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Friday, January 4, 2008

Kevin Fox Leaves Google

Kevin Fox announced he has quit his job at Google to join a smaller start-up. Today is Kevin’s last day as a user experience designer at Google, where he says he designed Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Reader 2.0 (considering I’m using Gmail as my main email program and Google Calendar as my main calendar – and I’m not using any RSS reader in the traditional sense – I have to conclude I really liked what he did). He elaborates on his past tasks in his resume [PDF], which identifies him as Senior User Experience Design Lead, Google Inc., since August 2003:

Through recruiting, hiring committee and mentorships, I helped grow the User Experience and Research group from seven practitioners to over a hundred. I currently lead the design of Google’s publishing products including Blogger, Google Groups, Page Creator and others. As a founding member of both the Search and Apps UX [user experience] review committees and a steward of Google’s design philosophies, I’m privileged to have an impact on the majority of Google’s user-facing services and features.

Kevin doesn’t reveal the name of the start-up he’s joining now, but he does describe some of his feelings in regards to the switch:

[I]t’s strange to have found success [at Google] and yet feel a need for greater fulfillment sufficient to pull you away from what’s generally recognized as the best workplace in America. It’s even stranger that Google is the first place I’ve ever worked where I feel that I’m part of the company as opposed to working for the company.

This makes leaving even stranger because it’s not just moving, it’s excising a part of yourself, a strange cleaving of personal relationships that used to be about friendship and products, but is now just about friendship. Will it be awkward when I talk with friends about the web and they have to censor themselves to prevent discussing confidential products? Even more novel, how easily will I adapt to working in an environment where we’re far more open about the projects we’re working on, to the point of evangelizing them?

Kevin, who also worked at Yahoo before, does not make it explicit exactly why he’s leaving Google. But it’s not unlikely that he wants to experience a fresher company, with higher risks, quicker decisions, more adventure, more learning & self-development due to new lessons & challenges, more openness in outside communication, less overhead and so on.

I wonder if excellent people leaving Google will cause a noticeable brain drain in the company and its web apps. At this time, Google products by and large have very good usability, but will that still be the case in a couple of years? I guess for Google it depends on three factors: being able to hire great new people for everyone great that leaves, being able to put those people in an environment where they can apply their skills without a lot of barriers, and in general, keeping the company spirit (mission, values, approaches) alive.

[Via Search Engine Land. Picture based on a video Kevin made in 2002.]


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