(As promised, an update on one of “a lot of things going on lately” in my life.)
I started a new job! After two years of customer support (or CS, as we call it — confusing as hell when CS has meant “computer science” to me for years), I have
conned moved my way over to the Product team at 23andMe.
Before I dive into the details of how I got a new job, I’m going to give some completely unsolicited and minimally supported advice* on job dissatisfaction, career pathing, and creating opportunities:
- First, realize when you’re not happy with your current place. It’s easy to get lost in the day to day and forget about the bigger picture.
- Examine why you’re unhappy, and what parts of your job you still enjoy.
- Make the most of any flexibility you have to do things you like to do that are valuable to the company (or on a smaller scale, to the project). For me at least, the more I enjoy what I’m doing, the better I am at it. This generates positive visibility and helps develop relationships with coworkers who will be your biggest supporters for a lateral move.
- Ask for a change. If your manager doesn’t know that you want something different, they can’t help you get something different. If your manager is a good one (someone who’s invested in developing you as a person), they’ll be on your side.
*Admittedly, my parents (veterans of the corporate world and managers in their own right) bestowed a version of this advice upon me, backed by the wisdom of their experiences. So not completely unsupported advice, and hopefully sound.
If you’re reading between the lines up there, you can pretty much tell how things went down for me. Though the unhappiness started before last summer, last July was when I faced down my own frustration and essentially said, “Would I be happier if I were unemployed?” That led to new questions — if I’m going to leave, what else can I get out of this job in the next couple months? What keeps me going back instead of quitting right now? How do I make my job more of what I like, and less of what I don’t like? What do I want my job title/description to be a year from now, and what skills don’t I have right now that I’d need to be there?
Thanks to a strong working relationship with Engineering, I had some options for that last question. I credit my coworkers Cordell and Mat with persistently planting the idea in my mind of doing QA engineering or web development — without their encouragement that yes, they believed I could do it, I wouldn’t have talked it through with some/lots of people and brought the idea to my manager in November.
I don’t know what it is about my past relationships with mentors and bosses, but for some reason I was terrified of telling my manager, “Look. I don’t want to be on your team [forever].” Maybe it was because I’d never really had a career path conversation with anyone at the company besides my teammate-and-sometimes-workout-buddy. Maybe it’s the obedient Asian kid in me with a terrified respect for authority. (Who am I kidding? I’m the worst obedient Asian kid ever.) Maybe I was just terrified of my future, and of picking a path that closed off others.
In any case, my manager said, “GREAT let’s figure something out for you!” (paraphrasing wildly here.) Joy! Lightheartedness! Relief!
So that’s how that conversation that needed to happen outside of me got started. What I didn’t know for the next couple months was the entire Product and Engineering teams were restructuring and carving out a brave new world of project pods and throwing around words that they hoped didn’t mean something corny like synergy (but probably did). All I knew was my manager and I kept being puzzled that great conversations weren’t going anywhere.
Mid-March rolled around, and I was still chugging away in my weird, not-really-Customer-Care, morphed-beyond-recognition position in which I oversaw Customer Care agents, yet hung out with engineers all the time and berated them for creating bugs (but also stayed late with them testing their fixes… and eating their pizza). Then one afternoon, our VP of Engineering flagged me down.
He had a position carved out for me in QA. He thought it would be a great fit, and I’d jump in right away on some big projects leveraging my knowledge of the product and all our weird edge cases. I’d be the start of a larger, dedicated QA team, and still working with the engineers I’ve built relationships with in the last year.
This all sounded great to me, then he threw in the “but”: the VP of Product also wanted to know if I’d be interested in Product Management. A big difference from what I’d been gunning for, but not that far off from my goals after last summer’s thought exercise.
Both were available to me: QA Engineer or Product Manager — whichever I didn’t take, the company would hire for anyway. I talked to a lot of people about the choice between the two. The consensus was that both were great opportunities for me, both incorporated some form of how I was already spending my time, and both would put me in the middle of big, high-stakes projects for the company. QA would give me a leg up in the technical world if I played my cards right. PM would put me in a position to influence and make high-level decisions about our product. QA Engineers have more job security, PMs have more upward mobility.
Though I tried to ignore it for the sake of being objective, I was leaning towards PM from the start. Even if I became a full-fledged software engineer, I’d want to jump over to product eventually — it’s just how I’ve been taught to think: critically, creatively; relating the part to the whole, the case to the trend, and finding a solution.
I think it was the realization that 10 years down the line I want to be on a product team — that’s what made the decision easier. Plus, while the jobs are different on paper, the reality is I’m still doing both, and will be until someone’s hired and ramped up in two or three months. As an engineer finally summarized for me, it came down to a choice of formal titles and boss. Beyond that, the two would be the same.
So that’s the long (look, it could’ve been longer) story of how I joined the Product team at 23andMe! I’ve moved desks and everything. It’s a learning experience like everything else, and I’m excited for the projects and work ahead.
(I’m also rapidly realizing that months of not writing and not blogging makes for long, meandering, slightly incoherent blog posts. Sorry about that. It’ll get better… I hope.)