Moving Onwards

Three years ago, I was sitting in a Panera Bread1 and contemplating the future. I was debating with myself on whether I should give up what was becoming a great career at Microsoft in order to try my hand at a small startup in Silicon Valley called Box. The offer had come suddenly but it took me literally two weeks to rationalize the decision. Was it the right opportunity? Was it going to be a good fit? Did it align with what I valued in a job and in life?

I wrangled with this decision and eventually came to the conclusion that Box fit my needs and was the right move to make at that point in time. Fast forward the three years and I don’t regret the experience. I’ve connected with many great people at Box and around the Bay, and I was able to reconnect with plenty of others from my high school and college days. Coming back to the Bay for this was incredibly worthwhile.2

However, after I recently re-evaluated what was important to me, it was time to take a closer look at some new offers that arrived on my plate. The one that stood out the most to me was from the company that makes JIRA, Confluence, HipChat, Bitbucket, and more… (collaboration tools for teams). The company was Atlassian.

A few things about this company were particularly attractive:

  • Heavily biased towards being a product and engineering-focused company
  • Has a substantial customer base that buys and loves their products
  • Sees plenty of success with their products with a lean team
  • Hasn’t built up a significant presence on mobile platforms yet
  • Globally distributed and has a penchant for remote collaboration in their DNA

That last bit is key. This is actually the single most attractive thing about this company – they are not isolated in any one geographical area, and hence they have a much wider potential perspective on what makes great software.

Here’s why that’s important. As I spent more and more time in the Bay Area over the past few years, I started to realize that we have quite the “bubble” mentality. That is, we in the Valley really do live in our own world and it is hard for us to stay in touch with / understand / empathize with people outside our circles. I try my best (through various hobbies) to broaden my own circles in an attempt to avoid the “Silicon Valley entrepreneur” mindset, but I have found it to be extremely difficult to escape it if you work with tech in any capacity here.

So when it came time to weigh my offers against my values, I gave Atlassian an edge because I wanted a chance to work for a company with a headquarters somewhere other than the Valley. (Going back to Microsoft wouldn’t really count, in case you’re wondering.) Here was a company that could build software with teams not overly affected by the Valley’s collective Groupthink. Not to say that the Valley is a bad place for a career – on the contrary, it is an excellent place for engineers to get a breadth of expertise!3 For me, though, a chance to change my environment was something I saw as a valuable contribution to my own growth that I needed to seize now.

The role is right up my alley as well. Consider this: as a company, Atlassian hasn’t historically had teams working on mobile clients for their most popular products (like Confluence or JIRA). They recognized this when talking to me and invited me to help conceive and build out first versions of what could be a collection of Atlassian apps. As a product manager, nothing is more exciting than being a part of a V1 product – and (hopefully) my history with mobile products at Box can lead to success here as well.

One more thing about this role – because teams at Atlassian are distributed and the headquarters is in Sydney, travel will be a necessity. Other than being a nice perk, I believe it will also give me the opportunity to expose myself to cultures other than “the U.S. West Coast” – and given significant time at each major office (Sydney, Austin, etc.), should make me a more “worldly” person. The hope is that this will help me both grow as a human being as well as professionally.

With that in mind, I took the offer after about two months of consideration – and a few more visits to Panera Bread. J I start in December in the Sydney HQ, and will take the rest of the month to slowly make my way over there via copious amounts of recreational, email-free and guilt-free travel. Catch up with me on the other side of the world!

P.S. If you’re wondering how I can possibly just abandon my beloved Bay Area and all the great people here… you shouldn’t think of it that way. Instead, think of it as just adding more locales to my list of places to regularly visit, which currently includes Seattle and New York City. If anything big is happening in any of these places, I’ll make the effort to be there – even if it takes 16 hours to fly. People in Seattle can attest. J

1Panera is actually a great place to go for this kind of thing – it has warm soups, delectable sandwiches, and tasty pastries that you can nibble on for hours on end.

2I give Brian Tran flak for being the one responsible for dragging me back to the Bay, but in truth I’m incredibly grateful.

3Abhishek Agrawal may have put it best when he says that the ease of surrounding yourself with techies in the Valley is both the most invigorating and obnoxious thing about this place. (paraphrasing)

Values Revisited

As I near the three-year anniversary of my engagement1 to Box, I thought it would be apropos to reflect on some of my values in life & work.

I first created a list of values like this way back in 2011, as a way to assess how things were going in my life in general and determine whether I was adequately satisfying my needs. By making this list, I learned a lot about myself and what makes me happy at work – which is undoubtedly different than what makes others happy!

Why is this important? Well, as I see it, one’s life is inextricably tied to one’s work (see: work-life harmony), and – quite frankly – too many people in this world are not happy with their work. Over half of employees are not engaged in their work, with almost 20% actively disengaged in this oft-cited Gallup poll. This is saddening – employers and employees alike should resist this state of affairs.

One way to address this is preventative – regularly evaluate your own values so that you ensure you remain in a place where you’re actively engaged in your work and, hence, your life.

Note: I want to make it clear that I’m not advocating for your work to become your life. I’m just trying to point out that a majority of your time in life is going to be spent in work, so it behooves you to try to make it something you’re engaged and happy in.

With that, here I’ll share the results of my own sort-of-biennial introspection – a thoroughly prioritized list of values, grouped into broader categories this time around. Here’s what important to me now:

Environment

  1. Life in a diverse, urban environment
  2. Minimal work commute
  3. Flexible working schedule, ability to telecommute
  4. Low cost of living
  5. Network of friends in the company and surrounding area

Career Growth

  1. Vertical growth opportunity
  2. Manager who is invested in me
  3. Opportunities to learn new things
  4. Recognition for my efforts

Team

  1. Collaborative team environment
  2. Smart people to learn from
  3. Shared passion, excitement, and general positivity
  4. Fun, informal team environment

Product

  1. Having an impact on the most people possible
  2. Shipping early and often
  3. Working on a product that is well known
  4. Working on a product that is greatly admired / respected

Responsibility

  1. Trust in me to make the right decisions
  2. Exposure to the public as a representative of the team
  3. Challenging work that stretches me

Compensation

  1. Perks – free food, shuttle services, on-site amenities, toys
  2. Benefits – health care, financial options, vacation time, transit passes
  3. Salary
  4. Stock / options that grow

Company

  1. Minimal bureaucracy / process / red tape
  2. Stability, low risk of termination
  3. Founders and vision
  4. Open office layout

It’s important to note that values shift over time. What was important to me three years ago may not be as important now. In fact, I believe one’s values can fluctuate on a monthly basis – which is why it’s all the more important to do these sorts of exercises regularly.2

This was just my personal list, and I’m sure yours will be different. I’d be curious what values others have in their work/lives that I don’t have, so feel free to leave a comment and share! And by doing so, may we all never fall into a state where we hate our work.

1 Use of the term “engagement” is an inside joke 😛
2 Sometimes it takes a friend to remind you to self-evaluate… I’m fortunate to have several who keep me in check.

Reflections on the Month of Mobile

It’s been a couple weeks since I returned from my month on the East Coast, and I’ve had a chance to catch up on some sleep and otherwise recover from the grand experiment of working 100% remotely on mobile devices. I have officially gone “back to the office”. (Though, was I ever really gone, technically speaking?)
Continue reading Reflections on the Month of Mobile