Mandi Walls: April 2011 Archives

My Shortest Job Ever

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Last week I left my job at AOL for the wilds of New York City's startup community. It seems like there are hundreds of companies here in various stages of being startupy, from being two people in a Starbucks to steadily growing organizations with actual business plans.

A lot of these places aren't looking for, or ready to look for, operations people.  And while I am fairly proficient with PHP, the idea of taking a full-time development position with a company whose future might rest squarely on my ability to crank out code that doesn't suck didn't seem like a good idea. For me or for any of the companies I talked to. ;)

I was fortunate enough to end up with two offers in hand within a few days of each other.  The process of making a decision between these two companies was pretty arduous.  I wasn't planning to spend another 7 years at a company, but I also wanted to go somewhere with good growth opportunity, a solid business plan, and a team I could jive with, and both of these places fit the bill. I eventually picked the smaller company because I felt like the opportunity to make a positive impact would be greater.

March 28th was my last day as an "AOLer", whatever the f that means.  March 30th was my first day at my new job.

There's a lot of things that go into getting acclimated to a new environment, meeting the people, learning the social structure, in addition to then getting acquainted with the technologies in place and figuring out how to have an impact.  I was mentally prepared for the sort of change that I was looking at, on the face of it. While I spent a lot of time at AOL, I changed projects every 12 to 18 months, bouncing in and out of all kinds of proprietary and open source-based platforms, trying to assimilate the business goals and long-term plans of whatever I was working on, working with new development and product teams, and trying to make sense of whatever might have been done in the past.

So Wednesday I was excited, ready to get started with a new challenge.  But by Friday I could tell something wasn't right.  I really didn't feel comfortable with one of the key people I would be working elbow-to-elbow with, and I spent the weekend freaking out, unable to figure out what was going on.  I'm past the point in my life where I was completely incapable of interacting with new people; 20 months in an MBA program with a global student body will eventually smooth those spots over.  And several people in the company were totally freaking awesome, so it wasn't that the whole place was bad.

So, Tuesday I resigned.  I hadn't been able to sleep for four days.  Every interaction I had with this one person left me feeling agitated and unsettled.  If the circumstances of how we would be working together had been different, I would have gladly worked on my issues to stay with this company.  They are carving an amazing opportunity and have put together an incredible team to deliver on their goals.

To me, this one person comes across as an aggressive "fixer" (I'm not a psychologist, so I'm not sure what the clinical term might be), someone who has multiple answers before you've finished your question, who has the solution before the discussion is finished. Someone who makes a list, has action items, wants to know right now what to do.  I felt like I couldn't think, didn't have time to process information.  There's nothing inherently wrong with a fixer.  I'd actually argue that in a small startup environment, under conditions of limited resources, trying to get things done, a fixer is a great asset. 

For me, personally, I don't have the tools to cope with a fixer in close quarters; I find them intimidating, like a used car salesman, who talks over your questions and concerns, not really to assuage your doubts, but to make you doubt those doubts.  But like with a sales discussion that doesn't feel right, you can walk out.  And that is what I decided to do.  Before I had anything invested in the environment or got really attached.  I was very conscious of being the new person in an established team, and there is no way in hell I could expect anything to be changed for me, that would be completely insane.  I know what my limitations are for certain kinds of new situations, what I can handle and what I can't, and the added stress of a personality mismatch on top of a complete 180-degree environment change pushed me way over my limit. It was much better to acknowledge that this was a "fail fast" situation and walk away.

Am I disappointed?  Yes.  Do I feel like a failure?  Fuck Yes.  But do I know that this is unfortunately the right solution for me?  Absolutely. After resigning I felt like I'd had an emotional massage, I had been so keyed up and stressed out.

So now I have called a couple recruiters back, have fired up the job hunt process again, and go back into the fray with another datapoint to keep an eye out for.  While the whole experience was stressful, draining, and kind of bizarre, it was also kind of awesome.  The process of learning about yourself is of course messy.

shutdown -r now

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As is obvious from the archives here, I haven't used this blog much since it was installed.

It's not that I didn't have things I wanted to document in this sort of forum, particularly because deliberating knotty problems or subjects and distilling them into words is, if not therapeutic, at least a method for clearing a cluttered mind.

Now my mind is sufficiently cluttered as to need some kind of method to compartmentalize the chaos a bit.  I'm even worse as a journaler than a blogger.  Taking the time to write something out by hand seems like a gargantuan task in a digital world.  Additionally, there's a level of commitment with putting pen to paper in meatspace, a different kind of permanence.  I can fuss with the wording of this post for hours, decide not to post it, give up on the idea completely, and all evidence disappears into the bits. :D

I also just left my job at AOL, which I had for six years, nine months, and seven days... So it seems like a good time to revisit who I am and what it means to be me.

And if that isn't a prime piece of 21st century pretentiousness, I don't know what is. ;)

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Mandi Walls in April 2011.

Mandi Walls: May 2009 is the previous archive.

Mandi Walls: November 2011 is the next archive.

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