musings between the lines

there's more to life than code

the shuffle

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Been there, done that, for perhaps too long.

I’ve had a fairly established presence at my previous place of employment, or so I thought. My time line there extended to almost 15 years, and over that course I could see a change in how things worked. Or perhaps, I should say, I let myself get idly swept through the changes an organization faces as it grows up. That idyllic complacency became institutionalized in my own behavior and before I knew it, it defined where my comfort zone lay. That became a problem.

When I first joined the Corporate Intranet team at almost its inception, we ran the single server under the desk. Now people figuratively often say that to indicate an ad-hoc solution, but at the time, we literally ran it under the desk of a coworker. Kick a plug, and the intranet site would go down. Thankfully I don’t quite remember that happening… but it could have.

We were bound only by what we could produce, how well we could make it work, and being able to make it functional and presentable to the users. We were the jack of all trades, perhaps the master of none, but it worked to make things happen and get things done. Everything from server maintenance, to coding, scripting, front end design, low bandwidth [modem] layout and sometimes even graphics work. We got to be our own self contained team.

But as with everything that succeeds, it grows. As time passed, we moved the server to a proper home. Designers were brought in. We specialized in doing what we did best and left the other aspects to other people. Overall, the system ran pretty smoothly. It was different, it had its pluses and minuses, but it still worked and we were able to still do some cutting edge things at the time. We built a new “portlet” environment, created a user profiling system, experimented with dynamic content via javascript, dhtml, and even an infamous Java applet.

Some more time passed and we split the team even more into distinct functional units. Those taking care of the server, those handling the day to day of the website, design folks, backend service jobs, applications to add to the stack (I ended up here). It felt like a natural progression. We solidified under a larger umbrella group. Our (my) mission became to create new and interesting applications for the users.

we shuffled

A lot.

I’ve had 4 managers in the last 6 years or so. 3 in the last 3 years. Each shuffle meant I had to reintroduce myself, my skills, my goals, my quirks, join a new team, pick up a new project. This is when I went from being someone who I thought had value in a structure, to a cog that was shuffled from one necessary place to another. It was the beginning of the end, but I hadn’t realized it.

Each shuffle was unconsulted. There was no feedback as to the direction I wanted to go in or what I may have enjoyed doing. I mentioned in the previous post how passion can drive one to be productive even if the job may entail uninteresting bits. When you’re shuffled and constantly placed under different objectives, passion tends to take a hike. What used to be an interesting opportunity now just becomes something to have to reset and recalibrate yet again.

One last shuffle last year, one last assignment to a team whose mission I had no compatibility with, one last project I didn’t believe in and then the end.

I went for the ride when I should have been a little more cognizant of what was going on around me. Complacency was there once again to keep me company and give me that false sense of security that things were still happening simply because I was being moved around to new places. I tended to think at least something was happening.

With each new move, group, project, I should have been a little more aware of my surroundings and made sure that each move was indeed in my best interest. Honestly, some certainly were. Others I was ambivalent about. But the last two moves definitely were not what I wanted. As certain as a statistician could make a nice plot leading to an end game I would not like, that was, in retrospect, the trajectory I was headed on.

I can’t tell, and I probably never will, if I was being shuffled because those making the decisions were simply pulling staffing numbers out of a hat, or they just had no clue what to do with me to get what they wanted out of me; so they had to keep putting me in new places to see if I could produce something they liked. Planned or unplanned, the results ended up the same.

then the ride ended

But I guess not unexpectedly.

The take away from this is that sometimes my complacency leaves too much decision power in the hands of those around me who may or may not necessarily have the best interests for me in their mind. After all, they themselves need to have the best interest for themselves in their mind so I shouldn’t really have too much expectation that they would actually have my best interests in mind as well.

As with anything project related, or life for that matter, if you want to get something done, you’re going to have to get off your ass (I can say ass now right, since I’m not blogging in corporate land anymore) and get your hands dirty. Each move should have been a flag for me to question where I was going, why, and plan my own escape route if the trajectories didn’t align. But complacency was deeply embedded in me by that point. Too strong to allow me to think about what these shuffles meant and instead prompted me to just wait and see where the chips fell.

you always have a choice

Even if it doesn’t look like it.

I could have started to look at any number of new opportunities in different organizations or different areas of the company. I could have tried a little harder to pitch a pet project and see if that was something that I could align myself with (I tried to do that periodically, but not always successfully. That’s a story for another post :P). I could have even considered trying to find opportunities outside of the company. The point is I didn’t have to wait till they decided they had no clue what to do with me but to let me go. There were plenty of signs and enough opportunity for me to take the reigns and do something about it.

It’s easy to just shift the blame to the managers and say that they didn’t understand me (some did, others didn’t), but in the end, whether they understood me or not, it’s still up to me to initiate change that will benefit myself. I am my own keeper, it’s not quite fair to rely on someone else for your own basic wellbeing.

So, make sure you’re cognizant of your surrounding and always keep an eye out on who’s holding the reigns. Ideally, you should always be the one in control, no matter what others are telling you, but understandably, it is easier to just let things happen and not have to deal with it. As a person who’s mindset is more about programming than career ladder climbing, it was easy to just rely on other people to handle all that sort of stuff. Remember, you’re the only one who can truly have your own interest in mind though.

passing it along

Wisdom from others.

Oh, and (paraphrased) advice from a blog post another RA’d colleague wrote over 3 years ago: Even if you don’t need to, go out there and look and interview for a new job. It’ll be an experience (in humility) at how much you know, and especially how sellable you are. Something to tuck away in the back of your mind for not just when the day comes that you will need to look in earnest, but also as an experience to take back to your current job to realize how out of touch you may be with the rest of the industry. Hopefully at least that much can light that flame just to get things simmering.

* No pictures this time, just section breaks. Which of course means the next post should have both section breaks and pictures. Though let me know what makes it feel readable to you. I know I should have images to make it compelling, but sometimes it’s just distracting.