A friend did point out that if I say "I'm considering all the options" rather than "I'd like to finish the process with a couple other companies," it might annoy them less.
A second Mountain View company has come into play very suddenly; call them MV #2. I had a quick sounding-out talk with a sysadmin and an engineer today, for both sides to see if we got along and which of two very different jobs I might be more interested in and better suited for: Big Data Software Engineer (SWE) or Site Reliability Engineer (SRE). The SRE job is supposed to be "half sysadmin [SA], half engineering," and since I don't really like SA work, I said I'd prefer to apply for the SWE job.
The sysadmin, the engineer, and the VP of Engineering (who I didn't meet but everyone says is awesome) all think I, or my skillset, would be a better fit for the SRE role. In some ways this isn't surprising: at Google, which seems to have originated the SRE idea, there are Software Engineer SREs (SWE-SRE) and Systems Administration SREs (SA-SRE). The SWE-SRE focuses on making things faster and more scalable, and the SA-SRE focuses on automation and monitoring. For both, the geek in question has to be good at working with complex systems on a broader scale than just a single project, and that sort of systemic understanding is one of the things I'm good at. Honestly, if you need someone to go heads-down on a software project, there are plenty of people who are better than me at the line-by-line process of writing code. My better talents are a bit fuzzier: working with larger systems of many moving parts, figuring out what's wrong or what might go wrong. My friend who referred me to the Palo Alto company said, "He fixes shit."
Anyway, I'll be talking to the VP to get some more details about what exactly he has in mind and why they think I'd be good for it.
I'm in for a second round with MV #1 on Friday: 5 hours, talking to 6 people, one of whom is in London, so I assume there's a phone call or a laptop involved or something. Then I think they'll have a roundtable on Monday, and if they decide to make me an offer, I have to clear up some things about the role with the team director before I'd consider taking it.
I should be employed somewhere by the end of next week. Almost done!