I'm a 25-year-old Google software engineer who left California when COVID-19 started — and now I'm unsure if I'll ever go back

Google headquarters
Google employees were told in early March that they could work from home.
Justin Sullivan / Getty
When the coronavirus pandemic closed offices nationwide, many young professionals left their urban homes and moved to more rural areas of the country.
Ronald (not his real name) is a 25-year-old Google engineer who moved from his Santa Clara, California home to his parents' home in Maryland.
Working from home was nice, says Ronald, although he "hit his head" with his father and misses the benefits of free food, snacks, and gyms in the Google office.
Although he still pays rent in Santa Clara, Ronald says that if Google allows his employees to work from home indefinitely, he may not even be able to return to the west coast.
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As Jimmy Im, a freelance writer, tells. The subject of this article preferred not to use his real name.
Ronald (not his real name) is a 25-year-old software engineer at Google who recently left Google's Santa Clara County, California headquarters to move back in with his parents in Maryland. While Google set July 6 as the date on which certain employees can voluntarily return to the office in a gradual phase, the company gave the employees $ 1,000 each to continue working from home. Ronald decided not only to work from home, but to leave California for the summer to find out his next move.
Google employees were told they could be working from home in early March when the first coronavirus cases were discovered on the west coast of the United States - days before the World Health Organization named Covid-19 a pandemic on March 11.
Before March 11th we were under "volunteering from home" where you could work from home if you wanted. On March 11th, we were placed in the "recommended work from home" - all nonessential employees who work from home -. Santa Clara County, where my home and Google headquarters are located, issued an order for on-site accommodation on March 16, Gavin Newsom placed the first nationwide home stay order on March 20 in the United States. A few days later, the Google offices were closed to nonessential employees.
When the first protection on the spot was announced, I had little reaction because it was unclear how serious things would get or how long the ban would take. I don't think I really remembered how serious everything was until I went to the grocery store and couldn't find any paper products, detergents, or baked goods.
Related: 31 activities that keep you busy during quarantine
Ronald's job at Google was quite flexible even before the ban: he could work remotely if he wanted to, but the benefits at Google HQ were too tempting to miss.
I originally moved from Arlington, Virginia to Santa Clara, California in May 2019 to start my job as a software engineer in Site Reliability Engineering. One of my favorite advantages with Google was flexibility. Before the COVID 19 pandemic, I was able to set my own hours and work from different offices across the country or from home if necessary. It was also very nice to have dozens of cafeterias that serve free food daily, micro-kitchens with snacks, and several gyms and gyms in Google's headquarters. So when I was out of town I was usually in the office.
As a young, single man, Ronald was not as badly affected as his family colleagues, although he believes he has received COVID-19.
Some of my employees were pretty badly affected and had to reduce their work commitments while continuing to work depending on their circumstances.
For example, my technical manager continued to work, but canceled almost all of his meetings because he is now responsible for looking after and educating his young son. Others have used bank holidays or sick leave. The situation is slightly different for everyone.
The leadership at Google has been really good at mitigating expectations, and has only asked that we be open and honest with our managers when we need to take some time. For the most part, I think people have a good attitude about it, and everyone was pretty accommodating to each person's particular circumstances.
My roommate and I both got sick and tried to get tests at the beginning of the block, but there weren't that many tests available at the time and we were told we weren't eligible. It could definitely have been COVID-19. We both had a fever and cough and knew at that point that we were both directly or indirectly exposed to someone with the virus.
Lockdown took an emotional toll on Ronald, who weighed the chances of living in Santa Clara, especially when the Google headquarters was closed. He decided to take the opportunity to move home with his parents - although he still pays rent in Santa Clara.
I think the biggest feeling I had when the lock went on was isolation. I hadn't been to California in a year when it all started. I was very far from the rest of my family on the east coast and had not yet set up a large support system in California. It felt like any progress I had made towards making friends in the area would be erased as soon as things opened up again.
Since the sky-high rent and the convenience of the Google office are no longer available, life in the suburbs of Silicon Valley simply didn't make sense to me. As I sat around and thought, there was not much I was looking forward to in the Bay Area, even when things were open again. I think when I realized that, I started to doubt whether Silicon Valley was the right place for me to live, corona virus or not. My parents offered me accommodation if I wanted to get out of California for a while. I decided that since I wouldn't be back in the office before the end of the year, I might as well be in the family while figuring out the next steps.
I am still paying rent for my apartment. It's certainly not ideal, but breaking the lease was prohibitively expensive and it didn't seem feasible to move all my belongings across the country. It is annoying to pay for an apartment if I don't even use it, but my parents don't let me pay rent (yet) so the situation is not too different from what I was when I was there .
