On August 26, 2013, I left an employer for whom I’d been working for almost 7 years. In the IT industry, that is almost unheard of. In the IT industry working for a government contractor, that is even more unheard of. In the IT industry, working for a government contractor, when you hold some sort of a clearance, it’s extremely rare. And yet, many of my coworkers at Akamai technologies had been there for at least as long as I had been or longer. There was a simple reason for this. Akamai was, and still is one of the few companies out there that really takes care of their employees.
The salary wasn’t so great, but the bonus, and ESPP, and RSU’s more than made up for it. All employees are part of the ridiculous unlimited leave policy from the day they are hired. Now, that is of course within reason. The general rule was if you needed to take more than 3 weeks at a time, or more than 6 weeks in a year you needed approval from the VP of your division. Plus, many managers restricted leave even further that this, and it was their discretion to do so. Still, think about it. That’s a lot of leave no matter how you look at it. The medical and dental benefits were also great. They paid for 100% of most of the things that ailed me. Their reimbursement for education left a little to be desired, but still, it existed, and was about industry standard. All in all, it was just a good company to work for, and that’s why they had such a high retention rate.
The work itself was getting a little stale for me though. I worked on the only contract they had in Reston, Virginia. They company was based in Cambridge, MA and so was most of their business. I could have moved into a new career with Akamai, but it would have meant a physical move to Cambridge, and I was trying to avoid that if I could.
So along came my next employer. The perfect deal, or so I thought. Much of it was misrepresentation, and some of it was justification in my own head that somehow I could make it work. This new job offered me the ability to work on cutting edge technology. I’d be learning again, and learning relevant things. This came with a price though, and it was a steep one. I’d be taking about an 18% pay cut, plus I’d be back to 3 weeks paid time off until I hit the 5 year mark when it went up to 4 weeks. The 401k match wasn’t as good. The health insurance wasn’t as good. But they told me I could work from home when needed, and the office was only 4 1/2 miles from my home, so I could cut way down on the dog daycare and save some money that way. With the ability to work from home I wouldn’t have to call in sick as much, so the cut in leave wouldn’t be as difficult.
So I took a leap of faith, or shall I say a step into the unknown. It was hard to leave Akamai, but a new career awaited. I’ve said many times there are no wrong decisions, just different ones. Each leads us down a different path. If we find that we are heading in a direction we aren’t comfortable with, there are always other paths to take. This step seemed to be in the right direction at first. The work I was doing was great. I was learning new things, I was working on cutting edge technology. Everything that was promised as far as the type of work was concerned was being fulfilled. But then reality set in.
I was being asked to do unethical things which I’m not going to get into to the details of here, and it’s also why I’m not mentioning the company’s name here. From this point forward I will call them Company X, just so I don’t have to keep saying, “The compay I worked for after Akamai.” The whole “ability to work from home” thing was true, but on a very limited basis, and I never really got a chance to do that, until the very end when I was having difficulty with back pain, and I needed surgery (still pending by the way), and I was having problems with mobility, and started taking pain meds, which made it dangerous for me to drive, and even then, they fought me tooth and nail until finally I brought in a doctor’s note to work from home. Even when I did that, they made me come in to the office to discuss the details.
There was so much of a battle just to do my job half the time. I couldn’t log on to this or that because it was controlled by another company and there was a power play going on where they wouldn’t let me have an account, even though they didn’t know how to do what I needed the account to do, so it just didn’t get done. They couldn’t even pay me correctly. I took some time off for a pre-planned vacation about a month into my employment, and the payroll person didn’t calculate my time off correctly, and again I had to fight tooth and nail to prove that to her.
The methods for making changes or fixing problems were very dangerous. Never any testing. Never any planning. Just, “oh that sounds like a good idea, so do it.” At one point I was so fed up that I just up and quit. I just told them I wasn’t coming back, and then realized that wasn’t very bright, and then begged them for my job back. Needless to say, something needed to change, and it did.
I found another job. I found several actually. I received three offers, and turned two of them down because this time I asked a lot of very direct questions, and made sure I had the full story before I accepted the offer. The thing was, when I was with Akamai, I thought I had ruined my career because I was on an island of proprietary technology, and everything I knew was useless on the mainland. I was so depressed there. It started to show in my interactions with others, and in my work performance. I was becoming a difficult person to work with, and although I was still doing a good job and was told so by my superiors, I didn’t really care. I thought it didn’t matter because who was going to care that I knew proprietary this or that when I started looking for another job.
There was one very important thing that I forgot about though. I’m smart. I’m not trying to brag, but I am. People see that when they talk to me. Whatever it is I don’t know, it’s only because I’m not currently working on it, but I’ll know it in very short order given the chance to learn it. Company X gave me that chance, and I’m grateful to them for that. They made me realize what everybody else was telling me. I have strong troubleshooting skills. I have the ability to absorb new information and apply it productively in a very rapid manner. They made me realize these things and some other things. I know what I’m worth now. I’m worth as much as I can convince somone to pay me. I know that I’m not willing to participate in unethical practices, and that if I’m asked to do something unethical I need to call the person on it who’s asking me to do it, or report them. I also know that in the almost 6 months I’ve been with Company X, I’ve gained some real world skills that a ton of government contractors in the Washington DC area find very valuable. I’ve learned I don’t need to work too hard to search for a job with these skills on my resume. Employers are knocking on my door even when there is a sign on it that says, “Go away please!” I’ve learned, “We really want you to come work for us.” is not an answer to the question, “what is the bonus plan that your company offers?”, and that if I’m asking straightforward questions, which are being answered with vague, misdirecting answers that it is time to move on to the next.
I know what I’m worth, I know how smart I am, and I know the type of work I want to be doing, at least for now. So after going through a bunch of interviews, with several employers, I found Company Y, where the benefits are almost as good as they were at Akamai (some are better actually), and they gave me straight answers to straight questions, and I can work from home if I need to (like now), no questions asked, and the work I will be doing will be extremely exciting and cutting edge. Will this be the perfect job? Not likely. But it will be better than what I have now, and of that I am sure.
There are no wrong decisions, just different ones. Each leads us down a different path. If we find that we are heading in a direction that we aren’t comfortable with, there are always other paths to take. Just remember though. If you are standing on an island, and looking to leave that island, the next step could be to the mainland, or it could be to a lily pad. The key is to figuring out which one before the lily pad can no longer support your weight, and you drown. On March 10, 2014 I will take another step, hopefully this time to the mainland.