A Small Organization Might Better Advance Your Career

Malcolm Gladwell is always full of interesting ideas, and this one is based on a study of colleges but could apply to any organization (like your employer). Β He proposes that since we compare ourselves to those around us, we are more easily demoralized in a big place where many more people will be over-achievers (statistically, of course – this is Gladwell). Β A good argument for a small team within a big org, or a small unknown startup vs a big well-known multinational, at least at a stage in your career where you are building your confidence.


Malcolm Gladwell’s David And Goliath – Business Insider.

To grab this book for Kindle:

My Dotcom Boom Experience

There is a thread on Quora that I subscribed to when I first signed up for the question/answer service asking for personal experiences about Silicon Valley during the dotcom bubble burst, and it somehow crossed my desk again today. While I wasn’t in Silicon Valley at the time I did experience a micro version of the headiness and exhilaration followed by fear and disappointment that marked that period in history. I felt particularly inspired to summarize my experience today and am re-posting it here for posterity, as Quora itself is another investor-funded startup that may not be around to tell its own tale someday. This blog, however, survived the last boom/bust cycle and seemed like a more permanent place for my thoughts. πŸ˜‰

Original posting here, my comment below. There are many great personal stories in the thread that I recommend perusing, also.

I experienced it only on the fringe, but still appreciate the chance to have felt some of the energy and to have learned from the mistakes.

In the spring of 99 I was still in college, working my way through a BS in Computer Science. Even 4 semesters away from graduation I felt like the hottest commodity in the world, as any warm body that could write a line of code was in massive demand all over the country even without any real-world experience or specialized skills. I visited a friend in Seattle over spring break and was awash in a smaller-scale but still frenzied version of the Bay, literally receiving competing job offers over dinner to forgo the rest of my degree and start immediately. I remember being completely shocked by the personal concierge service – a delivery person on a bicycle brought us 2 pints of Ben & Jerry’s and a 6-pack of beer 11 minutes after we placed an online order – and thinking both “how on earth can they be making money doing this?” and “this is what life is going to be like from now on.”

During the winter and spring of 2000 I barely had time for school as I was too busy entertaining the advances of potential employers. Every company had a sales pitch for young engineers, touting their casual offices, pool tables and arcade games, on-site massage, free food of all kinds, lists of crazy perks. My friends in other fields of study were frequently aghast at the extravagances afforded to me as part of the interview process alone, and even more so at the exorbitant salaries offered even for internships when many of their careers would start with unpaid internships followed by years of ladder-climbing to match my post-graduation earning potential.

I knew I should be skeptical and objective, but it was just so easy and so exciting to feel like a rock star. That’s what everyone was saying – software engineers are the new rock stars, and millionaires could come in any shape but would most likely not be wearing a suit.

It was also easy to let the headiness inflate your confidence beyond a healthy level. I flatly turned down any job offer that wouldn’t let me finish my degree on schedule, or that wasn’t close to adequate downhill skiing; such demands seemed perfectly reasonable to everyone involved. I passed on multiple internship offers at Microsoft and Hewlett Packard because I wanted something smaller and sexier. I leased a brand new car, figuring from this point on my life would be a series of frequent upgrades to my vehicle – along with everything else. I bought frivolous things like giant speakers, treated my friends to dinners and rounds of drinks, and even bought an entire bar drinks one night just because it was fun to see their faces. I was still a full-time college student and only a part-time software intern during all of this, so I hadn’t even begun to indulge in the things I expected to once my degree was complete and I dove fully into the workforce, and yet I was already living a life that solicited envy from friends with respectable, well-paid careers ahead of them in medicine, civil engineering, finance or architecture.

I waited too long. Or rather, the boom didn’t wait for me. By the time I graduated in May 2001, my internship-hosting startup declined to extend me a post-graduation offer, instead issuing layoffs to many of my full-time colleagues. Recruiters that I had been teasing for months were suddenly no longer with the company, and entire headhunting firms disappeared completely or ceased operation of their tech hires divisions. I, too, was glued to FC but for different reasons – desperately hoping that the places I still had active recruiter contacts didn’t make the list. I was still too full of optimism and false confidence to believe that eventually they all would.

