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William Chan
Works at Google
Attended Stanford University
Lives in San Francisco
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William Chan

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After 9 years, I’m leaving Google. Today is my last day.

It’s hard to leave a place that you’ve been at for so long. People love to talk about the perks but really, it’s the people that have kept me at Google so long and it’s the people that I’m going to miss dearly.

So…if I'm going to miss it so bad, why in the world am I leaving?

My friend Roy Chan​ and I used to argue for hours about the role of idealists in the world. He’d try to convince me that change was driven by idealists and I’d tell him safe/sure paths were better…well today I’m going to admit defeat and make the choice of an idealist. I’m joining the US Digital Service working at Veterans Affairs in Seattle tackling electronic medical records.

Why? Because information technology is our generation’s steam engine…getting “digital services” right can make or break an organization (like our government). Because, momentum for change is building and we are at an inflection point for how government uses technology over the next decade. Because veterans and healthcare matter. Because if we citizens keep walking away from the hard problems, choosing instead to just criticize from a distance, things do not get better.

Is this going to be hard? Yes.
Will there be bureaucracy and all the other things that us techies hate? Absolutely.
Will there be legacy software to deal with? Like you couldn’t imagine.
Where is the hope then? The hope is in the people.

I’ve been working with USDS + various agencies intermittently for the last 1/2 year and can confidently say that despite the stereotypes + prejudice leveled against government workers, there are actually very good people in USDS (HQ, 18F, etc) as well as the rest of government. And when I say “very good,” I mean USDS has the highest concentration of talent + passion that I have ever had the pleasure of working with.

So with that, bye bye Google. Hello USDS and hello VA.  First target is a point-of-care web application built using a node.js stack. We’re looking for 5-7 people in Seattle. If you know anyone who has the skills and would find this intriguing, I’m interested in talking to them.

https://www.whitehouse.gov/digital/united-states-digital-service
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William Chan

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The need for effective government services is rising, while confidence in our ability to deliver them is dropping. More than ever, day-to-day interactions with government are powered by digital systems, and yet far too many Federal IT projects arrive late or over budget. Others are simply abandoned. These failures are often felt by those who count on it most — working class Americans and people who turn to government in a moment of need. The U.S...
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William Chan

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"Thanks to the ACA, my cousin was able to get affordable insurance despite her preexisting condition. So grateful."
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William Chan

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Leader of U.S. Digital Service tells SXSW how he got roped into driving a new movement of technology in government…and h…
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Staged photo :) I'm barely ever actually at HQ. I'm almost always at an agency.
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William Chan

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After nearly 7 years as CFO, I will be retiring from Google to spend more time with my family.  Yeah, I know you've heard that line before.  We give a lot to our jobs.  I certainly did.  And while I am not looking for sympathy, I want to share my thought process because so many people struggle to strike the right balance between work and personal life.

This story starts last fall. A very early morning last September, after a whole night of climbing, looking at the sunrise on top of Africa - Mt Kilimanjaro. Tamar (my wife) and I were not only enjoying the summit, but on such a clear day, we could see in the distance, the vast plain of the Serengeti at our feet, and with it the calling of all the potential adventures Africa has to offer. (see exhibit #1 - Tamar and I on Kili).

And Tamar out of the blue said "Hey, why don't we just keep on going". Let's explore Africa, and then turn east to make our way to India, it's just next door, and we're here already. Then, we keep going; the Himalayas, Everest, go to Bali, the Great Barrier Reef... Antarctica, let's go see Antarctica!?" Little did she know, she was tempting fate.

I remember telling Tamar a typical prudent CFO type response- I would love to keep going, but we have to go back. It's not time yet, There is still so much to do at Google, with my career, so many people counting on me/us - Boards, Non Profits, etc

But then she asked the killer question: So when is it going to be time? Our time? My time? The questions just hung there in the cold morning African air. 

A few weeks later, I was happy back at work, but could not shake away THE question: When is it time for us to just keep going? And so began a reflection on my/our life. Through numerous hours of cycling last fall (my introvert happy place) I concluded on a few simple and self-evident truths:

First, The kids are gone.  Two are in college, one graduated and in a start-up in Africa. Beautiful young adults we are very proud of. Tamar honestly deserves most of the credit here. She has done a marvelous job. Simply marvelous. But the reality is that for Tamar and I, there will be no more Cheerios encrusted minivan, night watch because of ear infections, ice hockey rinks at 6:00am. Nobody is waiting for us/needing us. 

