Now that the news has been broken to my coworkers, I can post the news for anyone to see. After being carpet-bombed by recruiters for months with unsolicited contract-to-perm opportunities, a nice gem of an opportunity developing software with Proficient Systems came out of nowhere. Is making the move from a 156 year old, Fortune 500 subsidiary to a 4 year old, VC backed startup the safest thing in the world? Not necessarily, but for experienced Java developers in Atlanta, I believe the market is strong – at least strong enough that one could find a short or mid-term contract within a week or two.
So why not take a risk? The team there seems sharp, pragmatic, and composed of interesting individuals. The challenge before us is significant but achievable – scaling a product to boost capacity tenfold and beyond to meet growing customer needs. The location is ideal – a 15 minute commute in Atlanta is cause for celebration. The opportunity for growth is critical – interviewing with them opened my eyes to many gaps I have in my resume as a technologist, gaps that are hard to fill as the most senior member of the team in my current job. The easy path would be to stay put. This company treats me well, with nice benefits, a manager who actively looks out for our interests, and near-guaranteed raises. But the raises were a danger as well – collect those long enough, without growing my skills, and I’m stuck with the golden handcuffs, a salary that doesn’t match my skills in the job market.
They seem to have a good balance of the late 90’s work environment and actual business sense. Dress is casual, the structure isn’t rigid, free cokes and razor scooters in the office, but without hiring twice as many people as they need, wasting money on extravagant office space and parties, burning VC like it’s manna from heaven, or squeezing employees into 60-80 hour work weeks.
The last major perk is a matter of personal preference. My experience in both corporate IT jobs and smaller software company jobs has me developing a preference for the latter. I like the open communication, the need for each person to perform multiple roles, the agility to change plans to match actual business priorities, the clarity of purpose, and the closer relationships with co-workers. Elements of big IT drive me nuts – the idiocy of corporate politics, for one. Competing in the marketplace is challening enough, and is only made harder by the inefficiencies of internal maneuvering. I will not miss the stupidity that is the Sarbannes-Oxley Act, and the obscene amount of overhead it requires. We have numerous people whose jobs are entirely dedicating to overhead – deciding which web sites we should and shouldn’t be able to see from work (ESPN is BAD), acting as traffic cops in overly complicated business processes, scanning people’s PCs for unauthorized software, monitoring network packets to identify anything that might not be business related. Small companies don’t have time for that. Each person understands that their job is essential, that their contribution is significant. They don’t have time for internal micromanagement or infighting. They care that the work gets done, not how long your lunch hour was. I enjoy the cross-disciplinary interaction in software companies. At Air2Web, it wasn’t unusual to be on a conference call with a customer, our CEO, and the VP of Marketing. Big IT focuses on funneling interdepartmental interaction through help desks.
Could I find occasion to move back into big IT down the road? Possibly. Would I recommend that someone work for my (soon to be former) employer? Absolutely, especially under my manager and with my co-workers. In the mean time, I’m going to fill the gaps in my skills, take a risk with a smaller company, and help them succeed. I have no illusions of instant or even deferred riches through stock options. Is it risky starting over, having to prove myself all over again? Slightly. But it seems like precisely the shock my career needs to keep moving forward.