Friday, July 24, 2009

Last Few Days of Freedom

My extended vacation is coming to an end. Maybe I'll regale you with my recent experiences. This might be long, but hopefully it's not too boring.

A couple weeks ago I mentioned a difficult decision that I had to make. As many of you already know, my former company had gone bust and ceased its operations. So, for the first time in my life I was unemployed and on the dole.

I didn't sweat it much. My cash situation was totally fine, and the primary financial cost to was the opportunity cost of not actually pulling any salary. I figured I'd take some time off and look for a job in a non-aggressive manner, and there was always the strong possibility that whoever bought the defunct company's IP/assets would pick me up. Anyway, I got bored a month into the jobless life (pretty lame, huh?). I thought that I had better step up my job hunt efforts since the economy and the job market wasn't the best for the unemployed.

Pickings were slim for sure. I'd say that for software, it was nowhere as bad as they were in the post-dot.com crash. Fortunately, I got four interviews through my network and from my own career board postings. One thing that I found interesting was that between all these interviews, there was a good amount of variety. I guess I'll write about each one.

The first one was actually for a longer-term contract position, and this one I flunked. The main reason (in my opinion) was that they were really looking for someone with a specific skill set that I did not have. And, for contract work, you are not really going to have much opportunity learning anything new, since they need someone to produce right away. The interview itself was a bit different than most, as it was me getting bombarded by questions from 4 different interviewers all at once in a conference room. I have interviewed a lot in my life, and I don't think I've ever had this sort of group interview before.

Another interview was for a company in the same space as my former one. They knew a lot about me, and they had recently hired a couple people from my previous company. One of my contacts put me in touch with some of their executives. Though I never actively sought employment with them, I was invited to discuss potential projects and the like. An informal offer was made after we had a good conversation covering my experience and expertise and also what they had planned for their company going forward.

I wasn't too interested mainly because I felt that I needed to branch out and do something new. I've been in the same niche for almost 10 years, and I thought it was time to move on. We've still got our communications channel open, so there might yet be part-time contract work for me if there's mutual interest.

The toughest interview (the one where this question came up) I had was with a smaller office/group of a large parent company that was in a completely different, and much larger, industry. The parent is headquartered out of state, but they have a smaller research/engineering group locally. Anyway, the interview was broken up into two sessions on two different days and lasted a total of roughly 9 hours. It was highly technical and it was difficult by most measures. I came out of each day pretty exhausted and drained. Good thing that it was not for nothing. When I was told that they would be extending an offer, I was seriously excited.

My fourth and final interview came by the way of a friend of mine. We had worked together in the past... maybe some 5 years ago or so. His company was a startup in a similar industry as my former company, but it worked on a different type of product/technology with a completely different target market. Not sure of a good analogy, but maybe something like motorcycles vs. cars or serious periodical vs. teen magazine would be close.

In any case, I had an afternoon of technical interviews in areas where I believe I'm an expert. Everything went very well, and an offer was extended within a few days. Their technology was incredibly cool, and I was quite impressed. I think most people would be as well. One strong selling point was that they had an actual product out there already. So, this wasn't going to be an early-stage startup experience where there was high risk of never getting out of the R&D stage.

Well, it came down to this...

a) Work for a large company, but within a smaller group that was somewhat insulated from the highly corporate environment. The work would be different in every way, and there'd be a reasonably steep learning curve no matter which projects I was put on. Everything would be new to me. Also, commute time would be about half an hour.

b) Work for a medium-sized startup where I know that I could be productive very quickly and possibly shine very early on. My previous experience and my current skill set was a near-perfect match for the position. And, I'd get to work with my friend (who referred me), which would be a nice bonus, not to mention that working on a really cool product that can actually 'wow' you is another benefit. This place was closer, so the commute would be more like 15-20 minutes, so each day I'd save myself about half an hour. Also, there's always the remote chance that you can jackpot if a startup makes it to the big time.

After negotiations, both offer packages were similar and very competitive. So, the decision was not hinged upon which one was better from a financial aspect. I was really torn. It's tough to change... at least for me.

Choice A gives me more breadth and allows me to pick up skills that would likely help me in the future if I wanted to do branch out futher into other industries. As with most new jobs, I would have the initial "Can I really do the work?" fears. And, what if it turns out that I hate this new stuff?

Choice B offers me new things to work on while giving me some additional breadth within my current industry. Additionally, it certainly would provide me with even more depth. It is the obvious safe choice. I would have no fears about being able to do great things and be a real producer. But, having nearly 10 years under my belt in the same industry, if I continued down this path I might be typecasted so to speak, if that hadn't already happened.

In the end, I went with Choice A. It's going to open up a whole world for me; the problems and challenges will all be new to me. Thinking back at what was going through my mind at the time... I figured that this was probably the best opportunity I've gotten outside of my current niche, so I had better take advantage of it. If worse comes to worst, I'd still be in high demand should I ever go back to my old industry. It's certainly not the easier path, but I am hoping that taking it will pay long-term dividends, both financial and erudite.

If you made it this far, I'm impressed. Re-reading what I've written, it sure looks like I rambled a fair bit.

Anyway, I start work on Monday, so my journey begins then. Enjoy the weekend.

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