A former Google exec explains why it's more important than ever for employees to take control of their careers


  • After 10 years at Google, Hiam Sakakini decided to go out on her own.
  • While it was “terrifying” at first, she says it was “the smartest decision I’ve made for the times we are in”.
  • She says employees need to start taking control of their careers as the writing is on the wall for large companies facing automation and globalisation.

As a veteran of an organisation that has literally changed the world by democratising information, and that infiltrates your every cell with a new way of thinking and behaving, I can tell you that leaving Google felt terrifying.

The culture of this company made you fall madly in love with going to work every day. For me, it was a sense of collaboration, camaraderie, exploration, experimentation, fun and accomplishment. Doing “shit that matters” kept me in this wonderful place for 10 years. A fifth of my working life was gone in what felt like nanoseconds.

The pace was fast and at times, frantic. The risks were always big and scary. Some paid off and some didn’t but the learnings from each failure (think Google Wave, Glass, Buzz, Google+), were immense. This company was almost proud of its failures as each one led them faster to a success story.

Sometimes, I could tell when people stayed too long. Always talking about the good old days, the way things were. Much like a couple whose relationship had gone stale: you find yourself looking back and rarely looking forward. And just like an imbalanced couple where one feels they have to stay because the alternatives look too scary and uncertain, similar thoughts floated into my mind before leaving. Could I make it on my own without the comfortable salary, the great benefits, the luxurious work surroundings?

So with that, we see an eventual and inevitable parting of ways. Although that happened over two years ago for me, I still look back on that time of transition as one of the scariest times of my life. There were literally heart-stopping moments of pure panic. Not just at the thought of losing the creature comforts and the great friendships I’d made but also at the thought of not finding a work experience to match it.

SuppliedHiam Sakakini

So why am I writing this? Well, this is for those in a similar position. Maybe thinking about leaving a long-term, well-paid career. Maybe that illusive promotion in your linear career is not as appealing as it used to be. Maybe you’ve hit a work anniversary and are thinking about leaving. Maybe you’re frequently thinking about starting up your own business doing what you do in-house but as a consultant for other organisations, and are wondering if you can make it on your own.

Well, I can’t tell you definitely, yes you can, or no you can’t. As the old Henry Ford saying goes, “if you think you can or think you can’t, you are right”. But I can tell you that starting my own business was in fact the smartest decision I’ve made for the times we are in.

The writing is on the wall in terms of large scale layoffs happening right now due to new models of working, the effects of automation and the globalisation of the workforce. An executive assistant can be replaced by a virtual assistant at a fraction of the cost. A website designer can either be hired for very little on Upwork or an online website-builder makes it easy for a five-year-old to build a website these days. The effects of automation on the jobs market in Australia means five million jobs will be automated in 2025 in Australia — that’s 40% of jobs. It will change the very fabric of how we live and the full-time permanent roles will be very few and far between.

So what does that mean? It means that at some point in your career, you will need to think about how you will commoditise your valuable knowledge, expertise and skills in the free market. In other words, become a freelancer. You will need to learn the art and science not only of consulting, but pricing, packaging and selling your services, building a client portfolio, navigating tax, contracts and employment laws. Take a deep breath now and build your own website, create your first marketing funnel, develop social media campaigns, and, the list goes on.

The sooner you start doing this, the better. In fact, if you can start doing this alongside your full-time work, you’re smarter than most.

Full-time employment will soon become a rarity and soon, you will develop a portfolio of work that will add to a fulfilling career where you can choose your own projects, design your work day around your needs, align and collaborate with interesting people with complementary skills to yours. It’s exciting and terrifying all at the same time, but the time is right to jump in.

If you are hesitant to make that leap just yet, a good step would be to focus on future-facing transferable skills that can support any move you decide to make in the future. Foundation of Young Australians points to Enterprise skills around digital literacy, creativity, critical thinking and presentation skills being the most important to focus on.

Some options to get you upskilled fast in these areas are the Zambesi suite of practical programs and The Greater Collective leadership program that I have co-created taking the best of my knowledge from Google on what it takes to build world-class leaders.

Your future is in your hands — not your employers. So take control and take ownership today.

Hiam Sakakini is an expert navigator of change who built stellar leadership teams during her 14+ years of working for Fortune 500 companies and most recently, during her 10 years at Google. This is where she built internal business units and later, shifted into the heart of the People & Culture strategy team.

Taking that experience, Hiam has co-founded a People & Culture consulting practice, ThinkChangeGrow and regularly speaks and writes on topics around Women in Business, How to Motivate Millennials and The Future of Work.

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