Mark Jen's first day as a Google employee, Jan. 17, also marked the debut of his "Ninetyninezeros" blog, which he intended would serve as a personal journal of his experiences as a Google employee. Little did he know at the time that his tenure at Google would be quite brief.
In the next week, Jen, an associate product manager in Google's AdSense advertising unit, praised and criticized his new employer in a candid way about a variety of topics, such as the intranet, his work laptop, a sales conference and compensation.
The blog (http://99zeros.blogspot.com), which Jen naively thought would mainly interest his friends and family, became extremely popular. (Its single-day record is about 60,000 unique visitors.) This was a far cry from Jen's previous technically-oriented blog, which he published while working for 18 months at Microsoft Corp.'s Redmond, Washington, headquarters before moving to San Francisco to join Google. He quickly found out there is a large audience in the so-called blogosphere interested in a view of life inside Google.
It turned out his superiors at Google, which ironically owns the popular Blogger service, also read Ninetyninezeros. On Jan. 26, Jen disclosed in his blog that he had been asked to remove some information from prior postings that Google considered to be sensitive information about the company's finances and products. Then he went over a week without posting. Rumors abounded among tech industry bloggers over Jen's fate. On Feb. 9 Jen finally disclosed that Google had fired him on Jan. 28. -- eleven days after starting on the job -- and that this blog had "either directly or indirectly" been the reason. If the blog was the cause -- Jen says Google gave him no explanation for firing him -- he joins a growing list of employees who have lost their jobs because of things they have written in their blogs.
Jen, a Michigan native who graduated from the University of Michigan in 2003 with a bachelor's degree in computer engineering, is currently trying to move on and find a new job. Google declines to talk about Jen other than to confirm he was an employee there. But in this exclusive interview with IDG News Service, Jen, who is soft-spoken and courteous, chuckles often and doesn't sound bitter, shares the lessons he learned from his experience as Google's most notorious blogger, the mistakes he made and his future plans.
IDGNS: Are there any lessons you learned that you can share with others who may be in a similar position of blogging about work in their personal blogs?
Mark Jen: I've learned quite a few lessons from this entire episode. First of all, I learned that blogging is a public forum and ideas you express are going to be read by more people than you think. That's a crucial lesson. Another lesson is to clear up with your employer before you blog what exactly (it considers) acceptable and unacceptable. Make sure they have a definitive policy, or talk with your manager at length about what is and isn't okay. Also, you have to be sensitive to your corporate culture and that was one of my biggest mistakes. I hadn't really gotten a good feel for how Google operated at the time. Now I look back and realize I should have been a little bit more sensitive on that front. Those are the big lessons I learned and I'll be moving on with that knowledge.
IDGNS: Would you be willing to blog about your work experiences at your next job?