This interview is with Amrit Dhir, Partner Development Manager at Google.
- Emory undergrad
- Maastricht University masters
- Harvard Law School
- Google (Business Development)
Q. Tell us about your background.
A. I’m 30 years old now. I did my bachelor’s in international studies at Emory University, graduated in 2006. Then I moved back to Los Angeles, which is where I’m from, to be a rock star. And that’s not really a joke. And I failed at that.
And then, I did a number of random jobs. I worked for an acting school, which was one of my least fulfilling jobs ever. I worked for two summers in Vienna for an Emory study abroad program. And it was actually in those summers where I developed a taste for international living and working.
And so, a year after graduating, I moved back to Vienna, worked again, and then moved to The Netherlands to do a master’s. And this time it was a master’s in media culture. While I was there, I also had a couple of different jobs. I was working as a journalist of sorts, and I was also working for the university in their India initiative, which was a way to get me to my next plan, which was to go to India.
I was in India for two years. I volunteered through a fellowship called Indicorps for the first year, and then I worked for that Dutch university, Maastricht University, the second year. And the backdrop of all this was that I had gotten into law school and had deferred two years to live in India.
So, after those two years, I moved to Boston and started at Harvard Law School. I was there for three years and was working at Google, which I’ll tell you more about, for the last two years of that time. I graduated 2013, and since then – after a long romance – I’ve finally been full-time at Google for about a year now.
Q. How has your career path unfolded and taken you to your current role at Google? What were the thought processes you went through at those key moments from the rock star gig, to acting school, to abroad, and ultimately Google?
A. That’s a good question. And it’s not one that I always give the same answer to. It speaks to the complexity of the decisions, as well of our attempt to actually understand our own decisions.
One thing for me is that I just follow what I’m excited about. And so, in the beginning, music had a big part of that, and international living and experiences and learning. Two driving factors for me are curiosity and adventure. And maybe they’re the same thing.
But I never made a five-year plan. I just follow what feels right. It’s usually something that’s pretty different than what came before, and it’s also usually something that involves some uncertainty and ambiguity.
Q. So you graduated from college and the first thing you did was to go be a rock star. What was that about?
A. Well, a lot of what I’m going to say is different from how I would answer this question five years ago. Because, when we look back, we pick the things that speak out to us and the things that also seem consistent and so we lose a lot of the rough edges and in that the truth.
But this is what I think is the truth. Music has always been a big influence for me and a big passion for me. That’s part of growing up in LA, being starry-eyed like that. I had written my own music. I was never fantastic in any instrument – not guitar – but I played a couple of different instruments, and I also enjoyed composing. And so it was about wanting to be creative.
I graduated from Emory, and then I worked in Vienna for three months and I came back home in September. I started just writing more music and reaching out to bands on Craigslist and trying out to be their lead singer, and failing over and over again.
At the same time, I was also looking for something to pay the bills. And that’s how I ended up at the acting school job.
Q. What was that job?
A. It was terrible. I probably should not name the place, but I was the assistant director of admissions for this acting school.
I would do a number of things. One was going to high schools in the Greater Los Angeles Area and standing right beside the Army, the Marines, and the Navy, and convince high school students they shouldn’t go to college but they should go to acting school, which I had mixed feelings about.
Q. Is this one of those Los Angeles-specific things?
A. I don’t think this job exists anywhere else. It was a bad job for me.
What I ended doing basically nine hours a day was a lot of fantasy basketball – I think I did really well that year with my various leagues – and applying to this master’s program in the Netherlands and applying for a scholarship, which I don’t think I would have gotten had I not had all this time to review my essays and everything else while at work. I haven’t had a job like that since.
Q. So, after you graduated, you tried to break into the music industry but you worked in the acting school. That was the first year out of college, and then the next year you went to get your master’s?
A. Exactly. My boss and also really good friend, Peter, who had been working on this Emory study abroad program, which is only in the summers, asked me to come back the next summer.
