I left my first paying job

I left my first paying job

This is a bittersweet post. I tweeted about the topic the other day, but here I tried to gather my thoughts a bit better.

There's something special about first everythings. The first crush, the first date, the first breakup, etc, all have a special feeling that sets them apart ever so slightly over similar moments. Of course, I had this feeling at my first job. It wasn't my first job... I've helped my family's business since I was tall enough to stand behind a counter, but today we're talking about the first time I got paid by someone to write software. Sounds foolishly casual, but long before I got into college I dreamed of doing something other than the family business, something that seemed destined for me to inherit, and to have it become a reality meant a lot to me.

As luck would have it, I was exiting college after a failed start at a PhD program and reached out to the Erlang slack, looking for open positions. It so happened that there was a remote position opening in Germany that started right when I was supposed to leave school. The pay was great for a junior position, the team was smart and fun, so I applied. I had my interviews, both of which successful, but had lingering feelings of inadequacy and felt like I wasn't going to know enough for the job. There was also a mandatory 2-week onboarding in a small town in Germany I had never heard of, it sounded... crazy. But I jumped in anyway. I bought the plane and train tickets, AirBnB and set out for adventure.

Worms, Rhineland-Palatinate

In Germany I met and worked with a talented team on a cool project. This onboarding was perfect to get to know the team, hang out and talk about non-work topics to bond, I felt like I was the dumbest of my team, which I think is a great thing, but it was very intimidating.

My teammates endured a lot of dumb questions and tolerated lots of mistakes, which I am still thankful for, today. The open environment made me feel accepted, but there was a deep feeling of not belonging since I felt my performance was subpar compared to my peers. I struggled with this feeling despite making progress in several fronts and growing a lot as a developer. Call it imposter syndrome or whatever you want; I struggled against this for a long time.

Time elapsed

My team lead at the time gave me tasks to work on that would improve in areas where I needed and I took those opportunities to get meaningful feedback and learn what I could be doing better. This accumulated over time, and I started taking in some more responsibilities, participating in code reviews, and doing some other things I saw as for "non-junior" developers. I slowly overcame my feelings of inadequacy, and as new people onboarded, I tried to help them in the same way and provide a similar experience.

One of the highlights I will vividly remember working on – and failing at – was implementing an idempotency mechanism from scratch. It was a cool experience that my team lead provided for me. How? He knew how to implement it, but he saw that I was excited to give it a try. Somehow the results slightly... off. He kept pointing at implementation issues and allowed me to get there eventually, which is exactly what I wanted. He seemed to know which developers appreciated which mentoring style and adapted his feedback to what each person was most familiar/appreciative of.

A Missing Piece

More time passed, I'm still getting more and more responsibilities, ended up reaching the status of maintainer on 1-2 of our repositories but I started to feel unmotivated for some reason.

I still feel I can't pinpoint it exactly to one reason, but this feeling never went away. I found myself excited at some projects and ideas that I worked on after hours and yet I was constantly bored with what I got assigned to do at work.

I shared this predicament in a personal session at Elar, with Tisse Malon, which I consider to be my life coach. She advised me to change jobs and I brushed off her advice, it sounded crazy to me. To me, something was wrong with me that I should be able to change, and the job change seemed much harder for me.

Months went by. Things stayed the same, and I started to see this unmotivated state of mind spill into my personal life. At one point I was feeling a bit numb when my wife called out on it. After some meditating, I knew that my job had become a chore and not something that excited me, it no longer filled my needs.
Feeling unexcited about work is somewhat common for the people around me, so I take it as the norm (I know I shouldn't). But to have my wife call me out for being numb while sharing a happy moment made me realize that I needed to make a change in my life.

To be clear, nothing especially bad happened at the job itself, I wasn't being paged in the middle of the night or anything. I believe one of the contributing factors might have been that we had limited to no feedback on what we shipped to customers (can't really explain why) and so, to a certain point, there was no way of seeing any "impact" on what we did. There were steps taken to improve this but it was too little too late for me. I might dig a bit deeper and meditate a bit more about what happened and try to get more clarity. But even without clarity, it was clear (pun intended) that this change had to happen.

A Lot of Feelings

When all is said and done, the first feeling that comes to mind is being grateful. The biggest output of this job wasn't money or accolades, instead it was learning and growth. The team I was part of is awesome and part of the things we did I will carry to other places.

A lot of negative feelings come up as well: I felt frustrated and confused for not being able to "get over it". I felt lonely when it was finally time to have "the talk" and ashamed for dragging it out for too long. When I finally gave my notice, I felt anxious and stressed because I didn't have anything lined up after that. I felt afraid and worried of ending up in a worse job. Fortunately, there was some good that came with the bad. I felt overwhelmingly relieved, for finally taking action on something that was deeply affecting me; peaceful, for doing the right thing for me and reaching the end of this chapter; satisfied, for having been able to make the most out of the opportunity.
I felt sad for leaving my team, but also happy, excited and hopeful for whatever it was that I was going to do next. I felt curious, inspired and confident, feelings so intense that screamed out to me how long I had been waiting for this change.

Now, you might be wondering why I decided to list all of my feelings up here, good and bad. Well, the answer is because I feel like most of what I felt isn't all that special. It has happened before and will happen again for millions of people that go through the same life change. I've also embraced feelings as the ultimate tool for mindfulness, since feelings whisper to you what it is that you're needing. And in my case, I purposely stopped listening to them because I felt it would be hard to change, when in reality I think the change was hard because I stopped listening.

What Now?

What seemed like a story about a job change quickly developed into a deeper conversation with myself. One that I can't say I've enjoyed, but definitely learned from. It turns out you can't ignore how you feel for long, and doing it only makes the problem worse.

There's a lot to look forward to. Even after ignoring the background noise for months, I can say that being able to act on my feelings was very empowering. This is important, because it not only lifted me up, but it also gives me extra energy for whatever comes next.

Feelings seem to whisper in my ear what it is I'm needing. As I ignore them, the whisper increases in volume again and again until it is screaming at me. I acted only at this very late stage, but I have since tried to be mindful and act more swiftly on other smaller topics. I've found that needs that are tended to in the "whisper stage" become manageable and part of day to day events, while acting on screaming needs is stressful and it quickly becomes a priority, no matter how inconvenient that is... Which teaches me that I need to be a better listener and pay attention to all the whispers.