Why I Left Google?

  • Safia Ali

When the pandemic hit in 2020, I was living in San Francisco working as Head of Product Design for Emerging Verticals at Google – the most coveted place to be with the smartest people in the world and with legendary office culture & campuses.

I left Google after working there for three years and the one question that I get everywhere I go and whoever I meet is ‘Why did you leave Google?!’. I felt this would be the perfect place to pen down my story and answer this question once and for all (who am I kidding, I’m in Pakistan now, it won’t stop!)

Making life easier through beautiful and functional products for a country of 225 million is a goal my heart & head align on.

There were several reasons and I won’t lie, the main trigger was a change in my personal situation but let’s leave it at that and I’ll walk you through the journey of how I ended up moving back to Pakistan.

COVID-19: Finding creative outlets during COVID shutdown

This is stating the obvious but COVID changed life as we knew it. Due to the pandemic, I was working from home in San Francisco and like most was cut off from my social networks. I saw a lot of co-workers moving back home to be closer to their families. It made me think it would have been nice if I also had a home in Lahore, to be closer to family and childhood friends.

Life in the US was more appealing because of social events and trips worldwide. Spending time on the Google campus and enjoying long walks at Crissy Field, made it hard to think of a lifestyle other than this. But COVID changed all that. A charming life turned mundane with longer working hours and more time spent talking on the phone with friends and family around the world.

People were taking up baking, and learning to speak different languages, and I thought interior/architecture would be a good outlet. With work from home getting extended every month, and a daily commute of two hours no longer on my schedule, I decided to work on building a home in Pakistan to channel my creativity.

Rediscovering my roots

Making a place in Pakistan while sitting in California was a wonderful challenge that kept my mind active & energized. Choosing finishes, and floorplans, and visualizing the place that was going to be my second home, was a respite from the monotonous COVID life in the U.S. Once my house was almost done, I thought I’d work from Pakistan to be closer to friends and family. Google allowed everyone to work from anywhere in the world and with a very understanding leadership team (thank you, Doug, Rhi & Kim) and a home now ready to be lived in, I decided to come to Lahore, Pakistan until Google reopened.

I had not spent more than two weeks in the last two decades in Pakistan. When I did visit, it would be an intense trip packed with family & friends. With my extended stay, the upside was the time I got to spend with my family, however, the downside became the time difference, which forced me to spend my nights working.

Around this time I met Tania and Mo Aidrus.

Meeting X-Googlers in Islamabad

Their vision of driving change on a national level resonated with me.

Tania Aidrus was an X-Googler – brilliant & full of passion for uplifting Pakistan. Mo Aidrus had an infectious energy to drive change in Pakistan through digitization, had left Accenture, and returned to Pakistan. Their vision of driving change on a national level resonated with me. After some deep conversations over chai in Islamabad in their drawing room, I was sold. Their vision of making life easier for a nation through digitization & technology, working for your own country, in local regional languages, made me evaluate what I would like the next decade of my life to be.

During COVID, people were rethinking their priorities, moving closer to parents, siblings, places they once called home. Even though I had already lost my parents & a brother, the idea of giving back to my country while watching my young niece and nephew grow up sounded quite appealing. At this point, I had spent 22 years in California and traveled to every place I had imagined as a child.

Taking the Leap

I felt that the next decade of my life should be about giving back to my country.

There was a time in my life that was all about me – my NCA days, going to San Francisco to study, finding a job, getting that first car, moving into my first apartment, and taking trips to places like Iceland & Kyoto. Then there was a period when it was about taking care of family. Having pursued both my passion for travel and desire to work at some of the top companies in the world, like OracleeBay, and Intuit, and seeing that everyone around me, including myself, was in a good place, I felt that the next decade of my life should be about giving back to my country.

I took the leap and resigned from Google in February 2022 while sitting here in Pakistan, a decision that friends & family thought was insane but my heart said was right. Making life easier through beautiful and functional products for a country of 225 million is a goal my heart & head align on. Will I be able to influence how people bank in emerging countries, find jobs & connect with their spiritual side? Only time will tell but so far I am proud of the progress I have made at Rayn Studios.

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