Why do so many Xooglers have portfolio careers?

Xoogler portfolio career change
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It’s hard to think about where your career can go after working for a tech pioneer like Google. The work is stimulating, the people are smart, the brand is massive, the environment is nurturing, and the culture is hard to replicate. That’s why so many Googlers with itchy feet find themselves wondering what the next step should be. Going to a large non-digital corporate can seem like a slow death. Moving to another tech titan feels a bit samey. So for most ex-Google employees (AKA Xooglers), going to another big organisation isn’t appealing. They need more excitement, innovation, and autonomy.

The good news is that there’s a widespread network of former Googlers, many of whom connect through the Xoogler community to support one another, share ideas, and collaborate. The majority of those have gone on to become either portfolio professionals or startup founders. Indeed, within The Portfolio Collective community, the biggest group by corporate background is Xooglers.

A portfolio career basically means not having just one source of income, but multiple. So if you’re thinking about taking that next step post-Google, it’s worth considering all the benefits that a portfolio lifestyle can offer. First, let’s explore why it’s such a popular path for Xooglers.

The seamless transition into portfolio careers

We recently spoke to a group of Xooglers from our community to find out why a portfolio career was such a no-brainer for ex-Google employees. Everyone involved in that conversation came from widely different backgrounds:

Jenny Collins

Jenny Collins was a Staffing Manager at Google and is now the Director of the executive search service Founder’s Keepers as well as a founder and investor across a range of other businesses;

Philipp Von Bieberstein

Philipp von Bieberstein was the Head of Western Europe for Google Play Apps and has since co-founded Climatiq and Heliom alongside the investment and advisory roles he holds for other organisations;

Emma Jelley_1

Emma Jelley was General Counsel for Google UK & Ireland and is now the founder of the growth consultancy Jelleyworks as well as Head of Community at Crafty Counsel and a board member at Systems Change Finland;

Ben Legg

Ben Legg was previously the COO for Google Europe and is now CEO and co-founder of The Portfolio Collective, along with a portfolio of startup board and advisory roles through his consulting company Digital People International.

What this chat demonstrated was that working for Google opens the doors to a range of exciting possibilities. For many, a portfolio career offers the same level of purpose, variety, and innovation.

“There’s the expectation that if you worked for Google, you’re going to do something extraordinary.” Jenny Collins

Below are just a few of the reasons why Jenny, Philipp, Emma, and Ben decided to pursue a portfolio lifestyle after Google. Find out if this is the right step for you.

Portfolio careers are more purpose-driven

When you come from a professional environment shaped by purpose and meaning, it’s hard to start at another workplace that doesn’t live up to that standard. For many Xooglers, the only way to drive that sense of purpose is to build something of their own that aligns with their unique passions.

“Google is very culture-driven, mission-driven, and purpose-driven, rather than just focused on a career. When my colleagues and friends left Google, they were looking for something like that instead of climbing the ladder somewhere else for the sake of climbing a ladder.” Philipp von Bieberstein

Not only does Google encourage creativity and innovation, it champions a wider sense of accessibility, ensuring that information is available for all. For Emma, that purpose-driven attitude was the thing that attracted her to working for Google in the first place. Once she left, she moved to an alternative legal service provider, but the emphasis there was more on supporting a variety of different  client missions rather than a single one that was aligned with her own. Often, she wasn’t inspired by her clients’ missions, so she decided to branch off and become more selective about the people she was working with.

“One of the reasons why I went independent was to look for my own purpose and align myself with things that are concordant with that, whether that be a person, a client, a project, or research - something where I felt I was making that purpose manifest in the world. There was no one doing that for me, so I needed to do it myself.” Emma Jelley

Portfolio careers tap into that same entrepreneurial spirit

It’s not just the mission that inspires Google employees, it’s the freedom to innovate and be more enterprising. Google has long been a champion of entrepreneurship – so much so that it’s baked into their culture, with a ‘20% time’ offer that encourages employees to spend a fifth of their time working on other innovative projects outside of their day jobs. What that allows is for people to try different things that aren’t part of their current job description. In essence, Google encourages their employees to always think outside the box and innovate.

“There’s definitely an element of Google hiring entrepreneurs, then getting too corporate, so those people are now saying that they want to keep their entrepreneurial spirit alive by moving on.” Ben Legg

Many Xooglers with portfolio careers continue to engage in the same type of project split, balancing different jobs in order to maintain a varied workload that speaks to all their interests. It’s part of the entrepreneurial spirit that inspires portfolio professionals to keep embracing new opportunities and ensure they’re honouring their “ikigai” (i.e. sense of purpose). That way, they live a life shaped around meaning, not just a pay cheque. Many of these projects then go on to become new businesses – having the Google name in your employment history can go a long way to building trust from investors when securing the funding you need to get started.

Ikigai portfolio careers
Ikigai/The Portfolio Collective 2021 ©
“Googlers typically know how to scale and build something highly valuable. Their outlook on life, particularly in engineering, doesn’t tend to be obsessed with short-term financial performance. It tends to zoom out to building something that will transform people’s lives. That’s a great way to ensure you make a difference.” Jenny Collins

Xooglers already have a strong network to build from

One of the most astounding aspects of the Xoogler community is the continued network of support it provides. People who leave Google go on to do amazing things, from starting venture capital groups to launching companies and even mentoring one another. 

Xooglers Portfolio Careers
©Jane O'Sullivan/The Portfolio Collective 2021

That global community sticks with you even after you’ve moved onto something else, which is great for anyone thinking of starting a portfolio career. Google exceeds in its ability to hire smart people and continuously challenge them. Most of these people thrive in that environment and search for new ways to continue learning and keep innovating. The Xoogler network provides the connections and assistance that current and ex-employees need to find opportunities and build their own paths.

“It’s extraordinary how alive the Xoogler network is and it’s amazing to notice how I react when a Xoogler reaches out. I sort of feel like they’re colleagues even though I left there years ago.” Emma Jelley

It’s about creating the career you want

Portfolio careers are increasingly becoming more popular with people from all industries and professions. The fact that it’s such an attractive space for ex-Google employees just goes to show that it provides the same type of mental stimulation and purpose that you’d get from one of the world’s most celebrated brands.

When you launch a portfolio career, you get to shape your own working culture and, by extension, the values and purpose that drive your professional pursuits. If you’d like to find out more about embarking on this unique career path, come along to our free weekly Introduction to Portfolio Careers hosted by Ben Legg. For those of you who have worked for Google and are considering your next options, join us at our upcoming Fireside Chat: Xooglers and the ever-expanding portfolio space to hear real-life stories of others who have made the switch.

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