This is the first part of a larger story:
I am during this most uncomfortable period of change. They say that changing jobs is right there at the top of the most stressful events in life. Well, at least for some people. And as it turns out, I’m among them. But don’t let me get ahead of myself.
The story so far
I have a long career behind me already, and there are a few constants that can describe it up to this point:
- I am aiming for the long run. My shortest stay at a company was 3 years. And given that I actually boomerang’d back to Docplanner, the shortest in total I’ve been with one employer is over 4,5 years.
- There was never a single offer that made me quit. It was always for internal reasons. That means that it all was always under my employer’s control. I remember that there was only one instance when I even used another offer to negotiate better conditions for myself.
- Recently, during my 2019 job hunt, I realized that I don’t really like being recruited (in polish). Well, unless there is no pressure for me to actually commit to anything, because in that case, it is a lot of fun.
It all actually comes down to the fact, that I usually leave without a backup plan. I quit, set my status to open, and in the meantime usually dock somewhere for a couple of weeks until I find the next place for myself. I expected it to play out similarly this time, but that was not the case.
What is left behind
I started Docplanner Phone narrowly before the pandemic hit, which changed the job market a lot. And while there arose many lucrative opportunities, especially from global, remote-first companies, simultaneously the conditions at Docplanner kept improving.
The compensation rose steadily, with a noticeable bump along the way, when by the company’s decision we started to aim to be competitive on the broader European market — and what followed was a salary adjustment for the whole team.
The work-life balance was fabulous. We had a lot of autonomy in that regard and we used it a lot. We relied on trust, rather than putting the number of hours in. And the team reacted with engagement and responsibility.
The tech had its problems, some of which were being slowly mitigated (with great success I should add). And the funny thing was: it was the first time in my life that I worked on a team that had a larger product debt than a technical one. The quality was really top shelf. We did large refactors, consisting of thousands of lines of code, resulting in actually reducing bugs, rather than introducing new ones. And it was a pleasure to do them.
Maybe that was part of the problem? As a startup, we’d put too many resources into technology, and too little into marketing and sales? 🤔 Dunno.
We’ve managed to build a competent, open-minded, and diverse team. It was a pleasure to work with everyone, and the relationships we cherished along the way were priceless. That was actually the primary motivator for me personally, as well as the thing I will miss the most. Products raise and fall, friendships are here to last.
Reasons for a change
There were two primary things that caused pain in my back.
- Always going upstream and not being aligned with the rest of the company
- The amount of success the product achieved
A startup within a startup
It was actually a great deal for the product. We got the infrastructure, funding and support of a successful, established company, but at the same time we were able to move fast, take risks, break things, and most importantly: leave dozens of years of baggage behind. That worked fine with a bunch of bumps along the road, but the net outcome was certainly positive for us.
There were some altercations with other departments, famously: legal, human resources and the site reliability team.
There were a bunch of reasons for this:
- The company as a whole had too much to lose to take risks, even on a separate product like ours. So as soon as we peeked our head out of the shadows, the legal and/or security teams started to grow their interest in us. There once was a situation in which a teammate requested some permissions and got rejected. Instead of letting it go, they blabbered that they should get it since other people on the team already have it. We all had it revoked as a result 😂
- There were instances when the SRE team wasn’t actually taking our requirements into account, and there was a lot of decisions made behind closed doors, addressing the other product’s issues only. Then they were bestowed upon us as a company policy. That wasn’t that that impactful, but the developer experience deteriorated, and in the end we totally lost control over the continuous delivery process.
- The HR people were caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, some of them agreed with our methods, but at the same time they were bound by the processes they developed with sweat and tears over the years. Unfortunately, the methods appropriate for a 100+ person group weren’t fitting for a smaller team. And their rigid approach made it hard for them to adapt to the changing circumstances (with the pandemic turning everything upside down in the background). What makes things worse, a lot of the proposals we pushed for weeks but were rejected, a couple of months into the future turned out to be fine and got implemented.
Disclaimer: I see that mostly as a systemic failure or a conflict of interests. There were tons of brilliant people with good intentions involved, and I can’t blame any of them for those outcomes… Well, barring some exceptions, I did have some beefs along the way.
So I reflected: what could’ve I achieved without all those obstacles, but instead with a company vision that is aligned with mine? One without so much politics, or scale crippling all of its efforts to introduce meaningful change. 🤔
For the majority of time, we operated with a glooming shadow over our heads. We had no certainty about what the next quarter will bring (read: we were a startup). One thing was certain: while we achieved some success, and reached a lot of our goals, it was never a spectacular victory. And that means we couldn’t grow as fast as some of us wanted.
One aspect of that was that the size of the team stagnated, and in the last period it shrank. The prospect of me getting back into roles I really enjoyed, like managing leaders, or recruitment, has moved away. A smaller team also meant fewer capabilities: it was unreasonable for us to undergo complex projects (both from a business perspective, as well as from a technical one) because they would hog up too many resources, hindering our day to day operations. There was just no room do to a whole category of fun things.
The market situation didn’t give much hope to reverse this trend. What was expected is more cost spending, fewer experiments, hiring freeze. We were heading for at least a couple of months in idle gear, and it would take us another few to get back up to speed.
More than 4 years prior to this I have abandoned writing code as my primary role. Joining Phone was just meant to be a temporary step back, a necessary investment to reach new heights. That goal failed miserably for me, and staying on the team any longer felt like a total surrender on that front.
At the same time, the product outlived some of the other experiments the company launched over the years. The number of customers raised steadily, there were no huge gaps in functionality, and most of the new features were rather long shots — with more effort, and less expected benefit. The product matured, and my skillset was no longer paramount to its further development.
Sometime in early November I made the decision. Product entering its next growth stage, slow loss of autonomy, and the growing excitement to try out something new — those were the deciding factors for me. Oh, and the fucking JumpCloud requirement. I don’t think I’ll ever accept working on a machine with a backdoor installed.