningful work using technology I know and love in a field I care about.

        You will have moments of doubt. But you need to make sure you sit back and appreciate what you have, and what you're gaining.

        Incidentally, your blog post was a huge help in getting me out of that funk.

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          Thanks, I'm glad you liked it.

          But then I have to sit back and remember what I have. I get paid more than I need. I work from home full time. I have a wonderful family I get to spend as much time with as I want. I'm doing real, meaningful work using technology I know and love in a field I care about.

          This is my goal. This sounds like a great lifestyle.

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          This comment was deleted 3 years ago.

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    only difference is that you documented this :)

  8. 3

    Hi Michael, I did the same at the end of the year with the intention of doing a sabbatical. It's currently the end of the second month, and now, I think this is the direction I want to take.

    Have you given yourself a limit as to how many no-revenue months you are willing to weather before taking contract work, or gulp, going back to a 9-5?

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      Yeah, part of my decision process was taking a two week staycation to work on my own project and kind of dip my feet into the lifestyle. A few days in, all I could think was, "Oh my god. I can't wait to quit and do this permanently."

      Have you given yourself a limit as to how many no-revenue months are willing to weather before taking contract work, or gulp, going back to a 9-5?

      I haven't. Other people have suggested I do that, but I don't know if it would help me. I have savings to sustain me for a few years, so I feel like if I fail, it will be due to being unsatisfied rather than me getting to a point where I'll be at serious financial risk if I keep going.

      I'd be interested to hear your thoughts, though. Are you setting a time limit for yourself?

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        I think I'm willing to go up to six months with no revenue (before doing contracts), with maybe two projects going at a time. It would be difficult for me to watch myself burn through that money, but maybe the risk is more illusory?

        Regarding a hard limit, if nothing absolutely works in a year, then that is when I go back crawling to a 9-5.

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          What's your thinking behind the limits? Is it that after X months, you'll be in too precarious a financial position? Or is it like if you haven't made it in X months, you feel you're not cut out for it?

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            I've thought about this quite a bit, and I think it may have something to do with the stigma or my guilt of not actually "working" (at a 9-5, for someone else, collecting a steady paycheck). As I'm writing this out, I see how silly this mentality is.

            During this period, I've questioned if this is financially reckless of me more than once (I can attribute this to my experience with the 2008 recession), as in, I now finally have this nice powerup/cushion, do I really want to use it now, or use it only when I absolutely need it.

            I also dismiss that thought by reminding myself that I'm in a fortunate position to even give this a shot. Runway, single, no kids, just renting, and have gone car-less in the past year.

            In sum, I think the answer to your question really is my fear of judgment from others, the fear of being "financially reckless", and my ignorance in believing that people with the capital - who traditionally employs others - are actually doing something special and unique that worker bees are incapable of doing.

            Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing your progress. I'll update you in a month as to how I'm feeling about the above. Phew.

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              Yeah, that's my biggest fear too. I'm pretty confident that a job will be waiting for me if I ever need one.

              ...except if 2008 happens again and nobody wants to hire anyone. But then again I also feel like if 2008 happens again, maybe people who chose safe jobs will get laid off and it's the entrepreneurs who are positioned well.

  9. 3

    I've had an identical experience at Google. Thanks for posting, and for leading me to IH!

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      Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoy IH! There's a lot of good content here.

  10. 3

    Pretty much the conclusion many of us come to eventually. That is, if we spend so much time adding value (through our work) to others, why not do it directly for ourselves?

    1. 3

      Yeah, exactly. Courtland had a very poignant insight about this on an early IH podcast episode, and I think it accelerated my decision to leave Google:

      So let's say you take a job at a company and you optimize their signup form. And you increase conversion rates by 20% or 30%. That's a permanent change. Things are permanently going to be better for them and yet you're only really compensated based on the hours that you put in. So you move to another project after that. Or let's say you quit or you get fired or something. Then your compensation stops. And it doesn't really matter how well the code you wrote actually performs for the company. You're done, you're just going to get paid for the time that you worked on it. So I think what's really appealing to me is the idea of having kind of an alignment between the value that I create and the reward that I get. And it's really hard to get that alignment unless you're working independently.


