Gobble Gobble23 Nov 2017
Today is Thanksgiving… so I did the only sensible thing, and carefully avoided any shopping or discount offers to instead take time to introspect.
What Really Matters
First and foremost, I am extremely grateful for my family. The past couple years have included a lot of personal losses, and spending the day eating way too much with my wife, grandmother, mother, aunts, and uncles was truly the biggest blessing possible.
When sprinkled with a handful of phone calls and facetime sessions with more distant relatives and long-time friends, it needed little else to be the most amazing day of the year (and I haven’t even mentioned smoked turkey or the table full of desserts that I’m still recovering from as I write this!).
That said, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the latest calamity to strike my tiny corner of the universe… This year I got laid off from a megacorp to which I’d devoted over a decade of my life. I sincerely never thought I’d be anywhere that long (or work for a megacorp in the first place, it was courtesy of a startup acquisition), but overall it was a fun ride where I got to meet a small army of amazingly talented individuals while hopping across a few different teams managing distributed systems and building cloud services in various shapes and sizes.
I got the news a few weeks ago while traveling to celebrate my wife’s brother’s birthday… as fate would have it, the call came right as we were on the way to the party. It was a complete shock, with no advance warning (since it was near the end of a quarter, I was told that would have endangered stock prices), and was announced rather curtly over a really awkward phone call.
Lots of questions immediately sprang to mind… How are we going to pay our mortgage? What about healthcare? Why do this right before the holidays? I had to choke it down and do the best I could to enjoy the family celebration. It was hard. I admittedly felt pretty down, and wasn’t able to sleep for several days or focus on much of anything.
Last night I packaged up the corporate laptop to ship back, which may be seen as the final nail in the coffin… but the more I reflected while taping up the box, the more I started to see this experience as hugely positive. Change is often described as scary, but without change there can be no growth. This post started talking about introspection, but when was the last time you seriously introspected when everything was going perfectly?
Never Get Comfortable
Part of my initial trepidation was situational, and part my own fault… During my tour of duty at Megacorp, I began working remotely full-time. I’d worked from home about 50% of the time for several years before, so remote work in and of itself wasn’t concerning, but I’d never had to search for remote work during a job transition before.
To make matters worse, I had moved to a very remote part of the country to be closer to aging family. When I got the news, I was paranoid I would never find another remote-friendly opportunity again, particularly in light of recent stories around other megacorps trimming back their remote workforce. That combined with a real lack of local opportunities was very concerning.
The part that was my fault was simply staying in one place too long… at a young age, my father instilled not to change positions too quickly. “It’ll look like you can’t commit to anything.” The flip side he shared, was it’s also bad to stay in one place too long. Changing positions, even if leveraging similar technologies within an industry, causes you to learn nuances of the environment (not to mention getting to know new people, and honing invaluable soft skills). While I had thankfully transitioned to several teams with different focuses, my paranoia grew even larger when I started over-analyzing how being in one place so long might look to new employers (particularly a megacorp that may not be viewed as particularly innovative by younger companies).
Even worse, going so long without interviewing doesn’t do much for one’s confidence – and make no mistake, interviewing is a skill that languishes without practice like any other. No matter how intelligent you are, it can be daunting to face countless conversations with strangers that are ultimately trying to judge you and pick apart everything you say and do (or don’t).
The fears were real and taking hold, but thankfully my family was supportive throughout… My wife found a quote which really made me think – it comes from John F. Kennedy who said, “Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly.” What was I so scared of, really? How could I hope to learn and grow if I stayed forever nestled in my comfort zone?
Be Thankful for Change
The point of laying out the seemingly negative thoughts and fears above is really to accentuate the positive and focus on change itself (whether chosen or forced) as a blessing in our lives…
I’ll be honest. The first few conversations with hiring managers were anxiety-ridden, but practice makes perfect. Each conversation got easier and felt more natural, the resume got increasingly polished along with my social profiles, and I took time each day to learn new skills and dust off some that had languished… Rather than a one-sided test, I started viewing the interview process as bidirectional. Much like TDD or CI/CD, it was a valuable learning experience that provided a continuous feedback loop which allowed me to learn and improve!
Rather than daunting, the search itself was inspiring. Quite the opposite of my initial fears (how often is reality less painful than our imagination?), there were countless remote-friendly (and often remote-first) positions at amazing companies of all sizes. Innovative companies I’d often dreamed of working for (but was too comfortable to pursue) were offering positions where I could leverage existing skills while learning and growing professionally. In fact, the hard part wasn’t finding positions… it was sorting through them all, managing resume submissions and following up on countless leads.
To really put things in perspective, it’s important to be fair and remember that I was not alone. Megacorp has a habit of laying off hundreds (often thousands) of employees every quarter to finance their latest acquisition – all capable, devoted, hard-working individuals. I consider myself extremely fortunate not to have been let go even sooner. Regardless of how the layoff itself is perceived, a decade of paychecks and hefty bonuses helped me move closer to family, finance a house, provided much-needed medical care, introduced me to a lot of interesting and talented people, presented fun travel opportunities, and taught me a lot.
Looking back, losing a “sure thing” (an illusion of course, there is no such thing as job security today – one of the reasons for the growing “gig” economy) that paid more than I ever thought possible by simply doing something I love was not only something to be thankful for… it was the best thing to happen to me professionally in many years. It opened my eyes to a previously unimagined world of opportunity. The conversations I’ve had have taught me so much, and the chance to become part of something new that I am genuinely excited about has reignited the love of technology that got me started in this industry over twenty years ago.