So, the summer after I graduated, I worked for him. And he said, “Come back next summer.” I said, “You know, Peter, I might be touring the world with my rock band.” And all of this is a little bit tongue-in-cheek. “Can I let you know by February?” And then, come February, I was like, “I’m working at this acting school.”
Q. So you did the acting school thing for a while and then you packed your bags and went off to the Netherlands for the master’s program. And that was a year-long program?
A. Yup, that’s right. It was technically 12 months, but it was broken down so that the first four or five months were coursework and the next semester was actually your choice of an internship, a group project, or a master’s thesis. And I ended up doing a combination of the first two.
I started a website called ComProsers, which again speaks to my music interest. And this was about the intersection of music and literature. Basically, I published a short story written by an aspiring author, who is now no longer aspiring but an awesome author, and I published it on what was then the internet of 2007 or 2008. And then, I had musicians submit pieces of music that were influenced in some way by that short story. And we ended up having, I think, 23 submissions from five different countries and had a winner.
But the point of that was this interplay between music and literature, but also between old media and new media. It was a website, and it was people composing their own music and recording online, but it was largely publicized through offline means.
Q. Was there time between the master’s and law school, or did you go straight?
A. I moved to the Netherlands and started applying for law schools then. I think I got everything in before the end of October and then did the rest of my master’s.
When I got in and chose to go to Harvard, I asked for a deferral, because I knew – and I actually knew this before I even applied – that I wanted to go to India.
Long story short there: my parents were born in East Africa; I was born in Los Angeles. We have very little family in India, and I never met them until I moved to India. Most of my family is in London, LA, and Vancouver.
I knew I wanted to move to India for a variety of reasons, and I knew I wanted to do some sort of service work. I found this wonderful organization called Indicorps and applied for that at the same time as applying for law school – actually a little bit later, the same year – and deferred law school for that reason. Then off to Delhi.
I went from Maastricht, a city of 200,000 people, to a city with a hundred times as many people, which is crazy. And then, I spent two years in India.
Q. What city where you in in India?
A. I was in Delhi, but there was travel both to various workshops throughout the country as well as to villages in the north, in the Himalayas, where a lot of my students either had grown up or their families had come from. Their “native villages” as they would say. I spent a bit of time up there as well, but mostly I was in Delhi.
Q. What was the nature of the work you were doing with Indicorps and what are they about?
A. Indicorps is an amazing organization to bring people to India to do service work for a year, and it’s very focused on being grassroots-oriented and on Gandhian values like simple living. We live in our communities. Small details: it’s a stipend of 2,000 rupees a month, which is about $40 a month. But that only speaks to one component of it, which is basically about living very simply and practicing what you preach.
So, Indicorps is the fellowship organization, but the NGO I was working with is called Manzil, which is a youth empowerment and learning center in Delhi working with youth from lower income backgrounds and giving all sorts of classes like English, math, computers – things that are very practical – but also music, and painting, and theater.
So I was mostly spending my time with Manzil, and my role there was more than just volunteering. I was teaching English, but I was there to help transition the organization from a model where it was reliant on the founders, the founding family of three, to one that was sustainable beyond their departure – they were planning to move to the mountains – so that it could be run by its students and former students, so that the NGO could run itself even without the founding family being there. And that’s what I did for that year.
Q. You worked two years in India?
A. Yup. And the second year, I was working for Maastricht University to set up an office in Bangalore. So I was actually living in Bangalore for a year, but also traveling a bit.
Q. You were setting up a development office or a student recruitment office?
A. We were setting up a branch of what would be Maastricht University’s India Institute. The university had decided many years before that India was a big strategic initiative for them much more than any other country actually outside the Netherlands or EU.
I had gotten involved in this when I was a student there. Actually, in large part knowing that I wanted to go to India and trying to find a way to get there, I found my way through the university where they were planning this initiative.
