Back On the Market

“The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we stand,
as in what direction we are moving.” — Oliver Wendall Holmes

For the past five years and seven months, I worked at Crowd Favorite. However, I left the organization effectively last Friday, September 2nd, 2016, as a full-time employee. I move forward into new opportunities and possibilities, leaving behind a job I loved at a company that, for many years, felt like my home, and I do so with no specific destination in mind, ready to begin a journey into the unknown. To understand why I made this decision, I’d like to share my history at the company and my thoughts on my departure.

The Early Days

I interviewed at Crowd Favorite in March, 2011 at their Denver office. At the time, the company was a small development firm managed and handled primarily by its sole owner and founder, Alex King. When I interviewed with the staff, they impressed me with the culture they built within the company. The questions I received regarding development challenged me, we discussed the nature of our positions, and Shawn Parker, a senior developer at the company, even made me laugh when he asked me the most important question of the interview process, “Who shot first, Han Solo or Greedo?”

After the interview, as I waited for the bus, I wrote an email to Alex again. I thanked him for the interview, and told him that his team impressed me enough that I wanted to lower my requested salary. I did not believe, after my interview, that the skills I brought to the table were worth the amount I initially believed, and I wanted to impress upon him that the team mattered more to me than a meager difference in my asking rate. I heard back from him quickly, the same month, with an offer of employment that I accepted.

On my first day, Alex told me he wanted unit tests written in PHP Unit for a project the team wrote from the ground up. He could not get PHP Unit to work, nor could the other developers, and he needed to leave for a conference that week, so I had to do it all on my own. That set the tone for how Crowd Favorite positioned itself as an employer. They threw developers into the deep end, and the developers either sank or swam, but did so on their own skills and merits. We had support from the rest of the team when we needed it, but trying and failing until we succeeded taught us the most.

Over the next few years, I learned very quickly what I needed to succeed in my position. I dug deep into WordPress core code, learning where to replace and where to enhance its functionality for our clients. While working on foodgawker, I even discovered some of the limitations that arise with WordPress in large data sets, and constructed a Sphinx Search integration that allowed us to power almost all queries, even simple ones, in a more performant way than MySQL alone provided. I also refined my JavaScript skills significantly through supporting foodgawker, including detailed performance analysis and improvement of the ad management scripts and site behaviors.

When Things Change

Around 2014, Alex informed the team of his diagnosis of stage four colon cancer. In order to ensure the company could survive as his health deteriorated, he decided to sell the company to Karim Marucchi, then-CEO of VeloMedia. Much of our team had difficulty accepting the decision, and felt conflicted regarding the new owners and the management team they brought in, and many team members left immediately or shortly after Alex announced the change. We appreciated the effort to ensure the survival of the company, and our positions within it, but did not trust the changes we foresaw. Under Alex, the company was very developer-focused, working on interesting projects more than worrying about the income, while the new management team brought a lot more focus on traditional business models and practices.

As we transitioned to the new corporate identity, merging VeloMedia and Crowd Favorite, the culture of the company shifted. Much of the quirkier, unique nature of the organization disappeared with the Star Wars decorations and references as they left the office. The company became, over time, a more distributed and remote company. While we positioned ourselves as a technical solutions company more than a WordPress development company, most hiring came from WordPress conferences and individuals known within that ecosystem. Under Alex, we received very few hires in that manner, as he preferred people who did not identify as WordPress developers, but rather developers with a background in a variety of technologies. I found myself feeling a bit adrift and isolated as my friends and coworkers moved on to other opportunities where they felt they fit in better than they would now.

During the transition, we received some work outside the WordPress ecosystem. I refined my JavaScript skills tremendously, and worked on a couple of sites using a newer framework in JavaScript, AngularJS. I enjoyed working on the projects utilizing it, and on creating APIs and custom code with Laravel behind it. Ultimately, I felt a pull in this direction that, unfortunately, we could not sustain as our other developers preferred to stay within the WordPress culture and ecosystem where they felt more comfortable and familiar.

The Final Months

Shortly after Alex passed away in September 2015, Crowd Favorite ran into some difficult times, and it added a lot of stress to the entire team. More benefits had to be shifted, the office in Denver closed, and we moved to a fully-remote team. I found working remote full-time very difficult for me, I would get lonely and demotivated more easily. I did not expect the company to go back to the old structure, but believed that I could at least stick around enough to allow other developers a chance for a graceful exit, and knew that, if there were any chance that things could turn around, they would need me there to help.

Luckily, Crowd Favorite made it through that tough time. However, the stress and isolation had taken their toll on me. I realized that I had not really grown much in the past year, and that the situation still left me stagnant in my salary and my career path. My motivation decreased, and I seldom had the energy to focus on my work to be nearly as productive as they needed. Making matters worse, the lack of energy carried over into other efforts, and even the act of seeking other work fatigued me enough that it would not happen if I didn’t make an active change. I needed to leave.

I met with Jason Rosenbaum, the COO of the company, and told him about my motivation issues. I knew that the company hadn’t seen it, but I did, and I knew they needed their team to be operating at 100% to continue their success and desired growth. We agreed that it may be best for both parties if I seek out new challenges elsewhere. I agreed to stay on a bit longer than two weeks in order to assist with the transition, since I had a long legacy at Crowd Favorite, and a large amount of institutional knowledge to pass on to their team. We decided that my final day should be Friday, September 2nd, 2016.

I sit here now, in my living room, on Tuesday, September 6th, 2016, newly-unemployed. I agreed to a contract with Crowd Favorite to work part-time through the end of the month, and I sent my updated resume out to several recruiters. I’ve heard a couple responses, and interviews and discussions are coming together rapidly. I don’t know where I’m going yet, but I do know my path. It’s time to start this journey again.