Interview: Jordan Gilliland

Jordan Gilliland, now a director at Coupang, and I worked together at Google across a team or two, finally together on Google Now (predecessor of Discover), where we collaborated on something that almost launched. I’ve got fond memories of those times with him, which included my first time in a Tesla and many trips to the company cafe Baadal for biryani.

I’m grateful to him for having been up for answering a few questions.

Do you remember some of our first times meeting each other? Did I write any launch reports for you? I remember working with the Cross Language Information Retrieval team, especially with Sungjung, but my memory is a little fuzzy on whether I did anything with you. (By the way, I came across a blog post from you announcing CLIR: (Archive.) Pretty neat. I remember that you were still working on CLIR when we started sharing an office together along with Garrett and others.)

I remember meeting you before you converted to SWE. I know I had some lunches with Quantitative Analysts, but I don’t recall if that was before or after meeting you. I think you did write launch reports for me, but I must admit those images have faded a bit. We need to find someone who has a great memory and see if they can help us out here! CLIR was also based in Mountain View (MTV) for a couple years before moving to Tokyo for a couple years, and then back to MTV. So your work with Sungjung could have been either before I started working on CLIR or it could have been while I was on it, since he was around during both those times. I had forgotten about that blog post, brings back the memories! What I can tell you is that I gave a quick presentation in the Tokyo office TGIF. It might have been in relation to that blog post, I just remember it was when we launched … organic search results based CLIR, which was pretty exciting, as it was no longer hidden behind a Onebox.

Any favorite memories from Google, with me or without? I remember you keeping a can of gulab jamun on your desk, which I believe I delivered to you after you departed.

I suppose to answer that we would need to separate Google Japan vs Google MTV. Both were unique and had their own good memories. For Japan, the food was hard to forget, and once a month they had extra budget to do something special, above and beyond the already pretty good food. I have documentation of a party where they had an entire tuna. These are NOT cheap. I think like $1000+ for that fish. Shared amongst quite a few people of course. But in this world of layoffs and bottom-line-tightening CFOs, that lavishness is certainly something I won’t forget, and probably won’t repeat again anytime soon. And the office wide events, including the one we took to Oshima island where we rented out an entire hotel and a few of us found the karaoke machine and got up on stage where Megumi sang “Sakuranbo,” those memories stick out for me. I do recall Google Maps being especially happy at that party because they won a design award for that overhaul of public transit UX. Well deserved, and I still enjoy that interface today.

For MTV we of course had our own kind of fun including g-bike rides in idyllic Bay Area weather (pre forest fire, the good old days), trips to Coffee Lab lounging in those big chairs, and so on. I also remember the time I brought my Vitamix to work and filled it with veggies from the buffet at Big Table. It was the first time I had tried the blender so I didn’t know how loud it was (it has a 2.2hp motor) and I remember turning it on for about five seconds in our office in the Search area before quickly turning it off, lest I permanently get myself and our entire team a bad name. And then trying out my new Model S when autopilot was first released, and having the whole team riding that thing and wondering whether it knew how to stop for red lights, and learning that it did NOT. We had our exciting moments technically as well of course, but to be honest it’s these playful moments that stand out for me. Ping pong and Mortal Kombat. But we were still really productive and brought a lot of value to our users, partly thanks to this positive team culture.

What was the path that led you to Google?

I was in Japan and my friend worked for Google Japan and invited me to an open house, a kind of recruiting event. I was encouraged to interview and passed, and at that point, it seemed like a really bad idea to ignore that opportunity.

What’s been your path since leaving Google? What are some lessons you’ve learned along the way?

Google trained me as an engineer and exposed me to really solid engineering best practices. This wasn’t my very first engineering job, but it was pretty early in my career. I think this was a great way to start out because it gave me that proper training that would aid me down the road. For example, can you believe that at a future company I would be the one to convince them they needed code reviews before merging PRs? Or to care about unit test coverage? We bring these habits with us everywhere we go. And of course it was a huge benefit to see how the gold standard for search worked.

At the same time, working outside of Google has been critical to my growth as an engineer. For example, after over five years there, I did not know what a REST API was. Which is fine because we didn’t need to. I even asked a Senior Staff Googler at the time and they didn’t know either. But it’s a very basic thing outside Google. So, to become well-rounded, it’s good to expose ourselves to open source or other non-Google development ecosystems. Actually if I could go back in time and warn Google to either open source or sell its infra components like AWS, it would have both benefited Google, and it would have meant that skills learned at Google would be more useful in the outside world. So, in general I would say while knowing Google technology gives you a huge leg up, it is still important to learn about things externally to survive and thrive in the broader tech scene.


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