The Bangalore office was set up for a number of things. I guess the two most important are partnerships with other Indian universities so there’s research collaboration, and recruiting.
Initially, we were focused on master’s and PhD students from India to the Netherlands. India, as you can imagine, has an enormous number of students. And it’s difficult to have all those students finding all the opportunities and needs and collaboration all in one place.
The idea was not to encourage brain drain but to encourage what we called brain circulation. So, having Indian students come to Netherlands and learn about that culture, economy, and academic environment, and bringing those back to India or other parts of the world.
So, yeah, I would say partnerships and recruiting, but a special kind of recruiting.
Q. So then you go to law school at Harvard. You spent three years there and then you joined Google straight away. How did you get connected into them in the first place and how did you actually turn that into a job opportunity?
A. That’s a big question with a very big answer. The skeleton of it is that I was very lucky to get a legal internship first.
In my first year of law school, as most first years tend to do after December, I was looking for jobs, and I knew I wanted to be in the Bay Area. I thought I was interested in working with a technology company or startup. Or, in a completely different bucket, I thought I might be working internationally and doing public interest work — stuff that makes the world a better place.
I got a legal internship with Google with a team called Global Ethics and Compliance. I ended up doing an internship with them for two months. Loved that team and still love them, but I found another team that was doing work that I was interested in longer term. And that was called, at the time, New Business Development. And I managed and finagled my way over. Finagle, I think, has negative connotations, but I nicely found my way over to that team.
And through a lot of luck and just good people advocating for me, I was able to secure an arrangement where I was working part-time during the school year in the Boston office, which they call the Cambridge office, and then full-time in the summer in Mountain View.
And that was the arrangement up until last August when I started full-time on what the New Business Development team became, which is Product Partnerships.
Q. The first internship that you had with the legal department, did they come on campus or did you reach out and find them?
A. They get over a thousand applicants for this legal internship position of which, I believe, there are 11 or 14 actual interns. So it was a complete shot in the dark. There’s a form you fill out on the Google job site that goes live, I think, December 1. And there’s a couple of buckets. One is the MBA internship of which there are many more positions. At the time, I think there was 150 MBAs. But we’re all grouped together.
Some people actually called up the MBA program, and the JDs just kind of tagged along. My year, there were around 150 MBA interns and 11 JD interns. And the MBA interns are working for conversion, they’re working for jobs, and they are optimistic about getting a job at Google after they finish business school. The JD interns were all first year summers, which means they have two more years of law school. And we were told pretty directly at the beginning, “There’s no way you’re going to start here after law school.”
Q. It sounds like you applied to them; they didn’t come to Harvard Law School to recruit.
A. No. They do go to MBA programs to recruit. They go to Harvard Business School. But they don’t go to Harvard Law School.
Q. So you just went on to the website at Google.com and then applied for a job there?
A. Yup. But first – and this is important for everyone who might be trying to figure out their own careers – first I tried to find everyone I could who worked at Google and talked to them first before I filled out any form. And that’s the way you should do it.
Q. For referrals or to understand what it’s like to work at Google? Or both?
A. I didn’t know what the internal referral process was like. It ended up being to my advantage that I did it before I filled out the form. But I was just trying to get information and learn how Google is organized, how these internship programs work, and then also how legal is organized.
I ended up talking to at least five or six people – at least two of which were in legal – that I had an indirect connection to. You know, you talk to someone and they say, “Oh, you should talk to Person X. He’s in legal and he could tell you about how that organization is structured.” So I did that first.
Q. So it’s actually doing informational interviews with people, but it sounds like you ended up getting a referral before you even applied. Is that right?
A. That’s right. And Google has a policy where if a Googler refers someone and they end up coming to Google as a full-time employee, then they get a kickback, some amount of money. If two Googlers refer you, then they share the same pot of money.