Interviewing became my full-time job. I was determined to find something and spent 7 months working 50-60 hours per week entirely at the business of getting hired. I had family near Seattle that generously offered a spare room, and so my efforts were concentrated there but I would have gone anywhere within 2 days’ driving distance of Thanksgiving dinner if anything had materialized. I managed to land several first interviews per week simply by being energetic and obsessively persistent, but the dejected and often terrified recruiters I met with never called me back for second meetings. I was competing for entry-level software jobs with experienced veterans recently departed from hot startups, and frequently in the time elapsed between the job posting hitting and persuading my way into a meeting, the entire department hiring for the role had ceased to exist. Sometimes, the company, too. I remember a particular recruiter at Adobe that had made the mistake of leaving me with a glimmer of hope after an initial meeting; every Monday for the next 4 months I literally stalked him in the Adobe lobby, waiting for him to take a lunch break so I could follow him to his car, inquiring hopefully about any new openings. Eventually he stopped going to lunch… or else perhaps he was laid off, as well.

When I finally gave up on the tech industry (at least for a few years) and accepted a job adjusting insurance claims, I had completely worn out a cheap suit, filled 5 credit cards completely to their limit paying for gas, coffee, and laser printing, and learned more about my own limitations and the challenges of the real world than I ever expected to in my first year out of college. Today I am never intimidated by a job interview and I can tolerate great professional disappointments, as I will never be rejected so much as I was rejected that summer and especially after building such large expectations of success.

October Retrospect – Part 1

There are so many things to catch up on in October, as it’s been a busy, exciting month and I’ve been e-gagged since nearly the beginning of it. I’ll try to start at the beginning but I make no guarantees that I’ll regurgitate things in the order they were digested. Wow, that analogy was kind of gross.

Let’s start with October 1st. It was a Monday, the first day of the month and of the week, and my first day in a new job. Same company (although it changes a little every day since we were acquired by our new overlords) but a new position, as the Technical Program Manager. It’s the kind of position I’ve worked for since college, a hybrid between client service, software development and management where my success will come from knowing as much about my favorite parts of the business – technology, operations, business development – as possible while being able to almost completely ignore the parts I have little interest in (sales). I feel very – for lack of a better, less-hubris-filled word – proud that I’ve been able to claw my way up the ladder into the job I’ve wanted despite maybe not taking the most direct path there. August was my three year anniversary with the company and this will be my fourth position there (each one a promotion) because I have never let myself be satisfied with “good enough” and I’m happy to say that approach has paid off in this case. Everything has worked out, including a lot of right-place and right-time luck, and I finally feel like I have a career and not just a job. For the first time ever I actually look forward to handing out my business cards, and it’s a nice feeling.

Perhaps one of the best parts of the promotion was the faith my bosses had in me to assume the significant new responsibility. My direct manager was completely supportive even though I would be moving out of his team, and he’s made my transition as easy as he could and continues to be a huge help. Our department boss is someone I’ve never been able to read well and whom I’ve always felt didn’t really like me much, so hearing her praising my skills and experience and saying she was excited to see me take the job was at first unnerving and then really motivating. I’ve definitely come to feel highly valued and greatly appreciated by the people I work with, which is a great situation to walk into every day. I hope that as our division continues to grow and as the company as a whole is broken apart and swallowed up by something much larger that the teams of people I’ve been spending this October with are still the same faces I see around the meeting tables next October, too. I’m definitely happy to be where I’m at and looking back into the blog archive that’s not always something I’ve been able to say.

A sigh of joy and relief.

My conference call with internal recruiting just ended, and i’ll be headed 5 blocks north and 3 blocks west sometime in early january to a new, more exciting, better paying, more “me” job with a small, energetic division of my current employer. It’s been a long time coming – more than a month of waiting rather impatiently – and they stretched out the decision as long as humanly possible, but the rumored transfer is finally official, so i have to stop griping about it (and stop stressing about it) and let myself celebrate.

It appears it will be a Merry Christmas after all…

the grinch gives christmas back to cindy

I took the red pill.

