How I Built My Career at Google
After 12 years at Google, Kristen Morrissey Thiede’s track record includes building a suite of new Google businesses locally and internationally to tremendous success. Now the head of business development at Google Fiber, Thiede is on a mission to make super high-speed internet (yes, that’s 100 times faster!) available around the world.
However, the ascent at Google didn’t come entirely smoothly—in fact, a string of rejections and years of hard work mean that she has a ton of lessons learned to share, everything from how to get the best new hires to charting your own career path. Read on to hear Thiede take us through the evolution of her time at Google and everything she sees in the future of high speed.
Can you tell us about the journey of your career and why you decided to join Google when it was still such a young company?
I was working for a small startup, and we were buying advertising from Google. The return on investment worked every time regardless of where the client was, and every time I called Google to give them more money, they introduced me to somebody else.
By the fourth person I talked to, I said, you know, if you’re hiring all these people, you should hire me. After 50 interviews and them saying no three times in six months, finally they said yes.
What made you want to keep going after so many rejections?
I just thought the company was moving in the right direction. I really believed in what they were doing, and I knew from my own experiences that their marketing perspective worked. At the time in 2001, a lot of startups and the economy were going south and people were going out of business, but Google just stood out to me, even though nobody knew what Google was. Even my parents thought it was a really bad idea.
Were there any key moments that shaped your professional goals at Google?
Sergey Brin and Susan Wojcicki had an idea of taking ads off of Google’s pages and putting them on other peoples’ pages, which became the AdSense for Content business. Tim Armstrong knew that I had media buying experience in the past and that we needed to see if Google technology could actually work, so that was the beginning of our content business.
The opportunity that a bunch of smart people in the room could figure it out and build a global business was the most exciting for me, and they gave a huge amount of responsibility and opportunity early on. My boss, Kurt Abrahamson, and I built this into a business, and the opportunity to have such an impact at such a young age made me want to figure out how to replicate that again and again.
What did you enjoy most about building that business?
I knew early on that I really liked figuring out things that had never been done before. I didn’t like the point where a business got big enough that the process was already figured out and you were just going through the motions. I really liked the beginning where it’s messy, and you’re all just sitting around a table saying, “How on Earth are we going to figure this out?” and really solving complex problems.
We launched the AdSense for Content business in the U.S. and globally, which was a great adventure. And then as the business matured it made sense to operate it as a piece of Google’s overall business, so they absorbed it back into Google. And I really didn’t want to do that.
At the time, there happened to be massive opportunity in Google’s distribution in Brazil and India, so I spent two years doing that. I’d go to Brazil for two weeks and come home for two weeks and go to India for two weeks and come home for two weeks. It was amazing! You know, you would show up in a country and say, I’m Google, and I’d like to talk to you about AdSense, put Google search on your page, and discuss using Gmail for your corporate email. It was great because I had all of these conversations at a really young age. Now, I don’t speak Portuguese or Hindi, but I was traveling around by myself. It was an amazing experience!
Since Google has grown so much since you’ve been there, how your role has changed with the growth of the company?
After being international, I joined Megan Smith, who ran a new early stage business development team. And if there were any new ideas, such as getting into magazine ads, radio ads, newspaper ads, or digitizing a timeline of photo archives, that’s what this team would do. We’d work really closely to try and test it to figure out if something worked. If it did, we’d expand and give it to somebody else to scale, and if it didn’t, we would roll it up and try again.
I spent eight years doing that, and one of those projects was Fiber. I was really excited to work on the early stages of Fiber, and I got hooked on the business. So I left the new business development team, and my full time focus now is just Google Fiber.
We know that technology enables people to create, learn, and express more. What’s the impact you see Google Fiber having on the world?
I think speed matters. We saw that transition from dial-up to cable. We’re excited to see this next evolution from cable to Fiber, which is 100 times faster. We’re excited to see what people are going to do with that. In the U.S. specifically, we’d like to have people think of internet access as a utility—you have water, you have electricity, and you need access to information.
Going forward, in the next year and the next five years, what do you think success looks like, for you personally and for Google Fiber?
For Google Fiber, it’s acquiring customers. We’ve announced that we’d like to expand Google Fiber to 34 new cities and nine metro areas. Wherever we’ve shown up, the cost of internet services has come down, and the consumer wins across the board, whether it’s Google Fiber or a competitor’s customer. The competitors have increased their speed and lowered their prices, so that’s a piece of success.
For me personally, it’s building and empowering a great team and figuring out how to scale this business to be faster and cheaper over time.
In terms of building a great team, what do you look for when hiring, and what do you value most in your team members?
Self-awareness. It’s the hardest thing to teach, so either you have it or you don’t. Self-awareness is really important in building a team of diverse people working at a really high pace with big challenges and trying to figure things out that we’ve never done before. Both self-awareness and a little grit are the most valuable. It’s hard to gauge in an interview, but it’s very easy to find when someone doesn’t have it.
Lastly, do you have any words of advice or lessons learned based on your career, your success at Google, and what’s ahead?
Interviewing for a job, you get really caught up in wanting to be accepted, and I think this happens to women probably more than men. But I think early on in my career I should have thought more about, “Do I want this job?” You spend all your time and energy getting the job, and once you have it, you realize you hadn’t thought about why you really want it, whether you want to work for this particular person, in this particular environment, what can you learn from them, and if that’s a good thing.
I think who you work for and who you work with is almost more important than what your job actually is day-to-day.
Before joining The Muse, Sarah worked in social business innovation for Virgin Unite in London, strategy and innovation at Market Gravity, sustainability research in the Dominican Republic, and business development for a NYC startup. Wrapping up her time at Columbia University, she’s headed to McKinsey & Company after graduation. Say hi on Twitter @sarahlichang.More from this Author