Monday, June 20, 2011

Joining Google

Today I accepted a job with Google as a GIS Data Engineer. I will be based in Mountain View California at head office, and involved in various sorts of geodata processing though I don't really know the details of my responsibilities yet.

I have received occasional email solicitations from Google recruiters in the past, but hadn't really taken them too seriously. I assumed it was a "wide net" search for job candidates and I wasn't looking for regular employment anyways. I was happy enough in my role of independent consultant. It gave me great flexibility and a quite satisfactory income.

Various things conspired to make me contemplate my options. A friend, Phil Vachon, moved to New York City for a fantastic new job. His description of the compensation package made me realize opportunities might exist that I was missing out on. Also, with separation from my wife last year the need to stay in Canada was reduced. So when a Google recruiter contacted me again this spring I took a moment to look over the job description.

The description was for the role of GIS Data Engineer it was a dead on match for my skill set. So, I thought I would at least investigate a bit, and responded. I didn't hear back for many weeks so I assumed I had been winnowed out already or perhaps the position had already been filled. But a few weeks ago I was contacted, and invited to participate in a phone screening interview. That went well, and among other things my knowledge of GIS file formats, and coordinate systems stood me in good stead. So I was invited to California for in person interviews.

That was a grueling day. Five interviews including lots of "write a program to do this on the black board" sorts of questions. Those interviewing me, mostly engineers in the geo group, seemed to know little of my background and I came away feeling somewhat out of place, and like they were really just looking for an entry level engineer. Luckily Michael Weiss-Malik, spent some time at lunch talking about what his group does and gave me a sense of where I would fit in. This made me more comfortable.

Last week I received and offer and it was quite generous. It certainly put my annual consulting income to shame. Also contact with a couple friends inside Google gave me a sense that there were those advocating on my behalf who did know more about my strengths.

I agonized over the weekend and went back and forth quite a bit on the whole prospect. While the financial offer was very good, I didn't particularly need that. And returning to "regular employment" was not inline with my hopes to travel widely, doing my consulting from a variety of exotic locales as long as they had internet access. But, by salting away money it would make it much easier to pursue such a lifestyle at some point in the future.

I also needed to consult extensively with my family. It was very difficult to leave my kids behind, though it helps to know that as teens they are quite independent, I am also confident that their mother would be right there taking good care of them. My kids, and other family members were all very supportive.

My other big concern was giving up my role in the open source geospatial community. While nothing in the job description prevents me from still being active in the GDAL project, and OSGeo, it is clear the job will consume much of my energy and time. I can't expect to play the role I have played in the past, particularly of enabling use of GDAL in commercial contexts by virtual of being available as a paid resource to support users.

I don't have the whole answer to this, but it is certainly my intention to remain active in GDAL/OGR and in OSGeo (on the board and other committees). One big plus of working at Google is the concept of 20% time. I haven't gotten all the details, but it is roughly allowing me to use 20% of my work time for self directed projects. My hope is to use much of my 20% time to work on GDAL/OGR.

Google does make use of GDAL/OGR for some internal data processing and in products like Google Earth Professional. My original hope had been that my job would at least partly be in support of GDAL and possibly other open source technologies within Google. While things are still a bit vague that does not seem to be immediately the case though I'm optimistic such opportunities might arise in the future. But I think this usage does mean that work on GDAL is a reasonable thing to spend 20% time on.

I also made it clear that I still planned to participate in OSGeo events like the FOSS4G conference. I'm pleased to confirm that I will be attending FOSS4G 2011 in Denver as a Google representative and I am confident this will be possible in future years as well.

The coming months will involve many changes for me, and I certainly have a great deal to learn to make myself effective as an employee of Google. But I am optimistic that this will be a job and work place that still allows me to participate in, and contribute to, the community that I love so much. I also think this will be a great opportunity for me to grow. Writing file translators for 20 years can in some ways become a rut!


  1. Congratulations Frank. You'l be working with some great people, and will certainly bring a ton of useful knowledge to the party. Best wishes.


