Two months ago I started at Cloudera, a mid-sized Silicon Valley startup that focuses on open-source software.
The decision to leave my old job was hard.
To start, I had many of the same reservations that I did back in 2008 when I left a previous project for “something new, something promising, something challenging,” except this time it was harder. In the past four years I’d become an intricate part of a small team and we were responsible for some amazingly cool, important, and far-reaching things. There was no question whether what we were working on was important, and I felt that I was a valued member of the team. I had become a proponent of change, advocating for improvements to software and policy, and a go-to guy for a couple different subject areas. I felt important, like what I did mattered, and that I mattered. That’s a powerful, alluring feeling.
And yet, it wasn’t enough.
The atmosphere within SAIC changed considerably when we went public in 2006. More managerial time and effort were spent on boosting quarterly numbers to please market analysts than on customer satisfaction. With each passing CEO reorganizing the company to suit his pleasure, the company became increasingly fractured, the spirit of employee ownership and pride dissipating rapidly. I can’t even count the number of reorganizations due to change in management personnel or business priorities and for most of my time post-IPO I couldn’t have told you what business unit I was part of, less so the continually changing faces that were in charge of them.
What I do know is that the small Annapolis division that I had come to know and love was consumed by a larger organization, and this in part was a precursor to my eventual departure. The new management style was much more opaque, layered, rigidly structured, and much more concerned with profit margins than with the group of close-knit people they have just inherited from Annapolis.
The nature of contracting helped.
Being embedded in a customer’s space full time makes compartmentalizing easier. While there are plenty of split-brain contractual hoops to jump through, I effectively became an employee of whatever customer I was working for. This suited me fine, since I was always more interested in the work than who was signing the payroll checks. The customer’s goals became mine, as did their problems, policies, work ethics, organizational politics, successes and failures; when you’re in the trenches together it isn’t uncommon to have great working relationships with your customers even when things are a touch rocky with your employer.
For the most part SAIC management was content to let me do my job without any interference. Even when they didn’t, I always found my immediate supervisors incredibly supportive throughout my time with the company, in many cases sitting and working side by side on a daily basis.
Simply put, 2011 was a mess.
Tumultuous, defined. The first half of the year I was running three days a week before work, in and out of a whirlwind long-distance relationship, working on some high-profile code for a customer, staying in touch with my family, doubling up on online courses working towards a Master’s degree, keeping up some semblance of a social life, all while attempting to get a reasonable amount of sleep each night necessary to fuel my hectic schedule.
It was at this point that SAIC management decided to get involved with certain aspects of my work. I don’t want to relive the details, suffice to say mistakes were made all around and the matter wasn’t handled well. The end result was that I was left in a position where I was contractually obligated to continue to work for people with whom: I wasn’t comfortable, I didn’t trust to keep my best interests in mind, I didn’t feel understood me or my objectives.
Even after the direct involvement passed, there were still lingering reminders of how it had gone wrong and little recourse to restore things to the way they were before.
It was inevitable.
The signs were there, although I didn’t recognize them for what they were.
When you’ve got trust issues at work, those emotions don’t tend to stay at work; even if you bottle them up (while on the clock, in the name of professionalism), they’ve got to find an outlet. My personal life outside of work was affected; I completely lost my desire and motivation to write and share, which I rationalized away as due to lack of time. Something I genuinely take joy in, rationalized away for months.
It wasn’t a big secret to those close to me that things weren’t going so well. There was more tension, although I wasn’t able to put my finger on the source. I thought it was a temporary feeling, brought on by taking on too much at once (a few tough classes, particularly), and that once things settled down everything would be fine. I got through the classes, but I still wasn’t comfortable.
A leap of faith.
After more than nine years with SAIC, I found myself running out of reasons to stay.
Throughout the year I’d been hanging out with a friend who had recently accepted a job with Cloudera. He seemed to be enjoying the work and he suggested that I might as well, and that they could use someone with my skill set. I didn’t know exactly what it would be like at Cloudera or whether I’d like the atmosphere, whether the company would be around in 2-3 years, or whether I’d miss the kind of work I’d been doing, but I figured it wouldn’t kill me to learn more.
When I talked to my family about the prospect, my sister put it bluntly: “you haven’t been happy [at SAIC] for a long time.” I was taken aback, but it was exactly what I needed to hear. After a lengthy lunch meeting with my friend (and now coworker) about what I could expect, I applied for a position. In the subsequent weeks I spoke to several engineers at length, managers, even the CEO. Everyone was really enthusiastic and I felt like it could be a good fit.
I submitted my letter of resignation to my division management at SAIC — six months short of my 10-year anniversary — and instantly knew that I had made the right choice. I felt free. In the two weeks following I spent a lot of time briefing my teammates on my work and documenting the same, backing things up, preparing for my departure. There was no time for guilt about leaving, less than a month after my first serious talk about Cloudera I found myself sitting in our Palo Alto office getting the rundown on healthcare, company culture, meeting the staff, and starting anew.
Bring it on.