That’s what i wrote on my chalkboard mug today, “I took the red pill.” It seemed all ironic and funny. If i had a cameraphone i’d take a picture for you, but cameraphones are expensive and i like to eat sometimes.

Feeling a little under- and over-whelmed at work today. I’ve spent the past two days writing this script, and got it to work this morning finally. I was pretty happy that i figured it out, especially considering i couldn’t find anyone to ask for help yesterday. I spent a good part of yesterday afternoon making laps around the halls looking for familiar faces, and then trying to guess-analyze their qualifications for helping me with this proprietary, obscure scripting language from what little i know about their jobs. After several sessions of this i concluded that i would be solving this problem alone; fellow self-reliant people will understand this procedure. We are only seeking assistance so that, when we don’t find it, we can resolve ourselves to tackling the issue without help, and it is only thru the stubborn insistence that “no one can/will help me” that our motivation is derived. So it was no surprise that i spent the next day and a half grappling with and finally conquering this coding task, sitting quietly at my desk with my chalkboard mug and a box of cheez-it’s (that, incidentally, have C-3PO on them. i finished off the Darth Vadar box last week. i’m trying to collect the whole set. then i’m going to sell them on ebay to someone who has actually watched the movies and cares about that whole ridiculous genre, and make my fortune, and retire to a stylish warehouse apartment, at which point i will most definitely buy a cameraphone. )

What i’m supposed to be doing with that nifty script i wrote is not nearly as cool as writing the script. I don’t want to think about DCOM or muddle thru event logs, and i *definitely* don’t want to write a windoze batch file, not even a little bit. So that’s kind of a bummer. If i could draw you a graph of my motivation levels today, it would would look about like the stock market graph for Chrysler Corp looked the day after they announced the PT Cruiser. ( Or at least, how i wished it had looked. Oh, how i loathe those ugly little miscreations. If i had a cameraphone i’d draw you a nice little graph on a napkin – or, better yet, on my chalkboard mug! what can’t it do? – and put a nice picture of it here for you. And then, i’d draw a PT Cruiser being crushed into scrap metal and made into something useful, like iPods or robot vacuum cleaners, and i’d post that one for you, too. Except you wouldn’t know what it is, cause i’m a terrible artist. And i think that’s well over the limit for what should go inside the parentheses. )

Keeping the story short (there was a story? Wait, doesn’t a story need a plot? Shut up, you there in the back) i’m back at my desk alone again. I declined my coworkers’ offers for lunch. They apparently go out to lunch every day, or something, obviously cashing in their chests of gold doubloons and ruby tiaras to finance such a habit. I, on the other hand, had been neglecting a lean cuisine meal in the freezer all week, rollicking about on lunchtime jaunts and living in a happy state of denial which came quietly to a close yesterday evening when i paid bills and figured out 1) i am already in the hole for the month, and 2) i may have been offered a raise with the job change but i haven’t seen it yet, and with the track record i have with HR i’ll be surprised if i get paid at all on the 15th. Probably for the best, tho, as they’re headed to mexican today and that’s not my fav, plus considering the state of cleanliness at most restaurants in this substandard part of downtown, i don’t want to imagine what the mexican restaurants in ‘chinatown’ look like the day after cinco de mayo. Yeah. Think about that for a minute, then we’ll see if you finish your refried beans.

Before they left for their lunch of questionable hygiene, my coworkers advised i attend a ‘tech talk’ on SQL or some such nonsense taking place in one of the larger conference rooms while they were out. But alas, once i’d exposed my ambrosial chicken fettucine to it’s required dose of radiation, thereby transforming it from building material into a food-approximating substance, the large conference room was entirely devoid of uninhabited chairs and i was already too committed to my brisk walking pace; my only option was a last-minute direction change towards my desk, steaming plastic plate searing my hand. “Oh, me? No no no. I wasn’t trying to attend. I was just peeking in the door to, uh, to say hi. I’m off to my desk, yes, to my desk. It’s over this way, er, no, other way. Ha ha! See how funny i am? Um, can someone help me with this door?”