  2. Wow! Frank is gonna be a "G-man". Congratulations Frank. We've never met but I have read your postings on the OSGeo list and I heard you speak at FOSS4G 2007. I am sure your contributions at Google will benefit us all as well as your continued involvement in OSGeo.

  3. Congratulations Frank! I'm very excited for you about this new opportunity. It's been an amazing 15 years working with you, you have been an inspiration for many of us and I hope to continue to see you around for years to come (whether it's in your 20% time or around beers).

    Hopefully Google realizes the true value of their latest hire. If you make a difference at Google (with the resources available there) as much as you did in the OSGeo community then we should be prepared for some amazing stuff to happen.

    Cheers my friend, and all the best in your new venture. See you in Denver in September!

  4. Congrats Frank! Others in the bay (including myself) should have a GIS meetup for open source nerds. Make sure to spread the FOSS love at Google :-)

  5. Congrats. You work on GDAL/OGR has certainly not gone unnoticed and sounds like the opportunities you have now are a reward for that. I hope you have great success and help Google move in the right direction with all this geospatial.

  6. Congrats! Look forward to seeing you down here soon.

  7. Congratulations! I have a number of Googly friends. They are all really great people. I'm sure you'll fit right in.

  8. Frank,

    I'm really rooting for you!

    Wish you all the best, and hopefully your 20% will be plenty!


  9. Hey Frank, thanks for all your amazing work and community support in the past, and good luck with your new job. Are you gonna work on Google Earth Builder?

  10. Congrats Frank. It takes a lot of courage to make a jump like this, and I'm sure it will be a refreshing and stimulating jump into an environment like Google. A little bit of churn is sometimes good for the soul.

    Selfishly, I'm quite sad that the OSGeo community won't have such easy access to your vast experience and steady leadership anymore. Google continues the smart trend of hiring Open Source luminaries with leadership, and I can only hope that you are able counter the trend of those luminaries failing to be able use their 20% time to keep their toes wet in their previous community.

    I will miss working with you at a consulting level, as you have dealt with me with integrity and patience. You inspired me to ditch my paycheck too, scary thing that it was/is, and I have appreciated your mentorship as I have progressed from barely-able-to-run-a-compiler to semi-competent hack.

    See you in Denver! The beers are (obviously) on you!

  11. Congratulations are definitely in order - hope your 20% time is well spent on things other than GDAL.

  12. Have a good time, Frank, sometimes a change is as good as a break! And take a break too. You've built a great community you can be proud of which will keep on chugging now.

  13. Congratulations Frank! Best of luck in your new capacity. And thanks for your leadership and significant contributions to help get us here!


  14. Congratulations, I`m surprised that Google is so "late" in doing this. Keep up the good work!

  15. Congratulations are in order. Hope you can still find time to contribute to GDAL.

  16. Frank, it's been a pleasure and a privilege to work with you on MapServer. I'll never forget your mentorship. Enjoy what comes next.

  17. Frank,

    Congrats. I guess people have said enough so not much more to say. I guess of all companies to work for Google is a good one especially for GIS and hopefully that 20% will go mostly to GDAL and other OSGEO projects :).

    Forget about the pay, though I do wonder how much putting consulting to shame comes out to. Do they still have those top notch chefs I've heard so much about?

  18. congrads Frank! You've pretty much won the world with GDAL; and everything people are doing with it...on to new horizons/challenges; and Michael Weiss-Malik has got 'em for sure, I know... :-)

    looking forward to seeing you in 'high def' more frequently out here in the Silly Valley


  19. Congratulations Frank,
    make Google better and have fun.

  20. Frank,

    Congratulations on the yet another success in your great professional career.

    Personally, I would like to thank you for the fantastic opportunity you gave me back in 2006 to work with you on GDAL. It was a sudden and yet important turning point in my life as a hacker. It was my first job I got through IRC channel :-)

    I greatly appreciate your friendly and patient mentorship about the geospatial software development as well as about the life in a hacking community.
    I wouldn't be where I am now without it.

    I wish you all the best!

  21. Congratulations Frank! We have barely met but have mutual acquaintances. You will do great and find the environment incredibly stimulating. It will be fun to leverage your skills on products that are household names and scale to hundreds of millions and more.

