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Mea Culpa: Why I Moved On

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My time at Embotics has sadly come to an end. It was a decision that I wrestled with for a number of months before I could finally arrive at a decision that I was comfortable with. It was a classic example of a wicked problem: no experiments that can be run to help make the decision, no way to know afterwards that the decision is correct, no way to go back for a do-over.
What made it really difficult was that I was leaving behind a lot of good friends and a lot of shared pain, learning, and growth. We grew from a group of talented but unproven developers and testers through a journey of retrospection and experimentation. Through a series of agile-inspired changes, we became a high-performance team that could reliably adapt and deliver customer-driven features. This was an opportunity that is surprisingly rare in our industry.

Things that I miss
  • Working with a team that worked very well as a true team. I'm sure I will quickly find this again in my new position, but there was a great reassurance to know that you could always count on your peers to do what they say they are gong to do and deliver day in, day out.
  • The dependability of having a solid codebase to build upon. Part of the excitement of a new startup is the ability to create something new, but a parodds me misses the familiarity of working in something that I put 4+ years of effort into.
  • The personalities of my co-workers. In such a small team, we had an amazing diversity of interests and opinions: a competitive canoeist, a constant traveller with the van to match, tonnes of gardening knowledge, fellow craft beer enthusiasts, a diversity of languages
  • Feeling guilty for not riding my bike to work. I prided myself in sticking to the daily commute, but when you have one person who booked 8300+ km one year and another who endured dozens of flats and February blizzards, my excuses don't seem to carry much weight.

Things that I learned
  • The power of an agile mindset. By framing problems and choices as opportunities to learn and grow, you immediately open up a wider range of possibilities than if you just try to find the right answer.
  • The best way to lead is by jumping in and taking responsibility. Examples provide a means of showing people which direction to go while still making it their choice to follow. More choice == more buy-in == better results.
  • Fostering openness is a strong tool for continuous improvement. Once you have a safe environment to discuss problems, then you have the ability to address them constructively.
  • The best way to learn is by doing and by thinking about how to recover from mistakes that are and will be making. Provide as many safety nets as possible so that people aren't exposed when they are truly giving their best efforts to do their job.
  • Many, many problems that occur in an organization are system problems and their solutions lie in addressing an underlying issue in that system. This is especially true when you create an environment of heightened responsibility, where simple people problems do not occur.

Things that I discovered about myself
  • I've always thought the reason I change jobs is because I got bored. I think the real reason is that I am looking for opportunities to learn.
  • I'm still way too quiet. I'd say more about this, but...
  • I have a relaxed demeanour that is helpful in calming and directing the team.  However, I need to balance this with its anchoring effect and how this affects the team's energy levels.
  • I have key elements that are useful for leadership and management but there are some things I need to work on a lot: confidence in my abilities, allowing myself the room to make mistakes, delegating and trusting those around me to do better than I would

Things that I would have changed
  • Spend more time with new hires: there are many reasons to do this but the main ones are to A) ensure that people are fully engaged and contributing, and B) increase the team's capacity so I can move on to different problems
  • Make the dull work more visible: I had a bad habit of shielding the team from a lot of the dull work. While this was a good strategy to keep the team moving forward, it did not provide a lot of personal satisfaction. Looking back, I'm sure the team would have been happy to share the burden of this monkey work.
  • Raise my yellow flag: I was pretty good at identifying potential issues that needed the attention of senior management except when it can to one person: me.
  • Be a little more selfish: often putting the team first is the correct plan to build a high performance unit, but there are times that you need to look out for what is best for your own career. These things do not need to be in conflict so I should have look for more opportunities 
  • Spend more time managing: Life is always busy in startups but the thing that should not have slipped is taking care of the people on the team - understanding their motivations, finding out what is bothering them, helping them get to where they want to be
  • Make time for the little moments: once my career is over, I expect there will have been a lot more little moments than big ones so I should make sure to enjoy the little ones as they are occurring - that game of foosball, spending a could of extra minutes at the end of lunc, getting caught up with people after the weekend and holidays.
So why would I choose to leave this situation? That really was the crux of my decision process.  A lot of it comes down to needing to move on to learn something new. My work environment wasn't providing it and it was difficult to find time outside of work hours as I have two little people that I want to spend time with. I'm sure I won't truly understand my decision and whether it was a good one until months down the road.

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This page contains a single entry by Steve Gamble published on December 12, 2011 1:28 PM.

Book: Enchantment was the previous entry in this blog.

Building a Scrum Wall in 8 Story Cards is the next entry in this blog.

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