      The statement about incentives especially spoke to me because I felt so frustrated with the contrasting incentives between me, Google, my manager, the promotion committee, etc.

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    Great read and awesome illustrations!

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      Thanks for reading! I wrote a post last month about how I do the illustrations if you're interested in the details.

  12. 3

    Great read! Thank you for sharing!

    One of the cons to working with big corporations is that it’s harder to get decisions made, and employees have less autonomy and obviously, promotions along with bonuses are not for the "last arrived".

    Best of luck with your new adventure!

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      Thanks for reading!

      One of the cons to working with big corporations is that it’s harder to get decisions made, and employees have less autonomy and obviously, promotions along with bonuses are not for the "last arrived".

      Yeah, agreed. I read Founders at Work about a year ago and one of the interviews that really had an impact on me was Philip Greenspun, who founded ArsDigita. He said that a problem with software companies is that they try to build layers in front of software engineers so that they're far abstracted from the customer, but it leads to a situation where they're in a bubble not really thinking about what's good for the company as a whole. So instead, he formed little functional teams of developers and product managers and the whole team would meet with the customer and the whole team was responsible for profit/loss of their project.

      He wasn't able to scale it because once they got VC money, the VCs got rid of that, and he blames it for their demise. I think it creates other sub-optimal incentives and is not necessarily better than the model of abstracting away developers from the customer, but it definitely did make me conscious of the fact that I as a developer in a large company was so far from the customer and so far from decisions about what would ultimately benefit the company.

  13. 3

    Great write up.

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      Thanks for reading!

  14. 2

    So it’s been about 4 months now. How are things going for you Michael?

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      Have I got the blog post for you!


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  15. 2

    Count me as another person who joined IH after your post @mtlynch - it really resonated with me.

    1. 1

      That's great. Welcome!

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    🤔@mtlynch In my mind, there's only one worth working for, the dude/gal from your passport.

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      That's my plan now.

      Also it means that if anyone ever steals my passport, they become my employee!

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        Exactly. Legally correct, as well 👍

  17. 2

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. From the outside the big firms can seem idyllic. Very glad to learn that Indie Hackers exists :D

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      Thanks for reading.

      Yeah, that's been an interesting part of reading the responses to this. I think part of what drew people to this story is that it's a little bit "how the sausage is made" and shows a part of Google that's more dysfunctional than people would expect.

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        It confirmed a few rumours, I wonder what other large firms do..

  18. 2

    Great post. I discover Indie Hacker through this article you posted on /r/programming.

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      Awesome! Welcome.

  19. 2

    Great read, and thanks to you I am now on this site!

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      Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoy IH as much as I do.

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    I have been coming across your posts for quite some time as we have quite the overlap. I'll be following your progress and rooting you on.

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  21. 2

    I applaud your courage. While working in big companies, the personal focus should be building transferable skills such as general technical expertise, leadership, and interpersonal skills. It is also a great opportunity to build your network. Better not to get too comfy in the job that you lose the big picture. The book "Who moved my cheese" explains it using a compelling story. A lot of people get attached to the products they are building but you will be better off by focusing on skills, and connections that you make on the way.

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  22. 2

    Wow, fantastic read! I come from HN, I wish you the best of the lucks Michael! #respect :D

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      Thanks for reading!

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    Boost your productivity today by using our free online Pomodoro timer app https://pomodoro-timer.io/

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  25. 1

    Interesting to know how they operate.

  26. 1

    Adding my voice to the chorus of those who have found the site through your post. I left "Big Co. Inc." and have now worked for myself for 3+ years. There are ups and downs, but I love it- thanks for the reminder of why I left!

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      Thanks for reading! It's been great hearing from people who made the same choice I did and ended up finding satisfaction in what they do.

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    I believe you made the right choice.

    I wish you much success!

