Provoking thought

The Career Speed Run

Leaving a company is like attending your own funeral — people say the nicest things about you. Just a little late.

I was laid off yesterday.

I had hoped the lay-off epidemic sweeping across the industry right now would pass by Mattermost, but it didn’t, and I’m one of the victims. It came as a surprise. It was a shock. It’s sad. I was close to hitting my two-year anniversary, but didn’t quite make it. I learned a lot at Mattermost, worked with a lot of great people. Some of them now also gone, but luckily many of them “safe.” I wish you all the best, it was a pleasure working with you!

As many of you know, I use writing as a means of self therapy. It’s much cheaper than an actual therapist, and has potential to provide value to more people: sometimes learning, sometimes entertainment. Not sure this one’s going to be very funny — I, too, have my limits.

So let’s do this.

One of my favorite challenges is to turn seemingly bad things into good things. Branding is everything, so recently I’ve branded this activity as turning punch holes into dynamic islands.

While the particular punch (hole) is still fresh (I’m writing this less than 24h after hearing the news), let’s see if we can turn this one into a dynamic island.

I’ve worked in the industry “properly” (I will not count my 4 years doing a PhD, although in the Netherlands that was a paid job) for little over 11 years. In that time I have worked for 5 companies. I never joined a company intending to only work there for a relatively short amount of time (with perhaps one exception), but somehow always something happened that causes me to leave. Yet, every time it was something different. And every single time I learned a lot, and grew a lot. I tend not to advertise this to my colleagues (out of self interest), but you make by far the biggest jump in terms of personal growth switching jobs (there’s costs to it too, of course).

As I reflect over the last decade or so, in a sense I’ve been doing a career speed run. Unintentionally, and I don’t generally recommend this approach, but since I am where I am in my career, let’s extract some value out of that fact. I sometimes meet people that have worked their whole career for a single company, and I can fully respect that, but that has not been my path. And while I’m hoping to soon finally find that place where I can stick around for the long haul, I have not yet found it.

As I reflect on it, a switch happened for a different reason every time:

  • One time I left because of bankruptcy, I worked for a VC backed start-up and we ran out of money with no exit strategy.
  • One time I left because I realized that purpose (what the product was and who it was for) mattered more to me than the technology being cool.
  • For 6 months I lived on savings and worked on an open source project by myself and realized that working largely by myself is not for me (and that earning a living with open source is non-trivial).
  • One time I left (but I saw this one coming), because being in a “rent people by the hour for (somewhat) cheap” outsourcing model was not my thing.
  • One company I left, because I was poached — another company went after me hard, and made me an offer I could not refuse: to effectively run a start-up in a safe corporate environment, with full freedom in technology, applying lean start-up principles, hiring my own team, and then allowing me to grow substantially from there.
  • One company I left, because I burned out. A combination of the COVID pandemic, increased pressure, and close colleagues dropping out of the race.

The reason to leave a company that was notably absent on that list was: getting fired (unless you count the bankruptcy case, but that feels different).

Until this week.

What’s the best way to get fired? Honestly, probably as part of a larger scale lay-off. It doesn’t feel as personal, you’re not singled out. There’s a lot of that “it’s not you, it’s the climate, don’t take it personally” thing going on.

The big elephant in the room is of course: why me? While you don’t tend to get a specific answer to such a question, when I reflect on it I can see a rationale. My sweet spot is at (some) scale: lately I’ve been focused on the manager of managers thing, and frankly, you don’t need that when you’re downscaling and have to switch to pure tactics. Later maybe, but not now.

Somewhere I feared the current economic (or rather tech) downturn could work out to be an “opportunity” to be on the executioner’s side (although this idea horrified me), but it turned I was on the receiving end. I suppose, I’ll have to wait for that other checkbox to be checked at some future date...

So what’s next?

I’m not sure. I don’t want to rush things, but I am open for opportunities. Ironically, me and my wife had been discussing a potential move back to The Netherlands last week. A move that could now potentially happen earlier than anticipated.

Likely as I’m processing all of this, I’ll probably write more about what I’ll be looking for in the future. But roughly speaking: if you’re in need of head, director or VP of engineering, but I’ll happily consider an engineering manager role given the right scope — fully remote, or hybrid/local in the Amsterdam area — feel free to reach out:

More processing to come.