Dan Grove on Finding Balance in the Technology Industry

Googler and CS Alumnus Dan GroveAfter 25 years in the technology industry, Dan Grove has learned how to find balance in his work as a software engineer. The Computer Science alumnus (BA ’92, MS ’93) has spent half of his career in startups like Napster, and half in well-established companies like Google.

“There is a kind of yin and yang to it,” he said. “I started off at big companies then spent about 12 years in startups. The upside – in startups, you get a ton of experience doing everything. The downside is, you get a ton of experience. You handle everything from sales calls to working with customers to making on-site visits. And those are all great skills to have and to bring to a big company.”

“Then I got to the point where I could leverage all my skills and take advantage of the scale and resources of a global company. Working at a large company now is fantastic. At Google, if I need to find someone who is a true world expert in almost any field, I have that capability. Those people work all around me.”

A tinkerer at heart, Grove looks forward to days when he can focus on problems his team hasn’t yet solved. “Things we’ve been noodling on for a while – I love digging into those kinds of problems,” he said.

As a teenager, Grove had become intrigued by the ability to solve problems by coding solutions. At the North Carolina School for Science and Mathematics, he started wondering if his interesting hobby might also be an interesting major and career.

“I went looking for universities with strong computer science departments that didn’t seem stuffy, and Rice felt like the best fit. Then I arrived at Rice, and met Keith and Linda. I hung out in their apartment a lot over the next couple of years – we got to be great friends.”

Keith Cooper and Linda Torczon lived in Brown College as residential associates, but they also worked in the computer science department — first as research assistants, then as faculty colleagues.

Grove said, “Keith and Linda were the common thread through my college and CS experience, and I stayed on to pursue my master’s under Linda’s direction. I still work in programming languages today. Their friendship also prompted my interest in compilers, and I was taking grad level courses in compilers while still an undergrad. All these years later, those things I worked on with Linda and Keith are still highly relevant to my career.”

Although he manages a team of 35-40 people, Grove prefers a casual approach rather than back-to-back meetings. He enjoys dropping in on team discussions, listening and contributing to conversations about design ideas and tradeoffs.

“Interacting with my team and helping them identify solutions is what I like best. I do have days where my calendar is packed with meetings, but that is not my favorite way to discuss ideas.”

Dan leads the Dart Language team at Google (https://www.dartlang.org). Dart is brand new programming language for building web and mobile applications. Dan still gets to work with his team’s compilers and virtual machines from time to time.

Grove said the extra year he spent working on his master’s before diving into industry gave him the added benefit of digging more deeply into the world of compilers.

That research perspective is one of the ways he has found balance between thinking about solutions and helping his team identify and develop them, so it is no surprise that he recommends current CS students consider graduate school.

“I know focusing on research in grad school seems to be an odd way to prepare for an industry moving at warp speed, but figure out if there is a way for you to embrace that opportunity and take advantage of it. I’m often surprised by the number of former grad school colleagues that I see working in industry, and especially at Google.”

Dan Grove completed his B.A. in CS in 1992 and his M.S. in CS in 1993.