Ah, the Luxurious Life of 9 to 5

I slept in until 6am today, and i did so yesterday, as well. It was super. I woke up before my alarm, had a good workout and a nice leisurely shower, ate breakfast while reading my newsfeeds and pondering traffic patterns. I decided to be creative and try hwy 99 as an alternate route to work, but it was ridiculously congested and i would still be sitting on a ramp at about 185th were it not for the kind hand-waving of strangers letting me cut into line. With my bankrupt shortcut i didn’t appear at the office until narrowly before 8am, leaving me only about 1:45 to myself before people started to actually show up in significant numbers. Yes, i’m sleeping in an hour more than last week, coming to work more than an hour later, and leaving – yes, i can’t believe it either – a full 3 hours earlier than before. Sure, sure, you say i am here five days a week now, but i say to you “bah!” and “nonesense!” and “humbug!” and any other senescent expletives that might have escaped the lips of a Dickens villain. I have saturday off, and i’m leaving work – nay, i’m actually home from work – in time to catch the Simpsons’ nightly foray into broadcast syndication. [hands raised into the air, shouting with much grandeur and melodrama] I have a normal life!

Oookay. Yes, the new position is very interesting, my coworkers are good people and excited about their work, my team is diverse and relatively new, so we’re all learning together. My chalkboard mug has been a big hit, and i’ve only begun to wow them with my smarmy tshirt collection; i expect to begin a full cotton onslaught once the weather is just a bit warmer. Now that i physically encounter more than 2 human beings in an average workday, the social adrenaline is really flowing and i’m pinballing (yes, i just made that word up) around the office keeping every face i recognize from being overly productive. I am excited about my portion of the work, although it will require a lot of learning in a short time in order to make myself useful, and i have resigned myself – at long last – to the inevitable conclusion that i must capitulate and embrace some micro$oft-isms (namely, C#) in order to survive in Redmond’s backyard. I look on this not with a sense of impending doom or in anticipation of the drudgery that may follow it, but as a challenge i can overcome… oh, who am i kidding? It’s going to suck! But i can stomach it, cause i’m a “real” employee now, with a salary, a flexible schedule and a stock plan… and my own desk, which is very bare at the moment. Other than some company tchotchkes and my exemplary chalkboard mug, it’s an L-shaped beige expanse that just screams “transient employee”. I could really use a red swingline, or some stikfas or an RC spy car. Don’t you think?

Frantic! But in a good way…

I have an actual letter in my hands, a promotion to the software dev department downstairs; I’ll be an Associate Software Developer in Test as of April 15th. I received and accepted the offer today, and once i train my replacement i can advance down to the 4th floor and be part of the team that’s building the systems i’ve been monitoring for the last 6 months. I’m very excited! Definitely the most significant jump in my career to date, and a chance to finally put my development and coding skills to use (at my day job, at least). That’s right, kids, i’m going to be using that college degree. I mean seriously, how cool is that? Although i will have to stop griping about those student loan payments now, as i’m finally going to be seeing some ROI on that whole higher education deal. Hmm, maybe i should pay the dues that i let lapse on the alumni association, now that i’ll be able to afford it… Anyway, expect me to be pretty much in a dazed shock for the next month or so, then really excited when the news finally reaches the cognitive part of my brain, then totally off the map for a few weeks while i dive into something new and exciting. But don’t worry, I’ll actually have *more* of a social life now that i’ll be a salaried, M-F guy, so keep me on those saturday bbq calendars this summer!

I was already a little wired today. I’ve been up to the shop in Everett every day so far this week, checking on my car, bringing up spare pieces, getting a first-hand tour through all the things i did incorrectly last winter when i built the engine… (that last part is not the highlight of my visit). When i’m not harassing my mechanic team, i’m shopping for, picking up, transporting or otherwise engaged with all the supplementary parts required for the job. I ordered a piston and rings kit today, coming from texas via overnight. Wiseco forged with high-boost rings, overbored by .020 to 87.5mm with a lower (8.5:1) compression. Neato! I also found the perfect to match my sweet new rims, BFG g-Force T/A KDW’s – a high performance tire that still accomplishes wet grip (something important around here, even tho i rarely drive the car if i think the weather’s going to suck), in 245/40-18’s up front and 275/35-18’s in the back. And check how cool the tread pattern is! Cool tread pattern is really the cornerstone of quality tire selection.