Because my process had been so long – I was referred back in 2010 and then I actually started as a full-time employee in 2013 – one of my referrers said, “Hey, I only got half the money I was supposed to get.” I said, “I must have had another referrer.” So I ended up having two, but I know I talked with many more than that.
So, yeah. For my end, it was more informational, and it ended up being referrals as well.
Q. It sounds like that really helped you stand out from the crowd among the thousand plus people who applied for this internship.
A. Yeah. For me, it speaks to just curiosity. I know people who work there, so why wouldn’t I want to know how things are organized? But also, from a career standpoint – I’m sure all the books on networking and career say this – it’s amazing how much an actual interpersonal interaction matters. Resumes only say so much; cover letters say a lot less.
Q. Why does Google even have this program if it’s not designed to be a recruiting funnel?
A. I should say that I’m not a Google spokesperson and I do not know the exact reasons, but I can tell you as a former law student why it make sense.
As a law student, your second year internship or associateship is really the one that is set up to be where you will work when you graduate. Most people who go to work for a law firm will have “summered” at that law firm in the summer after the second year. That keeps your first year summer open to do something else.
And one of the pieces of advice I had been given early on as a law student and that I give to other law students is, if you’re not sure that you want to work for a law firm, don’t work for a law firm your first summer. I think that’s really good advice. If you do know, if you love litigation or whatever, go do it. But if you’re not sure, it’s good that you do something else.
I think Google and I’m sure other employers who know that they cannot take law students straight out of law school – and for whatever those reasons may be – I think for most in-house positions for most companies, it’s that they want you to get the training that you get at a law firm for three to five years before you come in so they don’t train you themselves. Because being a lawyer, a lot of it is about learning on the job. Then it only makes sense to take someone as an intern in their first summer. Because if you take them in their second summer, you’re taking away an opportunity from them to work at a law firm, which could hurt them in the end, because they won’t have that offer in their hand at the end of the summer.
So, it’s more of a law student consideration than Google saying, “No, we want to make this difficult for you.”
Q. So the idea is you plant the seed so they think about Google three to five years down the road after they’ve had law firm experience?
A. Actually, what a Google lawyer told me at the time – again, it’s not the official line from Google – is: A) We have work to do. We could use the extra hands, so it’s great to have legal interns here. B) It’s great to have that relationship. Whether you end up at Google five years down the line or somewhere else, it’s good to have our students everywhere. And C) There’s a good experience component. The experience you get working in-house is unique. It’s different from working at a law firm, it’s different from non-legal work.
Q. You mentioned that you befriended some folks at the New Business Development group and then you found your way over to that group. How exactly did that happen?
A. First of all, I actually knew, going into law school, that I was not interested in being a lawyer for very long, if at all. That was reaffirmed in Week 2 of Civil Procedure when I realized I really did not want to be a litigator and probably didn’t want to be a lawyer. But I still enjoyed law school and I gained a lot from it.
And then, during my legal internship, my manager’s manager used to send out an email from the New Business Development group at Google that would lay out what everyone was working on.
At the time, New Business Development was a team of about 80 people all throughout the world in different Google offices, as well in some remote areas, working on all early stage projects across product areas. They’re kind of business ninjas in a way. They roll onto projects and roll off of them. We’d be involved where needed, and in some cases we’d be completely embedded in the team. So a very nimble group, and also incredibly exciting.
So I would get this email every week and just see all the things they were working on – encouraging entrepreneurship in Palestinian Territories, working on Maps APIs, or working on Chrome. I mean, across the board and just really interesting projects and working with really interesting partners. And I just thought that was cool.
Google has a pretty good internal database where you can find out who works on what team. I started looking at that very closely and tried to meet with people. And Google has been able to retain as a big company a very good culture of openness and transparency, but also just being welcoming, and people are happy to talk with you for coffee, lunch, or whatever.
Another thing that Google has is 20 percent projects. My manager in Ethics and Compliance, within legal, had been very encouraging of my taking on 20 percent projects. And this I did not just with New Business Development, but with other areas that I was interested in.