Second, I am completing this summer 25-30 years of nearly non-stop work (depending on how you wish to cut the data). And being member of FWIO, the noble Fraternity of Worldwide Insecure Over-achievers, it has been a whirlwind of truly amazing experiences. But as I count it now, it has also been a frenetic pace for about 1500 weeks now. Always on - even when I was not supposed to be. Especially when I was not supposed to be. And am guilty as charged - I love my job (still do), my colleagues, my friends, the opportunities to lead and change the world.

Third, this summer, Tamar and I will be celebrating our 25th anniversary. When our kids are asked by their friends about the success of the longevity of our marriage, they simply joke that Tamar and I have spent so little time together that "it's really too early to tell" if our marriage will in fact succeed. 
If they could only know how many great memories we already have together. How many will you say? How long do you have? But one thing is for sure, I want more. And she deserves more. Lots more.

Allow me to spare you the rest of the truths. But the short answer is simply that I could not find a good argument to tell Tamar we should wait any longer for us to grab our backpacks and hit the road - celebrate our last 25 years together by turning the page and enjoy a perfectly fine mid life crisis full of bliss and beauty, and leave the door open to serendipity for our next leadership opportunities, once our long list of travels and adventures is exhausted.

Working at Google is a privilege, nothing less. I have worked with the best of the best, and know that I am leaving Google in great hands. I have made so many friends at Google it's not funny. Larry, Sergey, Eric, thank you for friendship. I am forever grateful for letting me be me, for your trust, your warmth, your support, and for so much laughter through good and not so good times.

To be clear, I am still here. I wish to transition over the coming months but only after we have found a new Googley CFO and help him/her through an orderly transition, which will take some time. 

In the end, life is wonderful, but nonetheless a series of trade offs, especially between business/professional endeavours and family/community. And thankfully, I feel I’m at a point in my life where I no longer have to have to make such tough choices anymore. And for that I am truly grateful. Carpe Diem.


Patrick
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+William Chan, you started your retirement much earlier than Patrick!
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William Chan

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"In short, we are spending thousands of dollars worth of water to grow hundreds of dollars worth of almonds and that is truly nuts."
One of the most remarkable discoveries of economics is that under the right conditions competitive markets allocate production across firms in just that way that minimizes the total costs of production. (You can find a discussion of this remarkable property […]
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Someone made a good point in the comments of the original post: even more of CA's water goes to alfalfa crops to feed beef and dairy cattle. Not too say that the explosion in almond cultivation isn't a problem, just that cattle feed is a larger, even less efficient allocation of CA's water we're already acclimated to.
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Apple CEO Tim Cook is going to give away his entire fortune multi-million dollar fortune to charitable causes.
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Oh. My.
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In his circles
247 people
Have him in circles
1,465 people
Saurabh Anand's profile photo
Mimi Ji's profile photo
Duoyi Wu's profile photo
柳谷秀樹's profile photo
Ali Qamar's profile photo
lin he's profile photo
Algelia William's profile photo
ミナヨリトモ's profile photo
Martin Rose's profile photo
Work
Occupation
Geek
Employment
  • Google
    Geek, 2006 - present
Places
Map of the places this user has livedMap of the places this user has livedMap of the places this user has lived
Currently
San Francisco
Previously
Kampala - Huntington Beach - Kyoto - Tokyo - Beijing - Seville - Stanford - Yangshuo - Riyadh - Houston
Contact Information
Work
Email
Story
Tagline
Emperor penguin traveling incognito as a computer geek
Introduction
This is not the William Chan you're looking for. --Obi-Wan Kenobi

This William Chan works on the Chromium browser, primarily on its network stack and core APIs. He spends all day doing code reviews and answering emails asking why he hasn't done people's code reviews yet, the answer to which usually is that he's busy conducting quality control checks on the chrome-sf bar. He is very anal about APIs and strongly believes the bike shed should be pink.
Bragging rights
I have a scar from a sea lion bite, although I'm not sure I should brag about it.
Education
  • Stanford University
    Computer Science, 2000 - 2005
Basic Information
Gender
Male
Other names
陳智昌
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Public - 11 months ago
reviewed 11 months ago
Best dim sum in the bay area, bar none. The problem is that every other Cantonese person in the bay area knows it and will line up right at opening time in order to get a table. Pretty impossible to get a table on the weekend and difficult, but doable, during the week.
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The view from the top is amazing! One of those hidden SF gems.
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114 reviews
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I love the classes at Athletic Playground. They usually leave me feeling absolutely destroyed, in a good way. All the instructors have been great, and if I am around the bay area on the weekend without any specific plans, my default is to take a class at Athletic Playground.
Appeal: ExcellentFacilities: ExcellentService: Excellent
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