    As a former employee of a "different" large company (and knowing nothing of Google culture) my tip would be have as much fun as you can and embrace the opportunities presented to you. If you ever feel you are being swallowed up by the organization be sure to reach out to friends and associates for support. Others have been through the culture shock and can add perspective :-)

  22. Congratulations Frank! Long live to GDAL/OGR and to the others FW projects.

    best wishes

  23. Congratulations Frank!

    Good luck in your new home and new position. Sounds like it will be a big change. Google is lucky to have you.

    Best Wishes from Alaska!

    Michael Lindgren
    Spatial Analyst
    Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning

  24. Frank, well done and have a ball! I suspect Google don't appreciate yet just how much of an asset they're gaining. Go for it!

  25. Good on ya Frank, wishing you all the best in your time at Google. I was brought back to my previous years of consulting, Mapserver, and your contributions to GDAL/OGR that helped me out so. Right-on!

    Mark Giesbrecht

  26. resistance is futile

    we have assimilated you


    Wish you all the best & have fun!

    California calling...

  27. Are you sure this isn't just a big mistake caused by the way you pronounce 'GDAL'? :)

    Good luck!

  28. Congratulations.

    Recalling your presence on the MapServer and PROJ mailing lists, I am sure you will bring the same leadership and knowledge to the Google enterprise.

    Good luck with your new position.

  29. Congrats Frank! Glad to hear that Google finally decided to properly compensate you for all of your hard work (that they seem to rely on heavily). On a selfish note, it is good to hear you will be in CA now-- although leaving family and the forested landscapes of Canada must have been very difficult. Hope to see your new email address on the OSGEO-related mailing lists from time to time. As others have noted, your contributions to FOSS GIS are something to be proud of. I still remember the 2006 Where 2.0 conference, where we ended up sitting next to each other. It wasn't until you introduced yourself that I realized that I was sitting next to _that_ Frank! Best of luck at Google.

  30. Yes, adding a voice of appreciation from Down Under, for all the work you have done encouraging, inspiring, and down right grunt work building the OSGeo community.

  31. Best of Luck, Frank...

    See you on the other side of that Silicon tunnel. There's an Open chair at the table when you come home. We'll be waiting for you in Denver in the fall.

    Mark Rodrigo

    "I set the clouds in motion - turn up light and sound - activate the windows and watch the world go round - Rush"

  32. Congratulations Frank! Your work has helped me no end, and I've tried to blog about ways that people get up and going with GDAL to spread the love.

    I hope that your job brings you all the challenges you want, with the level of stress that you are happy with.....

    Best of luck.

    Matt Blackler

  33. Hi Frank,

    Congratulations! You were the first welcome to the world of open source for me, and it was an excellent one. Best of luck in your new adventure, Google has just got the best patch they've ever had.

    Peter Rushforth

  34. Looks like I'm late to the party, but I can't miss the chance to congratulate you and to wish you good luck with the new adventure!

    I can barely think to the geo guys interviewing you like a rookie without realizing you are the author of probably half the code they run everyday!! :)

  35. Hello GFrank, congratulations. Looking forward to using your work on my next Android phone :)

    Best regards,

  36. Congratulation for the new job... :)



  37. Congratulations Frank!
    I really hope you will still be able to continue giving the usual huge contribution to the OSGeo community and to the GDAL project ;)

  38. Congratulations Frank. I have always appreciated the time you've spent over the years to answer my often ill informed questions with directness, clarity and honesty. I admire your ability to respond with equanimity to an emotionally charged conversation, sticking to the facts and what works, and not getting drawn into the other stuff. Best of luck to you south of 49 in Sunny California, though I'm pretty sure you don't need it!

    Matt Wilkie
    Whitehorse, Yukon.
    (Hey, we're in the same time zone now ;-)

  39. Congratulations,

    it is a great challenge, the life offers occasions which it is necessary to know to seize, it is what you have make, then cheer. Google has much chance to have been able to recruit you, because I think that you will bring to them much.
    Good luck for this new adventure.

    Best regards,
    Montpellier France

  40. do you guys use any esri tools at google?