Had to buy a few other small things for the car, but thanks to Travis and his connections with the dealership, my new clutch disc was all kinds of a bargain. And one of my mechanics, Johnny, is a very generous guy and offered to sell me the wiring harness i needed for less than he bought it for – and quite a bit less than i would have paid elsewhere – because he bought it for his car and isn’t going to be swapping his right away. So my brand new engine wiring harness is shipping- and tax-free, and has already been delivered. πŸ˜‰ So things are working out well so far, and despite the giant bill this is all incurring, i’m still really positive about the whole thing. Excited, actually, as my car will finally run like it was supposed to!

I also spent a couple days this week helping Christi try to get her 300z in good running order, as she’s driving to texas on tuesday, and that’s a long way to go on five cylinders! Hopefully we can figure it out and get her motor purring to her (admittedly high) standards before then. Nothing like having a deadline!

So since i’m going to be getting a raise in April, i can start shopping for all those things i couldn’t afford before. Like maybe an iPod that works (although i’ve already been stashing bills in an envelope for that fund, and i’m almost there). Of course, i can pay off a lot of debts, too, which will be great. Or i could just blow it all on gold teeth with spinners. Thoughts?

Life Is Nothing Like TV

It was probably a mistake to watch it, but the Katie/Matt interview with the Friends cast sucked me in. The cast talked about all that’s changed for them in the last ten years, about where they thought it would go, about how they got started. The producers discussed the original vision of the show – young single people living in the city, struggling with life, love, career, the unknown… leaning on their friends.

I’m not going to try and dismiss how much i’ve enjoyed the show, nor deny that i intend to (someday) buy all the seasons on dvd so i know it will never really end. But i’m not all torn up about the last episode tomorrow. It is, after all, a tv show. Actors – who get paid much much more than me to do something infinitely more fun all day and pass it of as “work” – reading a script assembled by someone else, with clothes hand-picked and hair professionally styled by legions of experts, all for the purpose of something as hollow and fleeting as entertainment – a laugh, a moment, a fuzzy memory.

What does bother me, tho, is how little my life is like a tv show. I know it’s not supposed to be, but also i know i’m not alone in saying i always hoped – against reason and precedent – that i would end up as one of those six. We all hoped that, that’s why we really like the show.

Furthermore, i guess i always figured that by now in my life i would at least be a little bit closer to that ideal. I’ve spent my post-college years trying to make and keep good friends. In some ways i think i moved to a city searching for that epitome of young single life, and there are many days where i think i should move to a bigger one, a faster, flashier, harder one, someplace where i have no choice but to succeed or die trying.

So often i’ve half-laughed at the theme song, at the idealism that friends will “be there for you” to combat the angst of being “stuck in second gear.” Half-laughed because i so often feel stuck exactly there, but not so stuck that there isn’t still a light at the end of the tunnel. But lately i’m laughing less, as another year goes by and still my “job’s a joke, [i’m] broke, [my] love life’s d.o.a.” Isn’t it supposed to get better with time? Should i learn something, make progress, improve? Even if the goal is a bit lofty, the expectation based largely in fake tv reality, is it really so unreasonable that i should expect a few years’ time to improve things? Why then does the ideal shrink away instead of growing nearer?

Perhaps the problem lies just there – this ideal is a hollywood one, fake and plastic and too-perfect, dangled at nose-height but just out of arm-reach to sell dvd’s and coffee and barcaloungers. So i’ve been chasing a mistaken fantasy. Or, if not chasing it, at least secretly hoping that it would fantastically appear, and unconsciously using it as the yardstick to measure my post-college success. Like any hollywood fantasy it is idealistic to a fault – single people with transient jobs can’t afford an apartment like that in New York, for one. And nobody lives across the hall from their best friends in “real life.” Furthermore, people are not really as funny, pretty, passionate, ambitious, clever or lucky as those six. Or at least, if there are any people like that, they have better things to do than hang out with people like me, so they might as well not exist anyway. And most of all, despite their willingness to say “i’ll be there for you” right along with The Rembrandts, nobody’s friends are that loyal, dependable, and true. People are dishonest, untrusting, self-absorbed and fickle. Don’t try to disagree with me – we all are, myself included. Despite what may be good intentions, we all abuse our friends (and usually royally mistreat our family). We are all a bit like Monica’s parents. I wonder sometimes why we bother at all with each other – it doesn’t seem like any of us are really worth all the effort.

