Friday, March 10, 2017

Localized Climate Change

So the title got your attention. I'm not going political. I started this posting in August, and experienced some changes after "Tipping Point". I'm getting back to this now, to complete the story, and hopefully help others recognize when you've reached your own tipping point.

Boiling Frog
There's this myth that if you put a frog in a pot of really hot water, the frog will jump out, but if you put it in a pot of cool water it will stay, even if you turn on the heat. The myth is that the frog will boil alive. Research has disproven this, but it is still used often as a fable to drive another agenda: lots of little things changing for the bad can go unnoticed until its too late. So, since that fable has been scientifically proven false, I'll go with something else: Climate Change.

Climate Change
We've heard the political rhetoric about "global warming" and watched the term evolve into "climate change". The idea is similar to the boiling frog story: lots of little changes for the bad resulting in a situation that is far worse than it was when it all started. Whether you believe this is a myth or reality doesn't matter for my purpose today. It is just a way of explaining a negative trajectory. All that context gets me to my starting point.

Baseline Climate
When I started working for my current employer, I was a contractor. This employer is like many others, reserving the nicer work spaces for the full-time employees. So, when I started, I was given a 3 year old laptop and a desk chair. I was directed to sit under an open stairway... without a desk. It was kind of like working at the airport all the time. Within a few weeks, I had started demonstrating value and I was moved into a pen of tables where many other contractors were. Later, I was moved into a smaller office with 3 other contractors. All in all, though, it was pretty good. We were on the main campus, so we had all the access to things that such a large wealthy company can provide: natural beauty, a walking-around lake, famous people dropping by, really good food, and well-funded projects allowing for teams to bring in good people and build interesting things. Into this environment, I accepted a full-time role doing high level data architecture stuff.

Early Winds of Climate Change
During our days on the main campus, we moved around a lot. From offices, to conference rooms to pens, back to offices. I didn't stay in one spot for more than a few months. Large companies, especially "growth" companies, get bigger. This growth usually outpaces their ability to, and oftentimes interest in, build more space for housing the growth. When my employer felt that pressure, technologists were the first to be pushed out, and off campus. My department didn't go far, definitely not as far as some of our Technology friends, but we lost the beauty, the lake, the good food and the famous people dropping by. In fact, most of the little things that made working there special were lost. For the techies, we could have been working for pretty much anyone. We were also detached from the business unit we were supposed to be supporting. Rather than sitting in the next cluster of desks (or right beside you), they remained in the old location, a 15 minute walk away. The work was still well funded and the projects were still interesting, though. In fact, shortly after this move, we were given a huge program (many projects under one huge umbrella) to deliver over the next 3 years.

Hot Winter and Hotter Summer
Huge program. Awesome. This will be fun. In order to do it, we're going to need a lot more people, and more folks to manage them. Step one: grab some folks in the trenches and make them managers. I was one of those folks. I'm not sure I really wanted to manage, but I figured if they wanted a team of people to do what I used to do by myself, who better to build that team? Our group exploded in terms of people and overhead. Pretty soon, my days were spent crafting powerpoint slide desks to explain to new additional layers of management what my team was doing instead of helping do the work. After the first year, the continued growth of the company, combined with the growth of the department in response to the new work, we had to move again.

Tipping Point
This time, we were moved a town away, and further away from Portland. Portland is a great technology hub, and this move stressed the top-tier engineers. Many left. Others adapted. Considering that Portland was attracting lots of technology folks from around the country, we were able to bring people in, but we had become a landing zone for techies from around the globe who wanted to live in Portland. They would do their contract (or a portion of it) and then not re-up, choosing instead to either join a start-up or another company that's actually in Portland. For the projects, and those who did the work, the 15 minute walk to see our business partners was now a luxury we could hardly remember. It was replaced with a 20-minute car ride. Like many tipping points, you don't know what it was until after it's passed.

As you can imagine this had a significant cooling effect on relations between the business and the technology folks charged with working with them. The first change was pretty immediate: the business folks no longer appeared at Technology-hosted meetings, parties, etc and our seeing them daily devolved into once a week. Then, the relationship shifted from "partners" to servant:served. Collaboration was replaced with mandates, targets with schedules, flexibility with finger-pointing. Our cordial and supportive environment had grown caustic.

The rapid expansion that had been driven from the executive levels had changed the culture across the enterprise at a very core level. Additionally, the rapid increase in employees became a stock price burden (increasing cost-of-goods-sold) exacerbating the sluggish sales hammering the stock. The "we can do anything" attitude had been replaced with a "chase the golden ring" behavior. Investment was not focusing on what was prudent, instead, funding would pivot to whatever was the hottest thing, with the belief that it would snap things back to the rolling-in-the-dough days. Cost management became cutting contractors (and lots of them) while protecting business travel and politically connected projects.

August was annual bonus time. While I watched business partners acquire new cars with their bonuses, mine was very disappointing. I had enough to cover my share of T's first term at public university, but the promises of big money and having my salary improved to reflect my worth proved empty. I had decided my time with the company was over and started prepping an escape pod. In my time in the Portland area, I knew a lot of people. Of course, those same people knew lots of folks at my employer, so careful diplomacy was critical. Oddly enough, I heard about an opportunity because of all the other folks who were leaving my employer. One of them was applying for a role where I had some old friends and they asked me about the applicant, and if I'd want to post for it since they were looking for a few people. Two weeks later, I had an offer. For more money. And less responsibility. In the center of the city. I my gave notice, and in the same meeting my manager told me that I had to release all of my contractors because my team was getting eliminated. By now, it was almost Thanksgiving, so the company's parting gift to me for my years of service was to play Scrooge for a team of 10 people. Neat. I spent my last 3 weeks finding new roles for each one of them. Then, I boarded my escape pod and ejected myself from that toxic soup.

I spent the rest of 2016 on vacation. Beware Climate Change. In the corporate environment, it is very real. Those who can't vote with their wallet, vote with their feet. If your management is voting against you (with their funding, projects, treatment), I encourage you to vote with your feet. And leave. That's it for today.

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