Relax, be confident, be amazing, be you!

The Best Layoff Ever – Part Two – The Whirlwind Hustle

Quick recap – in October of 2015, I left my previous employer to work with friends at a place I’d worked before on software I was passionate about. I immediately clicked with the team, but only got to work with them four weeks before new management came in and did a mass layoff.

This left me job hunting between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which was not a fun experience but I realized what an amazing group of people I’d become a part of. As of January 2, 2016 I had two very promising job prospects. And that’s where the story picks back up…

Momentum = Success (Eventually)  No Momentum = No Success

I’ve been through a couple layoffs & job changes in the past, all within the IT world. One thing seems to hold true across every time I’ve done a job hunt. If you have just one or two promising opportunities, DO NOT JUST SIT AND WAIT TO HEAR BACK. I don’t know if this is karma, universal law, God’s hand in things, or just the way things work but if you’re just waiting, everything you are waiting on WILL just fall through.

Luckily I was well aware of this and jumped on the chance to rejoin a group I had been a part of last year. Thirty Days of Hustle – a private Facebook group organized by author Jon Acuff – proposes the idea that rather than set massive multi-year goals or even one year goals, you pick something you want to just rock for 30 days. At the end of thirty days you decide to pick a new 30 day hustle or stick with the same one and keep going. I decided that for 30 days I would contact one person a day about getting a new job. This could be sending in a resume, doing an interview, emailing people, or just talking to friends at a user group.

Right about the time people got back from the holidays, I got feedback from both companies I mentioned in my previous post. One is a software company in the healthcare field looking for a well-rounded developer but they are mainly a Python shop. I had enough overall experience but none in Python and my impression was they found someone with a similar background as me with a few years of Python experience. So of course they hired that person instead.

The other company is an open source database company. I’ve worked with many different database systems over my career, but typically was just using SQL and high level scripting languages such as Perl or Ruby. I believe they wanted someone more into the low level languages like C or C++ along with being able to fine-tune the algorithms and data structures within their database.

Hustle + Community = Awesomeness

During January, I was vigilant in working my hustle for the first couple weeks. One issue I ran into was frankly at one point, I had so many recruiters reaching out to me after I had updated Linked In, Twitter, Facebook, and anything else I could think of, I ended up sending very short “Thanks, but no thanks” emails to some and outright ignoring others if the jobs weren’t anywhere near what I was looking for.

One huge breakthrough I had was I spend some time drafting up a message to send to the local Ruby user group asking for help finding a job. Let me take a step back and say this was one of the hardest things I did in my job hunt. This is a group of people that I looked up to, respected, admired and quite frankly have fallen in love with. It’s my home base in the geek community. I’ll visit other user groups, but because of my friends in the Ruby community that is where I’ve come back to. I’m nearing ten years of going, although when I first started I only went when the topics announced on the mailing list sounded interesting.

According to their website, there are over 600 people who have been active in the group or on the mailing list. Also the mailing list archives and forums are public so the whole internet could – in theory – see whatever I wrote in my plea to help me find a job. I spent a huge amount of time writing, rewriting, deleting, and rewriting again. It felt like I went over it fifty times making sure it had all the details without being overly wordy, was humble without begging, and professional while still sounding like me and not a recruiter.

It turns out my nervousness was completely unfounded. I didn’t get a flood of responses – either good or bad. I did have a few people contact me and wish me well, a couple suggest places I could talk to, and of course a couple recruiters reach out to me.

Unlike the recruiters that just spam all their contacts, these two actually arranged a time to meet face to face for coffee to get a better idea of what my career goals were and see if they had any place that would be a good fit for me. In both cases, they were looking people with more Rails + JavaScript front-end development experience than I have but it was still good to get out of the house and hear what was going on in the tech community.

After having coffee with the second recruiter, as I was leaving I ran into a person I knew from the Ruby users group that had worked the same place I did a few years ago. It turned out the place he was working now has many remote developers – including him – and they were hiring. It was good running into him again, but it turned out to not be a lead I needed.

Leaving on a Jet Plane and Sliding Into Home

At the end of all this, it turned out to be two companies that were in very close competition at the end. One was a local consulting company where I’ve got multiple friends from various places – previous employers, user groups, and a friend from church. The other is an online learning company that builds nearly everything in Rails in Salt Lake City. I happened to know people that work at both companies and met up with them for lunch before interviewing. They both had nothing but good to say. The feedback about the consulting company was “There are amazing people there. If you get the chance, go there!” For the online learning – it was great people, I love my job, and it’s awesome being able to work from home.

I finished up most of the interview process with the consulting company first. The final round of interviews was coming into the office and doing pair programming – that is working alongside one of their developers on a small programming project for an hour or so.  I won’t get into the details here but hiring me as an application developer fell through but through email exchanges they figured I’d be a perfect fit for their DevOps team and arranged to have me meet up with their DevOps lead the following Tuesday after he got off work.

This DevOps interview went as well as any interview could have. He had worked at the same place I had just left, but had left a few years ago. Both of us had similar thoughts about how application development and DevOps in general should be done. We ended up just talking shop for around two hours and had a great time.