Coming from my music background, I thought I was interested in copyright. And so, I reached out to our chief copyright counsel, Fred von Lohmann, and did a project under him.
And, actually, one of the problems was that I’d reached out to so many people in my 20 percent projects for the first four weeks. Projects don’t come in right away, but there was one week – I think in my 7th week – where I had, I think, four or five 20 percent projects. I was basically like a 180 percent at my time with Google. I actually ended up spending 40 hours one weekend doing work, which is not Googley.
I remember my fellow intern who I lived with was like, “That’s not Googley. You should not be working.” But that was my fault, and it ended up being a good thing.
Q. How did the transition point actually happen?
A. So this is where it gets a little complicated. There’s a lot of details and I can’t say which one contributed the most, but it’s a combination of things: 1) reaching out to people and talking with them, 2) offering myself up for 20 percent projects, and 3) is almost certainly one of the most important, is just that I was lucky. The people that I talked to were awesome. Cathy Gordon and Megan Smith, senior Googlers who’d been here for a long time and in positions of leadership, were just willing to take a bet on me, which was amazing.
One thing that probably was influential is that I actually wrote a letter to HR and a number of people. I think Megan and Cathy may have been on that letter as well, where I informed them that I had talked to Harvard’s registrar, which I had, and looked into taking a leave of absence.
I wrote them an email in the context of a position that was open for someone with just a bachelor’s and three to four years of experience, saying, “I would take a leave of absence from Harvard, even indefinitely.” I was very careful about how I worded this, because I wanted to communicate that, basically, I’m willing to drop out of law school for this. “Because I love what your team does. I think it’s what I want to do, and it speaks to me. It’s exciting.”
And I should say that one of the things that I heard from people I talked to in this team was that the things that are important to the team are: being entrepreneurial, having international experience, and negotiation skills. And so I spoke to those three things in my letter. Luckily, I had international easy. Negotiation skills, it’s a little harder to talk about, but I talked about experiences that I had before. And entrepreneurial, I could talk about some of the crazy things I’ve done before both with Maastricht University as well as others.
So I think that letter was probably influential. I put myself out there. I remember that when I actually did secure the internship during the school year, one of my now colleagues came up to me, and she’s like, “Don’t drop out of law school. That would be a big mistake.” I think someone else said, “Let’s see if there’s a way you can have your cake and eat it too.” And that ended up working out.
Q. Just for the folks who are a little bit unfamiliar with Google’s Business Development or Product Partnership organization, what do you do in that role day to day?
A. New Business Development had since been rolled into the larger Product Partnerships org, but what I do today is very similar to what I used to do in NBD. And that is probably half business strategy. So, early stage business strategy. There’s a new product that’s being worked on, something new that’s being built, we would like to have a business mind look at it and contribute. So we’re a resource to teams that would like that kind of expertise or insight.
And then the other half, I would say, is partnerships, where it’s come to the point where we need to partner with third parties whether we’re licensing their data or having them offer their services over our platform. Whatever it maybe – there’s tons of these kinds of arrangements – we are the link between that external party, the product team internally, and legal internally as well. So we do both those things.
Q. What it’s like working at Google and what do you find most exciting about the job?
A. I love it. I love it all. I love the stuff that people don’t even like. I love looking at contracts and negotiating indemnities. But there’s also the sexier stuff.
I should specify, my team works with four different groups at Google. Research, which is a little bit different from other company’s research arms. Infrastructure, which is the data centers and all the kind of backend or all the really important stuff. Google autonomous units, which are wholly owned subsidiaries as well as just entities that are run separately from other product areas, because we want them to be run like a startup; we want them to be separate for other reasons. They’re also often in the category of early stage projects, things like, today, Google Fiber and Google Helpouts. Then Google X, which is Google’s moonshots lab, where things like the self-driving car and Google Glass have come out of.