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      Thanks Sandro!

  28. 1

    That conversation made me realize that I’m not Google. I provide a service to Google in exchange for money.

    You’re so right. I say “we” when referring to the company I work for, all the time—but it’s a mistake to think of it that way. I’m not the company, I work for the company. I almost need to have that tattooed on my forearm. 😅It is a relationship, and sometimes not a great one. Especially if your environment doesn’t recognise good work, if you don’t have much autonomy, and if you trade too much of your time and energy for money.

    Congratulations on your new direction, and thanks for the inspiration!

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      Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it.

  29. 1

    Awesome post Michael!! the way you shared your experience at Google gives clear idea to readers about dark side of working at big companies. It takes courage to take big steps likes these and certainly you have one.

    'You quit at Google and you dont have big startup idea'?? COOOOLLL!! Someone just said nice thing which applies to you here , "Ideas dont come out fullyformed, they only becomes clear as you work on them". So hang tight in there, All the very best!!

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      Thanks Vishal!

  30. 1

    The article misses the root problem, which is faulty communication by both the boss and the employee:

    1. The boss is at fault for setting the wrong expectation on when he’d get promoted. If the boss hadn’t set that expectation - the employee wouldn’t have been so let down.

    2. It doesn’t sound like the employee communicated with the boss on a plan to actually get promoted. How to get promoted. And what he should be working on the increase his chances the most to get promoted.

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      Thanks for reading!

      I will respectfully disagree.

      I don't think better expectations would have fixed the problem. There were people around me being promoted to Senior Software Engineer 1-2 years in, so if my manager just transparently told me that they get it in 1-2 years, but I get it in 5 years because I'm good at maintenance work, that wouldn't have made me happy.

      Someone needs to do maintenance work. And if you set the policy that you can't judge someone's skill level while they do maintenance work, it sets up a system where incentives are perverse because nobody wants to do a thing that's critical for the company's function.

  31. 1

    Great article. I left a job 5 years ago because of similar circumstances. The company had been using the Balanced Score Card approach which had made it easier to focus on useless tasks that look good than actually contributing to the improvement of operational efficiency and quality.

    I even wrote up an detailed analysis and solution proposal for them as a lowly accounting clerk and management thought I was doing a school project . :/

    Good luck and don't get so bogged down with work that you have no time to network and meet new leads.

    Thanks for bringing me here!

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      Thanks for reading, Lasana!

  32. 1

    Thanks Michael, you've brought me here because of your story. I left my job at Accenture for similar reasons.

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      Thanks for reading Cameron!

      What's your experience been like post-Accenture?

  33. 1

    Thanks for writing this great article. I read it on HN and created an account here instantly!

    1. 1

      Thanks for reading! Welcome to the community.

  34. 1

    Since we all agreed to the problems, perhaps we could discuss a solution for a better system: https://www.indiehackers.com/forum/how-to-recognize-employees-contributions-cbf7b3ff0a

    1. 1

      Thanks for reading! I added my thoughts in that thread.

  35. 1

    Great post and good luck!


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      Thanks for reading!

  36. 1

    Thank you. You have helped me realize that if I really want to secure a raise, I should be working on profitable side projects.

    1. 1

      Thanks! Glad you found it helpful.

  37. 1

    Hi Michael, I enjoyed reading your blog post. I noticed you're working on KetoHub. I was wondering if you're open to partnering opportunities. I build Foodzilla.io and one of our upcoming features is recipe suggestions based on the user's goals/diet. I can potentially pull in recipes from your site (with attribution of course). Let me know if you're interested.

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      Whoa, Foodzilla looks awesome. I'm not sure the recipe integration would work because KetoHub itself is pulling them in from another site, but I'd be happy to talk collaboration. I'm [email protected].

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        Glad you like it. Awesome, I'll send you an email.

  38. 1

    Really interesting article, thanks for taking the time to write it!
    It really resonates with me. What you are describing is common to any big company.

    Most of my developer friends are dreaming of working for Google, Apple etc. I am always the weird one who doesn't...

