Beyond the Mouse

It wasn’t an easy decision, I’ll give you that.  But now enough time has passed to where I feel like I can speak (or blog) candidly about… That place I worked that one time.

OK, so almost candidly.  But you’ll get what you get, and you’ll like it.

Way back in 2005, I started an exciting career at (REDACTED), when the entire department had less than 8 developers.  When I finally hung up my giant white gloves and moved on, there were over 150 of us on-site, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 225+ when you included off-shore contractors.

fishAt every job before this one, I was the prodigy.  At first, it was amazing.  I was the youngest developer ever hired by my first company.  And it was awesome.  But after a while, it felt like an intense weight on my shoulders.  When I moved on to other companies, the weight continued to amass until it was unbearable.  I was a big fish flopping around, and my pond felt like a spilled glass of milk.

Then, by some weird stroke of luck, I was downsized right out of a job.  I spent a month hanging around the house, and then another month doing contract development work and living the easy life, but I was bored.  Finally, an unexpected call led me to an interview with one of the most famous companies on the planet.

Truth be told:  I didn’t feel like I belonged at this place.  The other developers were really smart, and I was a small fish in a HUGE pond just trying to get noticed.  I remember a conversation with my mom when I told her that this job wouldn’t last.  We were contractors, all of us, and we were told we’d be competing for full time positions.  I told her I was in way over my head, and the other developers were eventually going to outshine me, right out of a permanent spot.

Everyday I walked into that office it felt like a gift.  Never, in my career, had I worked with so many amazingly talented people.  I know people use the word all of the time, but it was, truly, awesome.  The department had no idea what they had their hands on.  Everyday, project managers would fight over which developers they got for their projects, and we were kings.  There was a magic about that “kingdom” that I thought was irreplaceable.  Thinking back…  Maybe it was.

The last day of my 6 month contract, I was extended to 9 months, and then a year.  Then finally, late one evening, while chatting with another developer outside the kitchen, I was approached by my manager and pulled into a conference room where he told me they wanted to offer me the full-time job.  It was an 11% pay cut, and honestly, I would have accepted if it had been 20.  To date, it was the greatest accomplishment of my life.

unknown technologyOver the next 6 years, using a language no one had ever heard of on a server no one knew existed (and, no one would ever miss) we created websites that upped revenue (in just one case) from 500 million to over 1.8 billion dollars, and another that redefined the way restaurants were booked for a massive family of locations.  Before agile and JQuery, we created process where there was none, we wrote a syndicated code base used across thousands of travel websites, and fostered the environment for a development family like none other I’ve ever witnessed.

After a few years, I knew every site like the back of my hand.  I had built big chunks of it, after all!  But, at the height of my career, the tide started to shift.  We were bringing in more and more contractors, and taking on more and more work.  It was an exciting time to be a part of the senior staff but, at the same time, the writing began to appear on the wall.  One by one the original development team began to disappear.  We lost one talented developer to Oakley, one to YouTube, a few to start-ups across the country, and another to a credit union just starting their web business.

childLabor

I moved from project team to project team, and finally settled in on the operations team as a senior level mentor and trainer.  By this time the technologies had begun to change.  We were moving in the direction of a new language, a new web server, a new JavaScript library, and a new direction for the sites all together.  Had it been just languages that changed, I could have survived.  But the greatness of the team had disbanded and the personality of the department had shriveled up and became that of a giant, code pumping machine.  The Nerf guns were banned, the holiday parties were long gone, and the annual indoor golf game was lost to memory.  Long forgotten were the days of “Dev Chat” meetings, and off-site gatherings you could fit at a few small tables in a local restaurant.

We had become a world-class development shop who had completely forgotten that we weren’t a development shop.

I wasn’t even looking for a job when I got the first call.  In fact, I dodged the hiring manager, the HR rep, and the vice president of eCommerce for two weeks while they pursued me in the evenings and weekends.  But, finally I agreed to drive down to south Florida to meet the team, and get a feel for the company.

Reluctantly, as there was no longer room for me to grow, I decided to pull the plug on my relationship with the mouse and begin anew.

4 thoughts on “Beyond the Mouse

  1. Those are some of the fondest memories I have at that place. The talent was there. That crew really complemented each other. And more than anything… it became family. I certainly made my mistakes as a manager, but the team pushed me to grow. The team pushed each other. When you look at everything accomplished, you’re right — it was amazing. I don’t mean to hijack your post, but you touched a (good) nerve.

    And, yes, when you grow too much, you lose something– almost an identity. You become a cog in the machine.

    There will always be The Tiki Room and Pirate Bay.

  2. Right on, Frank! I’ve told people this same story myself. I started there when it was a small development house and watched it grow into a massive institution. The fun and creative freedom were replaced with process and measurable productivity. I have fond memories of the beginning, but not of the end. When I started you and the 11 other front end developers (called “Technical Producers” – remember that?) all interviewed me. ALL of the developers were involved in the interview process! That really made me feel like you cared about the chemistry of the team and made proud to be accepted. I moved on to another big corporation but have decided that it is my last. I would rather work for small or medium sized companies and help them grow than just be another cog in the wheel. Glad you’ve found happiness outside of the institution! Keep on keepin’ on.

  3. I remember your Mom’s response when you said you were in way over your head. I told you that it was not like you to be so intimidated so quickly, and that not only would you learn the job, but you’d be teaching it before long. Sometimes you should listen to your mother… Just sayin’… Very proud of you!

  4. Well put Frank. However I miss the hell out of you man. I think some stuff is working it self out to the point I may even be able to come visit.

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