I think perhaps i should move to NYC and become a struggling actor. I hate moving, but for once in my life maybe i should just get rid of everything instead of keeping it all in the hope i might need it someday; i could then move with only a suitcase. I have no experience as an actor, but it seems like so many of the currently famous ones didn’t either. The struggling part i wouldn’t even have to fake – if i can be a struggling programmer in Seattle, i can be a struggling actor in New York. Once you’re already “struggling” i don’t think there’s different grades or levels of struggle, so even if acting was even less prosperous than what i’m doing now (don’t see how that’s possible) i could still just be “struggling” and leave it at that. But it would all be worth it, when i finally break into show business, and can start living my life inside a sitcom where people are funny, you wear new clothes every day, there’s a room full of people who always laugh at your jokes and “ahhh” at your pain, and your new hollywood friends sing along with the theme song and mean it.

Free copies of Photoshop for everyone!

Work is still a whirlwind this week, sorry i’m been uncommunicative but i just haven’t wanted to spend any more time in front of a monitor than necessary… I did manage to get the Max an oil change today (without spilling a drop on the pavement, i’d add) and a big thanx to Kim for cooking enough pasta for two! You rock, Woody!

Sent my resume to a couple of cool-sounding openings at Adobe tonite – stayed up past my bedtime again tweaking the cover letter. My contact there (Vince) apparently no longer works there, as my email to him bounced, so i had to resort to “To Whom It May Concern” – bummer. Hopefully they’ll see something worth interviewing me about. Now before you get too excited, i’m not hating JLS or anything, but i have been there a year as of last week, and thot it was time to start taking all those email job alerts i’m still getting seriously. Just when i decided to do that, the long-dormant Adobe alerter surfaced from the depths, bringing with it two lovely, shimmering pearls that both fit my qualifications perfectly. So i spanked out a snazzy cover letter and a resume chock-full of Adobe-friendly buzzwords, we’ll see if they take the bait. No harm in trying – what was i gonna do tonite anyway, sleep? Yah right!

April fools, fools!

Such a silly holiday. I personally think april’s a pretty cool month, and not just because my birthday is this month… πŸ˜‰ I mean, baseball season starts, spring gets rolling, Danielle spends a week visiting… oh, wait, wasn’t she just here? Yeah, you’re right. She flew in last nite for an interview with Alaska airlines, but that didn’t pan out, so she’s going to stay for Horizon’s recruiting session thursday. So we get a free week to hang out together! Too bad i have to work… Hmm… did i have a point at the start of this? Um, yeah, april fool’s day is lame. Anyway, so that’s fun. I took a half day on monday to pick her up at seatac, and we went shopping downtown, a beautiful sunny day to spend wandering through shops and picking at fruit from the market. Btw, don’t always trust the signs; sometimes ‘seedless’ grapes have seeds…

It isn’t all 100-miles-an-hour around here, at least not over the weekend. Wandered down to south puyallup saturday afternoon, amidst another incredible summer-ish day, to spend the evening at Jason’s. Had a great time mixing drinks and playing cards in the garage, watching movies of questionable cinematic quality and ‘classic’ 80’s reruns, and generally just being lazy. Slept in late. Ate microwave food. Sat on the patio in the sun. Didn’t eat lunch until 4pm… πŸ˜‰ Thanx again Jason, it was a great vacation from reality and we need to do it more often!

Tonite D and i are watching Spaceballs while i compose a cover letter to forward to Josh – he’s going to help me score a sweet development job at Amazon, right Josh? πŸ˜€ In the meantime, tomorrow’s wednesday and – even better – thursday is payday!