One of the things that I really love about my job is that I’m learning about new industries, new products all of the time. And I have to get up to speed on these things often with really quick turnaround, but it’s exciting; it’s different every month. I’m usually on anywhere from two to five products at a time. It means a lot of juggling and time management and clear communication, but it also means you get to learn a lot and you’re not just doing one thing everyday.
Q. If you were to step back and look at your career overall, what’s the biggest learning you feel you’ve had in your career to date?
A. It might be different for each person, but what I know is true for me is that things have gone well for me when I am true to my curiosity and ambition. Meaning: one can come up with any number of reasons not to ask the question or not to reach out to person X, but put those aside. If you want to know the answer to something, if you’re curious about it, just go for it. And if you see something that you like and you think you’d be good at it and you think you want to do, try it. Even if you think you’d be bad at it, try it.
Again, I don’t want to downplay at all the role of luck, because I think I’ve been very lucky, and I think there are other contributing factors. One of which was that kind of thing is possible at Google; it’s possible for someone with a JD to go into the business org. But also, I can’t deny that I’ve been very fortunate about the people who have advocated for me and the opportunities that have just fallen, in some cases, in my lap. But when they don’t fall on your lap, go after them.
Q. It sounds like the more curious you are, the more you’ve gone after things, the luckier you’ve gotten.
A. Yeah, sure. There’s a whole camp of folks – I think my dad probably included – who believe you make your own luck. I don’t know. I don’t have the answers to that yet. That’s a deep philosophical question. It speaks to injustice and unfairness in the world, and if I would attempt to go to that route now, I would stumble.
Q. Or the harder you work, the more you’ve teed yourself up to catch opportunities.
A. Yeah, and that’s an extra good one. Another good one to put in there with ambition, curiosity, luck, is hard work.
Working part-time during law school is not a simple thing, I guess I should say. To be fair, it’s much simpler in second year and third year than it is in first year. I don’t think I should tell HR this, but technically I was working 10 hours a week. In reality, I was working 20 to 30 hours a week. I was spending a lot of time in the office, and I was also going to all my classes. Because, again, consistent with the curiosity piece, I hate missing class, especially in 2L and 3L. In 2L and 3L, you choose your own classes, and I only chose classes that I wanted to be in.
Q. Where do you see yourself going in the future career-wise?
A. I don’t know, but I’m not so worried about it. I love what I’m doing now. And as long as I’m loving it, I’m going to keep doing it. If you would ask me or many of the people who know me well, it’s that I would be at a large company. Five years ago, if you’d ask me that, I would have said, “No. I would be at a startup. I would be at some smaller company.”
But, first of all, Google’s not really a typical big company. It’s a tough thing to do, but I think it has done a good job retaining some of that startup feel. As well, I should be fair that some of the teams that I work with are kind of startups.
Where will I be? I can tell you that wherever I’ll be will still be true to the elements of curiosity, ambition, and creativity. There’s creativity in what I do today. And that’s an important piece.
And maybe international. That’s one thing that isn’t so much a component of my job today as it used to be. I could see that coming back, because I think, as many people who’ve lived abroad, you get the itch to be abroad again for the next adventure, to be speaking a language that’s not your own. I could see that coming and biting me hard.
Q. What advice do you have for other folks as they navigate their own careers?
A. I guess to wrap up all those things I was talking about – curiosity, ambition, hard work, and luck – don’t be afraid. I think that may be a good way to think about it. It just came to me now, by the way.
Don’t be afraid. Just go for it. If you see something interesting, go for it. If getting the job means you have to work your butt off for a number of years, go for it. Don’t be afraid.
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Tom Logsdon says
Fascinating adventure!!! I really admired your rousing account of it. You sure have made the best of all your many and varied opportunities for learning and advancement. Google is lucky to have such an enthusiastic and accomplished individual on their staff–someone who seems to be curious about everything that comes along…