The end of a grand adventure
Today was my last day at work at Animation Mentor. I started work there almost a year ago (I believe I started on Feb 6th and today is Jan 31st so I’ll call it an even year)
Some things I learned about myself and some observations I had –
- I like being a catalyst for getting things going in a company. In AM we did a personality test thing and my colors were orange, green, blue, gold — roughly that maps out to (spontaneous, thinking, emotional, organized) in that order. So I am mostly spontaneous and a thinker and then less dominant in emotion and organization.
- I like the work routine.
- There are so many different types of people in the world and every one of them sees things in different ways and those ways are complementary sometimes being really important for one type of thing while being weaker for another. For example some people at AM were very reliable and good at keeping the existing ship running and change bothered them while other people wanted to change everything about the company all the time. Both perspectives were really valuable and relevant.
- Creating change is mostly about changing thinking and culture and is HARD work. I think I helped create some good changes at AM mostly in terms of introducing new technologies and systems for solving tough problems. The truth is that the hardest part of doing this was getting the people on-board. In every case it seemed like the key was to begin working on the idea and get it to a point where it suddenly was clear enough for people to perceive it as something that could actually truly exist in the real world — often times that meant building a prototype even when support for the prototype wasn’t there. Funnily enough it always seemed like most resistance was encountered when the prototype was DONE I think that this was because up until that point we were dealing with non-reality. When things suddenly became concerning was when it was clear that they could actually really be accomplished.
- Building trust and respect is so important. I feel like I wish I could get much better at this. Truth is though I think that there just wasn’t a magic formula for this. It just took time and hard work — mostly getting other peoples’ backs when something went wrong and being consistent and supportive and generally sticking to principles and beliefs but being willing to discuss differences of opinion in interest of finding good working solutions to tough problems.
- I think that I came to really rely on asking myself this question every day — “Would you rather be right or rather be effective” — I think the people I respected most were focused on getting things done and weren’t too concerned with showing what they knew. Incidentally I felt like these people actually knew the most — they had to in order to be effective.
- There are people out there who are really really good at marketing and spreading word about new things. Those people are a special breed I am hugely envious of their abilities and talents. Ultimately I’m not really sure that I have the talent that they have.
- A CEO is really powerless — almost a servant of his company unless he can articulate a clear vision. Even if he can articulate a vision it takes a long time for that vision to take hold. It seems like the real job of the CEO is to keep repeating that vision over and over and over and over. Eventually his smart people will somehow figure out how to transfer that vision into reality. What I think I was was that the CEO at his best was a sort of lens creating focus. The key to his power was trust and respect and it flowed both ways — ultimately this CEO had respect because he cared about people, what he was working on and he trusted his employees. I think that there are probably other kinds of CEOs out there too — heck I’ve worked for a few. Again everyone’s different.
- It’s always worth shooting high and there’s always pressure to shoot low. People in a company are worried about taking risks — for the most part they want to play it safe. People are happiest and things go best when they are asked to shoot highest. Ask for PERFECT development — the most glorious sophisticated dream and although you won’t have it day 1 the quest for getting there will teach you how to get better. So that aiming high thing has to be there. Otherwise your default will be satisfaction with mediocre.
- I really like working with good people. I thrive when I can work with other people. I hope they thrive when they work with me.
- It’s worth having different people build out different parts of the vision for a new system. I found that in order to get things clarified a technical and functional vision needed to be created for the thing we were going to build. Those definitions really had to tell a story — who, what, where, when and why… once those were in place enough then work could begin on turning that story into reality.
- A great product is all about the details and yet in the beginning a great product needs to be all about the generalities. The details can only be filled in when the general picture is clear enough. Best to make the general picture quick and easy to change but leave space for filling in the details.
What I would like in my next company –
- A more technical leadership team — not because I didn’t like the leadership at AM but I want to be a technical entrepreneur/leader and I want to learn how technical leaders run things — I think it’s different from how leadership at AM worked
- More metric driven business — while I think that vision HAS to be there I think that I would like to see a company where measures for success are defined and everyone measures the effectiveness of what’s built rather than just building stuff on faith in service of a rough vision
- Technical marketing + the lead generation side of the business — at AM I was involved in building software for students who had already paid to attend the course. This was interesting but I feel like a hole in my knowledge is how to find and hook students into the courses in the first place. I’d like to be involved in a business where I’m coding the landing pages and hooks that generate customers
- Less software — AM had some pretty incredible engineering — dare I say rocket science grade. Some of it was really clever and a perfect fit for what was needed. A lot of it was not. I think a theme that we were working towards while I was there was making the software simpler. Why use web-sockets when you could just make an http request. Why ajax load a page when a simple page load would work just fine. I feel like I’d like to be in a business where progress is measured by how fast we can move not how many features and bell and whistle technologies we’re using.
- A business working on algorithmic problems — communities are interesting. I run Poet’s Corner and honestly have had a fair amount of success with communities. Heck I think the concept of online schools will be the future. My role though?? — I think that I like to be in the position of building useful tooling that works really really well for doing this sort of thing. Running communities? Courses? Well… I would like to be working with a company that builds tools where it’s clear if they’re working… in other words a little less human elements… more google than facebook… work on some sort of problem where either it’s useful and therefore people use it or it’s not.
- Either… A. 1 member of an EXTREMELY smart very small team in a very new startup company or B. A member of the engineering team of some really hot big rapidly growing tech company — eg. Yelp, Square, Twilio, WordPress etc… Wherever I go I’d like to be working with a grade A team.
- Tech-wise — I’d like to be working with new-ish stuff. I’ve enjoyed python and would like to continue working with it. I like getting the low level application, persistence + model layer working or set the scene for a team to flesh out a full blown architecture. I’ve enjoyed TDD — I want to do way more of that. I’m into pairing. Wouldn’t mind doing a bunch of that as well. I’d really like to be working on a problem involving machine learning or statistics — can’t say I’m great at it yet but hey… shoot high right?
I’m sure there’s more that I haven’t thought of to add to this post but if anyone from AM ever reads this, it was an honor working with you and I wish you the best!