Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Wherein I discuss my resignation


Nobody's asked about it (just kidding), so I thought I'd write it down to get my brain around it. I worked at my job for thirteen years, from October 1998 to December 2011. Thirteen years. Through the dot-com bubble, through 9/11, through an acquisition, through the housing run-up (I bought in 2004), and through the housing & financial collapse of 2008 that persists today.

My job really hadn't changed much - enterprise software for the life insurance industry. Sure, we went from Smalltalk GUI to Java browser but pretty much the same - gather requirements, build, deploy, gather missed requirements, new version of the base product, repeat.

Many good things happened both personally and career-wise. I had a manager who gave me the reins and I feel I developed a knack for managing technical projects, within the context of my industry and organization.  He pushed me to think critically, look at every angle, stay one step ahead, if not three, and never forget that we're dealing with people. Travel. I remember impressing a new girlfriend (my future wife) with a last minute flight to Canada for a project that was in trouble. They were all in trouble. Crisis management. I enjoyed it. I had great cities to travel to as well - Philadelphia, Toronto, Chicago. Even during the worst of it (see below), I had a five month stint on the international branch of our client, which included two weeks in Paris (my future wife was able to join us for a week). And I have to mention all the filet mignons and garlic mashed potatoes I'm still trying to remove from my body. Ah yes, the good old days! 

[Aside: I got so "busy" with my work-life balance, I missed Web 2.0. I'll never forget reading Paul Graham's essay Web 2.0 from November 2005. I read it in January 2011. Five years late. I'm pretty sure I spent half the night reading his other essays, just in case I missed any other large computer trends.]

But then life changed - the economy collapsed in 2008.

My company had gotten in bed with a large insurer around the beginning of 2007 - we sold them a suite of five or so, large enterprise software products. Of course, we sold it as a platform of integrated systems. They weren't. And now they were our only customers. Not really, but it sure felt like it. The client owned us. Knew we couldn't go anywhere (again, for lots of reasons). They jumped all over us and took advantage of every mistake. The consumerization of IT was bad timing for us as well, especially for a mainframe-owning, legacy systems-oriented IT provider in the middle of distributed computing expansion. Maybe I wasn't the only one who missed Web 2.0! The client treated us like warm bodies, instead of the consultants we prided ourselves. So the growth we envisioned for our product, company, & careers, dissipated - sucked into the abyss of management layers, empty performance reviews, non-existent salary increases, rather, pay cuts to "take it for the team", & musical chair layoffs. When our best technical resource was laid off at the end of a project, I knew in my head this was "no bueno". But I held on, like many others, in survival mode. I held on through the corporate initiative to reduce liabilities and expenses. People lost vacation (but our employer offered to buy it back for fifty cents on the dollar), 5% salary cuts, and we had to start paying half of our mobile phone bills. They took away (I believe) all benefits of work-at-home agreements - no more paying for Internet access, phone bills, fax machines, etc. I didn't have an agreement, so my working from home was unaffected.

We got married in April 2010, and our daughter arrived in May of 2011. So I have some decent excuses for ignoring my career situation for a bit. But by that time, I'd been on the same customer & client engagement for 4 years. I was tired & burned out for a few years, and more than ready for something different. I asked myself often - "what do you really want to do"?

[Aside: I'd become a "sharebro" in Google Reader, a product of mass consumption that I had successfully dismissed for numerous years. But then I lapped it up - followed as many people as I could since they were sharing articles I wanted to read. They took away some of the features I loved in Google Reader, so I had to find a new solution. I read and read and read as much as I could. And of course, tried as many Web 2.0 products as I could.]

Anyway, by the time paternity leave was over, so was my ambition at work. Of course, there was still time to save it. New projects were popping up (I had requested a new project in October 2010). My excellent performance review in spring of 2011 warranted a raise & promotion. My boss even acknowledged the recommendation in an email. Then they decided to take away my cube at the office, only informing me by asking me if I still wanted my extension. Yes, I wanted my extension - my plan was to go back to the office once our daughter arrived. It was a major pain to even get a cube again (they took it away again in November 2011). But I was unsuccessful getting a flat screen monitor. I mean, the 21" monitor weighing 50 pounds from 2001 still works right? Oh well. By the time the new project rolled around in October 2011, I was done. I finally resigned December 16, 2011, with my final day being December 30, 2011.

But I received a surprising phone call from my boss's boss the Monday after resigning. He seemed interested in why I was thinking of leaving. We spoke for about a half hour and it felt good that he listened. He asked if there was anything they could do to keep me. I told him I'd listen to any offers but that my gut told me it was time to leave. Less than a week after resigning, prior to the long Christmas weekend, my boss called with a package to keep me: a 20% increase, promotion, bonus plan, and basically an option to define a position for myself. I was confused. The same company that gave me a 1% raise, and admitted I wasn't even put in for a promotion the past summer, was now offering a 20% bump, plus bonus (albeit, not a great project-based bonus plan), and a promotion. Ultimately I came to the conclusion that it's never a good idea to take that sort of offer. So at the end of 2011, I quietly returned my laptop, phone, & badge to an empty office (due to the New Year holiday).

I went back through my Instapaper/Twitter/Tumblr shares and listed numerous articles below that are good references. The psychology of the American workforce is an interesting study!

Top Ten Reasons Why Large Companies Fail To Keep Their Best Talent - Forbes

Everything that’s wrong with performance reviews

Apple, America and a Squeezed Middle Class - NYTimes.com

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