    Welcome to the club and good luck!

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      Thanks! And thanks for reading.

  39. 1

    Thanks for directing me to this site via your post via HN. You seem honest, intelligent, and talented in multiple respects. It's unfortunate that the desire to receive a promotion led you down a path that ultimately led to quitting your job. I don't like that large companies can drive people who just want to make life easier for others into promotion-seeking behavior. (I hesitate to equate this to economic rent-seeking behavior, unless you felt like your skillset wasn't growing at Google.) This penchant for external validation may have more profound foundations in the normative path to success for the average smart kid in school, but that's another story.

    Idk man: I think no matter how much you earn or the prestige of your work, if you're smart and can make stuff you think will help others, you should always make the coolest thing your context allows. It sounds like you had a lot of freedom at Google to pursue what you wanted and still get paid for it; it was really your available incentives that drove what that was. It's also hard to keep that simple fact in mind while being showered in benefits. But I'm glad you found a way for yourself to stay true and get out of that toxic incentive structure, given that you did find it toxic to your work ethic.

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      Thanks for reading!

      I wouldn't go so far as "toxic." They treated me fine. Nobody was abusive or malicious. I just didn't feel like I was getting what I wanted out of it.

  40. 1

    Great read. I actually ended up sending this to my coworker who's having the same issues with his promotion.

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      We can found a company together!

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        Haha, I'm actually running my own non software company.

  41. 1

    My business is pre-revenue but I'm happy to pay you for content soon! Your writing is excellent. The way Google treated you... Not so much.

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      I'm more looking for ways to use my writing to build up some kind of business I run, but I'm open to hearing about your project if you'd like to tell me more. I'm [email protected].

  42. 1

    Wow, love the insight into Google. I've only ever worked at <100 employee companies and that promotion process boggles my mind.

    Wishing you luck on your own projects!

    1. 1

      Thanks, and thanks for reading!

  43. 1

    great insight! i am in the same boat working for a large fortune company. I really want to work on an indie blockchain / dapp project instead of my day job!

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      Same here, though I am just starting to read up on the topic. There is so much stuff there, it is overwhelming!

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      Yeah, there's such exciting stuff going on in that space that it's so hard to sit it out.

      Thanks for reading!

  44. 1

    Good read. Fully support your decision.

    1. 1

      Thanks for reading!

  45. 1

    If everyone is to work on high impact projects in a company, then who is going to work on shitty maintenance projects to keep things running? Need a better merit system to measure contributions.

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      Yeah, exactly. I think it leads to a system where there are all these unnecessary from-scratch rewrites because a) everyone wants to launch a new shiny thing and b) the existing thing wasn't built to last; it was built to launch and be shiny.

  46. 1

    Michael this was a really great read. I wish you the best of luck and maybe it can be an opportunity for you to try freelancing!

    1. 2

      Thanks! Yeah, freelancing is definitely a consideration. I do really like the idea of building a business. Like there's something really cool to me about building up something that has value in itself rather than taking one-off payments for different jobs. But I may end up trying to balance the two so that freelancing gives me capital for a business.

  47. 1

    I've been feeling a lot of the same things as you—thanks for writing this piece, hope we both find ways to achieve our goals in life!

    1. 1

      Thanks for reading!

      I'm really happy to hear it resonated with you. I hope we both achieve our goals as well.

  48. 1

    This is really great. All of the FAANG companies are similar.

    1. 1

      Thanks for reading. I feel like I had a better career experience at Microsoft, but it was also earlier in my career so I was probably exposed to less of the complexity.

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    Thank you for the great post! I currently am working on passportlist.co

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      Thanks for reading, Thomas!

      I’ve had a rocky time of it since I abandoned the corporate world for ever but I have never, ever regretted taking the path less travelled by.

      Yeah, that's the sense I get from most of the people in IH and part of what motivated me to quit. Everyone agrees that there are difficulties, but there's pretty strong agreement that it's better than being an employee. (huge sample bias but still)