Flying home southwest on May 21 was the most nervous he'd been during the COVID-19 ban: the experience was "surreal".
I was definitely nervous about flying home. The experience at the airport was surreal. I was there in the middle of the day on a Thursday before a holiday weekend, and there were hardly any people and nothing was open. There were probably a maximum of 150 passengers at the airport. I cannot imagine that there were more than 200 people in total at the airport.
I flew from San Jose Airport to BWI (Baltimore / Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport) with a stopover in LAX (Los Angeles International Airport). LAX was the busiest of the three airports, but almost nothing was open and everyone wore face masks and practiced social distancing. There were only 30 to 40 people on the plane and everyone had their own row. I've never had a fight in an airplane for myself before, so stretching out over the seats was pretty great, but it's quite difficult to fall asleep with a face mask.
Face masks were required both at the airport and on the flight. Flight attendants wore both masks and gloves, but I saw no passengers wearing gloves. The only time I saw people take off their masks on the flight was when they were drinking or eating water, but they put them back on right after.
There was no in-flight drink or snack service and flight attendants only came in twice to collect garbage. That was the only interaction with them that I had.
Compared to California, the people of Baltimore were less serious about social distancing and face masks, which was disappointing
When I arrived at BWI, only about half of the people wore masks, the people were huddled together and hugged at the baggage claim. I was pretty disappointed, but I wasn't surprised. Maryland had a fairly weak COVID-19 response compared to California, so it wasn't too shocking to see people not taking it too seriously.
Ronald has more space in his parents' house than in his Santa Clara apartment, but it didn't feel quite like it, and he "hits his head with his father," who now works from home
The biggest positive thing about being at home is having more space. It is easier to draw a line between work and leisure when I can work, eat and sleep in all different rooms. Also, my parents just adopted two kittens and they are very cute.
The main disadvantage is that you don't feel completely at home. Although this was my home, I haven't lived here in a few years. Feeling good was something I didn't expect to be such a big adjustment.
My mother works in the medical field, so she still goes to work during the week. My father is a consultant and works from home, so most of my daily interactions are with him. We have always focused on things and this is no exception at the moment. We are currently debating when it is appropriate for our county in Maryland to reopen and why some businesses are important and others are not. Regardless, I think they're happy to have someone in the house.
Ronald is currently still working for Google, but is not sure where to live and where to build lasting roots. His decision will depend heavily on whether Google allows remote work indefinitely. Google currently allows this for the rest of the year.
I decided not to make a decision until July, but at some point I have to make a decision about what to do with my place in California. I left all my things there, so at some point I have to decide whether to extend my lease, find a new place in the Bay Area after the office reopens, or move entirely to another city. Some tech companies have the idea of ​​allowing remote work indefinitely, but nothing has been said to us yet.
I try not to make rash decisions, but moving to New York has been a dream of mine for a while, and if we can work remotely for a while, I could take this opportunity to change something.
Fortunately, my job is pretty good for working from home. I work a lot with googlers in London, so we were already used to holding video chat meetings, coordinating across time zones, and ensuring the general asynchrony of remote work.

Almost all Googlers are currently working from home. We still have a skeleton crew that keeps the lights on in our data centers, but otherwise everyone is at home. No fixed schedule has been set for when we can expect to return to the office, but they have pretty much given us the blessing to work remotely for the rest of the year, even if the offices are reopened beforehand.
Working from home was a move, and Ronald feels guilty for his lost productivity. He prefers to work in an office.
Working from home was difficult at first just because it blurred the lines between my work and my private life. I felt guilty of lost productivity and felt that I should work all the time because I had nothing else to do. I started to set a schedule for myself and blocked my work calendar to exercise, meditate and play video games with friends, which was very helpful. The other problem was that there was no dedicated work area. Before I returned to my parents' house, I didn't have a desk, so I worked on the kitchen counter, on the couch, or in my bed. It was definitely not good for my back or my productivity.
Personally, I prefer to work from an office and maximize personal communication so working from home was not that easy, but I think I'm much better prepared for it than most others because I haven't learned too much curve .
Ronald says that more "time and emotional range" was a silver lining during the pandemic.
If the pandemic had never happened, I would probably be on my couch in Santa Clara wondering what to do for dinner or plan my next vacation. I would definitely not think about big life choices like the city I will be living in September.
I think there is definitely a silver lining for me with the pandemic. Having the time and emotional range to evaluate my situation and think about what's important to me in life was something I didn't know I needed. This time to think was invaluable.
The best advice I can give to someone who is moving is to ask for help when you need it. Although it can feel overwhelming and we're all alone now, people are generally willing to help in every way possible. Whether this helps you get to the airport, take custody of your facilities, or find someone to take care of your lease, people will surprise you with their kindness.
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