My Career's Course Correction
Starting in Summer 2021 and into early 2022, I started contemplating the next step in my career. I had been with the same employer for over seven years, matching a record for me, and the job market was hot. 🔥
In March, I made the choice to make the attempt at becoming an independent consultant. I knew it wasn’t the safest or easiest option and that I might not succeed, but had a drive to try and knew that I could easily pick up another employer if it didn’t work out.
Nearly six months later, I had generated content, got matters in place, chased the dream… and nothing. I went public with that dream, and had a great deal of encouragement but still no clients.
Since last March, the economy and job market has changed. A recession is on the horizon and some tech companies have hiring freezes and even layoffs. Uh oh. 😬
I considered a full gamut of options…
My first dream was going independent. I’d been working for a consultancy for years, and the idea of cutting out the middleman is highly appealing.
Throughout the year though, I discovered that the timing was bad:
- The economy is diving into recession, and we’re seeing layoffs and freezes in the tech field.
- Little contract demand right now; those hiring want full-time positions, often in old tech rather than the leading edge that I’m accustomed to.
- What contract jobs I found are commoditized to lower rates, often entry-level.
I thought recruiters would be helpful in finding contracts. One of my driving forces was a report by one of these recruiting companies showing high contract rates. That very company has proven useless, and I suspect the numbers in the report are “up to” numbers, not typical rates. I never saw a single solid contract lead from a recruiter.
My own leads have not lead to contracts, including the client that I had hoped to launch with.
Aside on Recruiters
Nearly all recruiters are clueless. I don’t wish to be mean, it’s just what I have experienced and should be expected. Almost none of these kind folks actually understand the jobs they are recruiting for. My experience is clearly in application development - I just happen to use the AWS ecosystem to create these applications. Recruiters see my AWS Solutions Architect certification though and say “Ah ha! DevOps!” or “Ah ha! Security expert.” They see my desire for “consultant”, and offer me full-time jobs. They see “24 years of professional experience”, and suggest mid-level software engineer positions. (At least they clue in to the software portion.)
I want to love recruiters. I want them to be my friends and allies. But they aren’t. Recruiters are exhausting. 😮💨
Some of my frustrations with my current employer, Rackspace, are typical frustrations when working with large companies. So I checked out smaller consultancies.
The smaller consultancies appeared to be more like Onica, the company I worked for that Rackspace swallowed up. Each of these though, were also DevOps shops just trying to get into the (cloud native) custom application business. This carries the risk that they may not have a sales pipeline, leading to being idle and the possibility of them giving up on this new offering. In one case, it looked like what they wanted was help in the “dev” part of DevOps. That isn’t very interesting to me.
Finally, I would need to rebuild my reputation within the new company.
All that risk, for the same compensation I have now.
Many of my former colleagues have left consultancies to work for product companies. I came from product companies.
Since working for a consultancy though, I have honed specific specialized skills. As a consultant, companies will hire specialists. When looking at full-time employment at product companies though, few wanted my specialization. The work is more adjacent - moving into tech stacks that I don’t care so much for. I could do them, but it would mean more generalization and giving up my subject matter expert status.
Then there’s compensation. Here’s how the jobs and compensation with product companies compare to what I’m earning now at Rackspace:
- Slightly lower compensation for same work.
- Same compensation to move up in management. (i.e.: V.P. of Engineering for small company.)
- Higher compensation if I compromise my ethics. (i.e. planet harming industry)
- Higher compensation if I compromise my health and family. (i.e. hello 60 hour work week)
The grass isn’t greener
There is a common phrase: The grass is greener on the other side. This phrase is actually a warning, that things appear better elsewhere. We are tempted by “greener pastures”. We are envious of anecdotes of others who have made the leap and found success. Often these success stories hide the downsides (see bullets 3 and 4 above).
I have taken a closer look at the neighbors’ lawns (employment options), and found that they too have flaws. Looking back on my own place, I find that maybe I can achieve my goals right here…
Stay at Rackspace… with change
I had written in my announcement about going independent:
I looked at moving out of management over to a Principal Software Architect role, but […] that new poorly defined role I suspected would be manager-lite.
I will keep learning and growing and, I hope, leave a wake of younger software engineers who have learned and grown as well.
Charting my Own Path
Solution: As a last act as manager, define the role as exactly what I’m looking for!
It would be hilarious to create the job description, open it, apply for it, and hire myself. The boss didn’t quite go for that, in part because the existing broad definition of the role was actually already a good fit for what I wanted, and I guess we aren’t allowed to hire ourselves. 🤷♂️ 😉
So what will I do as a Principal Software Architect of Cloud Native Development? The overarching concept is “be a force multiplier.” Rather than spend all my time delivering for one customer, a principal architect has a team-wide impact. This includes:
- Evaluate tools and services, and spreading knowledge both within and outside the team.
- Create and evolve reusable solutions.
- Be a mentor for the entire team.
- Be an expert troubleshooter on any project, and ensure they stay on track.
- Work with pre-sales, helping set up projects for success before they even begin.
Did I backtrack?
You said you were doing something, and now you’re not! Flip flopper!
Fortunately I’m not in politics, and so I’m allowed to change my mind. 😜
I continually evaluate. Circumstances change. Knowledge grows. Course corrections are made. I may have “backtracked” on going independent, but not on charting a new course in my career.
What is changing for me?
I had been feeling idle and unfocused. This new role has reinvigorated me.
At the time I went into management, it was the only way to advance. Last April Rackspace opened up the new non-management career path. Even though I have grown competent in the manager role, it never fit into my self identity. It turns out that titles do matter; I never liked calling myself a Practice Manager, but am very happy to start calling myself a Principal Software Architect. Titles matter because self identity matters.
When not part of a delivery team, as a manager instead, I felt more isolated. The hope that this new role will offer more opportunity for human interaction. I had blamed the isolation on lost company culture, but this is just a reality of the pandemic and post-pandemic work-from-home era. I love working from home and never liked the distracting nature of the office, but there is a psychological impact. There’s a newly forming Rackspace Culture Team, and I have volunteered to join this team so that I can be part of the solution. 🤞
The great resignation has shaken us all, and resulted in brain-drain everywhere. I think this chaotic shuffling of jobs is easing now (I was almost part of it), so now it is time for recovery. As part of my new role, I hope again be part of the solution and make Rackspace a great place to work by being a resource for everyone. I hope to reverse the talent loss by spreading my reach and helping my fellow Rackers grow.
Finally, Rackspace itself is ever evolving changing. There’s a new CEO who sounds more cognizant what needs to be improved, and a global reorganization about to land. There’s also the global and local culture teams. I’m hopeful and energized again.