This schedule made for a really busy week because the Salt Lake City folks had scheduled to fly me out for my final round of interviews there late Wednesday morning. The interviews were actually all day Thursday, but they wanted me to be rested up and ready for my interviews. The experience of going to Salt Lake City was completely different than the Chicago trip (see previous post). Instead of it being my last ditch effort to work with my former team, I was expecting to find a company with an amazing culture where I really wanted to work and knew I could be a valuable addition to their team.

My former coworkers knew how much this meant to me and the same friend that was there for me on the Chicago trip send me this advice/encouragement before I flew out to Salt Lake City “Go be amazing, luck has nothing to do with it!” While waiting in the airport for my flight, I reworked this advice to fit me better and wrote it on a Post-It Note which I stuck in the calendar I’d been using to track all the interviews and calls and followups for my job hunt. The modified version is “Relax. Be confident. Be amazing. Be YOU!”

When I got to Salt Lake City, I had a few hours to kill before bedtime. I ended up going out to a sushi place within walking distance of the hotel. When I got back I worked out a bit, played video games some, and read some technical blogs and of course chatting with family back home and friends on our Slack team.

During the interview, they took me on a tour of the office and this happened to be right during their daily stand-up meetings. Since they have remote developers, they do their stand-ups via video conferencing. When I got back to my computer to continue the live-coding part of the interview, I had a message from my friend in the local Ruby group saying he’d seen me via video conference and good luck on the interview.

In the last interview session before lunch, I got a call from the consulting company I had interviewed with. I hit the button on my Pebble watch to send it to voicemail. After that session was over, I excused myself to check my voicemail and got the best news I could have hoped for: a job offer that was comparable to what I had made at the job I had left in the fall. Job interviews are so much easier when you have a solid job offer in your back pocket.

The guys who were interviewing me took me out to lunch at an amazing Mexican restaurant and I got to see that this would be an fantastic team to work with. Also Salt Lake City has some amazing scenery. I recommend everyone visit it at some point. I finished up the interviews and the recruiter I was working with said something that I took to mean I’d have an offer by the following Monday.

My flight ended up landing me back home after midnight due to some problems with our plane they had to fix before take-off. The following morning, I got up and send off my “Thanks for taking the time to interview me” email to the recruiter from Salt Lake City. I didn’t have the emails of the people who interviewed me or I would have emailed them also.

After getting feedback from Salt Lake City, I accepted the job with the local consulting company. They said they do a monthly class to onboard new hires. I could either wait to start during that class in February or start earlier if I wanted to. At this point, I was completely exhausted and drained from all the interviewing I had done and just wanted to enjoy life a bit. So I opted to start in February and got to coast a bit on my hustle for the last week and a half of January.

I did get a good idea of what technologies I’d be working with on the first project at my new job, so I built PC to run Linux and then installed OpenStack and spent some time learning that and Docker. So that was my hustle the second half of January.

Epilogue, Retrospective & Watching Friends Land Somewhere

At this point, I’m just over four months into the new job and loving it. The people I work with at the consulting company are some of the brightest & most passionate people I’ve met in IT. There’s such a wide variety of people all working on different projects, unlike working at a single company where you’d have a small set of technologies and limited number of projects to work on.

I still miss the group I was laid off with, but we’re in touch daily on Slack. There are plans in the works to do some kind of monthly meet up since not everyone in this group are developers and even the ones that are can’t always make it to the Ruby group.

My only regret in this is while in Salt Lake City, I missed the team holiday party. Among those laid off was the person who organized the company Christmas party. Someone jokingly said that we should have our own company Christmas party even though we were laid off. She pointed out that by the time this idea was suggested, it was too late to book any location for a Christmas party so we’d have to settle for a New Year/New Start party in January if everyone could chip in a little bit.

In total, three of us ended up at the same consulting company but on different projects. We still see each other at all company meetings but don’t get to work together.

Some of my favorite people on the team went to even smaller companies than the one that laid us off. Four of these people had the unfortunate experience of a double-whammy. The companies they ended up at had to cut back and these four people got laid off again! I felt like I had been punched in the gut when I got this news and did whatever I could to help them land new jobs.

As of this writing, everyone is back to work or has a job offer in hand to go back. I believe it was almost six months to the day when the last person went back to work.

It was a crazy experience and I am not wanting to have a similar experience any time soon, but I would not trade it for the world. This is the most amazingly supportive group of people I’ve had the pleasure to know. Seeing this group support each other through hard times and good times has shown me how people should treat each other. Having a group I can open up to and share how I feel has reminded me how to be human again. I did not realize I was forgetting this until I left my old job in the fall to work with these friends.

If You Are Setting Goals – Make Sure They Are Goals You Actually Want to Succeed At

One final thought. About five years ago, during my first performance review after becoming a full-time employee at the company I’d later leave my manager asked me what my goals were in my career. I had a pretty good handle on my short-range and mid-range goals but I really didn’t know what I wanted long term. After thinking about it, all I could come up with was I loved working with open source software and at the time it seemed like the absolute best open source developers were referred to by their initials and everyone in the community just knew who you were talking about (esr – Eric Raymond, rms – Richard Stallman, jwz – Jamie Zawinski, etc) So I made my goal to be working with open source software and be good enough at it to be referred to by my initials.

At my first consulting project, almost everything is built on open source software and the usernames are all a combination of initials and some kind of indicator of what department you are in.

Be careful what you wish for, what goals you set. You just might end up getting them! in my case it is working out extremely well.

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