In the startup world, there's this concept known as a "pivot." Depending on who you ask, you'll get various definitions, but basically it means this: you're hitting a wall that you either can't, or shouldn't try to climb, it's time to make a change, and you've decided to take a new direction in order to keep your venture going, and to hopefully be successful.
I'm in the middle of a big pivot in my life right now, at nearly every level: personal, professionally, and privately. Chalk it up to me being in my 30's if you wish (I hear things start to happen for you in your 30's), but whatever the reaons, I'm pivoting.
The big pivot
The pivot in the professional end of my life took about two years from concept to reality, and much of the payoff has come in the last six months. About a month ago, after getting my first paying job as a developer, I chose to move on to take another opportunity, also in software development. What follows is an overview of just what's happened in the last six months, and what I hope will happen in the next six.
Six months ago I was prepping to leave my position at a hard-core IT consultancy company based in the Phoenix area. During my time there I went from the entry-level position, to being a leader, manager (and counselor at times), and finally to building a new support team in Chicago. Joined by some existing engineering staff in the Chicago area, I set out with a bold goal: to make a career of this, to leave software behind, and to make a life in IT operations and magement. The long and short of it is that it didn't work out for a number of reasons. While I was reasonably successful at some aspects of the job, and while I garnered enough respect to be a voice in the Midwest region, I reached a point where I knew that my grand plans to make a life out here with that company weren't going to pan out. A lot of the reasons it wasn't going to work had a lot to do with me. As much as I poured my energy and life into it, I was never truly satisfied, and though I believed I had left my software days behind me, I continued to try to accomplish many of the larger projects with software solutions. On a deep level I was still trying to follow software, but in a role where that's just not what people needed from me. It took me a few years to understand just how fundamentally flawed this approach was, and in the mean time I picked up a lot of business knowledge, and networking skills (things that would serve me well regardless of what happened next).
Finally deciding to put my money where my mouth was: I started a small company called KarmaNebula where I would build my own software solutions to the world's problems, not needing to wait for buy-in, and not needing to ask permission. For 18 months I worked on a project called FeelGoodTrader.com, and used it as a springboard to launch my software career. From the beginning I saw three possible outcomes. (1) it's a fabulous success, I make lots of money, and it becomes by full-time job (highly unlikely), (2) it's a reasonable success, and I sell it off to someone for a nominal fee, using the money to seed my next project, or (3) I use it to prove that I have the programming chops to be a pro, and I land myself a job.
Well, #3 turned out to be what happened. I still own KarmaNebula, and while the first project (FeelGoodTrader) wasn't a success, I continue to work on side projects under the KarmaNebula name.
To get back to the story, about six months ago was when I saw that FeelGoodTrader wan't going to take off enough to be a full time job, so I applied to work in a software group connected with a local university. I wanted the job, badly, but things didn't pan out right away. When it appeared that nothing was going to happen at any predictable point in the future, I continued my search. I quickly landed a job with a great bunch of people, on a small software team where I could make real impact, where the work schedule was flexible, and the only thing that mattered was you delivering on your promises. This was an arrangement that worked well for me, being a self-starter, and burned out from more structured corporate environments.
The freedom in this new job was amazing. It was a tele-work position where I wrote software from my home office, full-time, meeting with my supervisor via a VOIP call a couple times a day, and I was given the trust to interact with customers directly whenever necessary. The ten years I'd spent in IT, and customer facing roles, would pay dividends in trust and responsibility awarded to me right out of the gate. On top of all of that, my supervisor was a great mentor, and treated me more like a peer, as we argued over points of code style, the best way to do something, and what mattered to us personally about working in an environment that trusted us, first and foremost, to be professionals.. Though it turned out that working relationship would end in just a few months, I maintain contact with my now previous supervisor, and continue to enjoy meeting up for a beer occasionally, and talking shop.
So what happened at the end of that first development gig? Well, it turned out that the other job I'd applied for back in March at the university, the job that I wanted even more, called me back in July and asked if I was still interested. The story of what happened between March and July is an interesting one, but one I'll save for another time. Suffice to say, the job at the university was one that had the right combination of just about everything I was looking for in environment, culture, and long-term alignment with my own goals. In other words, it was one of those opportunities that I couldn't turn down. So, I began the process of notifying my then current supervisor that I would be departing, and working out all the details around that shift.
I've now been working for the university for about a month, and so far I've been loving every second of it. Looking back at the previous six months and the road to get here, I feel that it's a direct result of the effort I put in to get here. With little-to-no previous pro programming experience (though I've been writing code since I was 13), I was tough, tenacious, and more than anything I didn't stop believing that I was good enough to pull it off. As I look forward, the next six months show a lot of promise. I hope they're as exciting and filled with success as the previous six months.
A final word, and a reality check
People say that getting the right opportunity only happens if you are ready for it when it arrives. Work hard, and make the sacrifices to put yourself in the right place: in my case, it was creating KarmaNebula and FeelGoodTrader.com. Follow you passion: you're guaranteed to fail when you give up. Eventually, maybe even after 15-20 years, you just might get what you want. When it comes, you'll finally get a greater degree of choice in life, and for me, that's what it's all about.
When hearing about my new, new job at the university, a friend of mine joked, "You know there's a recession going on, right? It's really not fair for you to take two jobs in three months when so many people have none." It was his humorous way congratulate me, but I was humbled by his message regardless. In response, I could only feel deeply appreciative of what's happened to me in these last six months, for the journey, and for everything I've learned along the way. My friend is right after all: the world is falling down around a lot of people, and here I am writing a blog post about how I landed two great gigs in quick succession. I'm in awe, and to whatever series of events conspired to bring this to me, I extend my deepest gratitude.