In 2008, I had the unique opportunity to travel to India (twice) to complete a project for Google. In Spring of that year, my team’s manager announced a need to transition certain responsibilities to our colleagues in the Hyderabad office. All team members were encouraged to apply; my colleague, Julia, and I were chosen to share the responsibility. We assessed the current workflow, decided which tasks should be transferred abroad and over the course of two months, we created a comprehensive training plan and booked our tickets to India!
Julia flew to India in June to train the team and supervise the first month of work; I joined at the end of June to finalize processes to ensure a free-standing team capable of completing the work with a high level of quality. Though I returned to the US in mid-July, there were some issues that required a second trip to Hyderabad in November 2008.*
This second trip to India, lasting from mid-November until the end of the year, was interesting due to the events that occurred during this time. Two weeks into my trip, the massacre in Mumbai occurred: Pakistani terrorists slipped into India and kept the city under siege, killing civilians in an event that spanned a number of famous sites and lasted at least three days. The events started on Monday evening (11/26/08), yet interestingly, there was no news interruption on the Indian television channels (at least not the one I was watching). I woke up on Tuesday morning, logged into my email to do some work and received a number of frenzied emails; I turned on the news to witness, in real time, the horror of the events. A day or so later, all the expats were gathered together and told that while there was no indication of danger in Hyderabad, everyone was advised to be vigilant and make good, safe choices. In fact, the director’s exact words to us were: “Don’t do anything stupid.”
A few weeks later, around lunch time, guards appeared on each floor in the Google complex and indicated that there was an emergency in the building. We were told to gather our things and exit the building. Everyone seemed incredibly calm, including all of the managers posted throughout the building, so I thought we were having a drill. We evacuated the building and stood in the hot Indian sun for about an hour before being told that a bomb had been called in to the office and that “sanitization” was being conducted. The threat was found to be a hoax— but it certainly brought the reality of terrorism much too close to home.
Despite the various difficulties, I look back on this project as one of the highlights of my time at Google, perhaps even of my life. It was a chance to relocate, for a substantial period of time, to India, one of the most enchanting and hauntingly beautiful places I have ever visited. It was a tough assignment, requiring creativity, flexibility and perseverance. Julia and I tackled cultural discrepancies, trained and motivated teammates and met rigid project deadlines– all the while battling the dreaded “Indian stomach sickness” (and, in my case, the crazy side effects of anti-malaria medication.) It was a stressful and crazy but totally amazing period of my life and I am a different person for having had this incredible experience.
* Julia did not join me on this trip. For various reasons (safety, weather, health issues), India is a tough place to be. I would argue that most Google expats in India battled health issues related to ingesting contaminated water. While I returned from India having lost 10-15 lbs (weighing in at about 90 lbs at my worst), Julia had more serious health issues requiring a couple months of medical leave. As I was preparing to leave for India in November (dragging my feet a bit), she asked, “Are you sure you don’t want me to go instead?” I remember responding that I didn’t think she was actually allowed to go back to India for work-related reasons after her experience the last time.