Changing Jobs and X Plan

I'm leaving Zoomdata.

It's not them. It's me. And yes, they already know. I'm not sure if they realize how sad I am about it.

Out of the blue I was made a very hard-to-beat offer by Blackboard, the software company that you may know from your school days. They want me to do a lot of what I love doing at Zoomdata, but with a hefty dose of the "next step" thrown in. Anybody who knows me knows that I like "the next step". In fact, I've always got my mind on it and my eyes open for it. We survive in an unstable world by staying nimble and taking the next step.

I'd like to mention three (Olivier, aren't you proud?) points.

Not "burning bridges" isn't enough.

The received and correct wisdom is to avoid burning bridges when we leave a company or for that matter any companionship. This wisdom is part self-serving, sure, but it's also a counsel of grace. The easy, selfish, self-vindicating, emotional, and childish thing is to tell all your "enemies" exactly what you think of them. The hard thing, the generous, attentive, rational, mature thing is to try to befriend or cooperate with people who are not naturally attractive to you. After months of "doing your best," to do your worst disintegrates and counteracts all your efforts. It also shows that your efforts were not coming from a genuine desire to please and be pleased, to find the best in others and to mitigate the worst in yourself. It shows that your efforts were far more cynical than all that.

Supposing you are not cynical, that you really did want to get along with those people, your exit is the time to really shine.

Give as much notice as your new employer will allow. You are also limited, of course, by what seems prudent in your current environment. Even if you can't give months of notice because you are concerned that your current employer will kick you to the curb, you can at least start planning far in advance.

Plan your exit. Make a spreadsheet of loose ends and ongoing responsibilities. Work quietly and informally, or if possible, openly and formally, to tie those loose ends and prepare the people who will take on those responsibilities.

I called my plan the X Plan. I started off with X because I didn't have a name. Also, if the spreadsheet should be open, I didn't want coworkers seeing something called Ryan's Plan to Leave Zoomdata Gracefully before I had announced anything. Now, X stands for anything from "transfer" to "exit".

X Plan included columns for knowledge to transfer, responsibilities to hand off, and other commitments to fulfill. It included columns indicating who will receive the knowledge, who takes over the responsibilities, and to whom my commitments have been made. It also included deadlines and progress indicators for each step. In other words, I treated my own exit as a project like any other. This approach seems to have solidified my team's respect for me. Of course, I'm writing this - not them. :) This approach is much better than leaving them liking me but annoyed with me or making excuses for me. Because I've been able to give lots of notice, my teammates have been able to help me build X Plan so that it can help them as much as possible. This situation is a win-win when you can help it happen.

Pre-prepare for the next job.

You know how moving your career forward often requires going above-and-beyond? That's code for "being available or working during off-hours". It's also a fact of life. If you want your career to advance faster than a default rate, you have to work smarter, harder, and more than the default rate. This starts before you start.

Some jobs are the sort that you can't do much to prepare until you start the job. Other jobs are such that you can, though. I suspect that you can prepare for most jobs before you start. Read the company's website. Talk to current customers and employees. Touch bases with your future manager.

To pre-prepare for your new job, you have to start phasing out of your old job. Those odd bits of work you do for your old job during weekends and evenings should be replaced by odd bits of pre-preparing for your new job.

The more you can hit the ground running, the better. We'll see how well I did this time around, but my basic strategy for pre-preparing my transition to Blackboard included the following measures:

  • Sign up for Blackboard's online communities and lurk. No writing. Just read. People from Blackboard, if you're reading this, I've been doing my homework. :D
  • Sit down with a friend whose company uses Blackboard and let him show me how it works.
  • Read their online documentation.
  • Connect via LinkedIn with future coworkers.

When I arrive at Blackboard, I'm not going to tell them, "Hey, I know it all." That's ridiculous. I can't possibly. That's not the goal. The goal is to hit the ground running a little more swiftly than I otherwise would.

I'm gonna miss my fellow Zoomers.

I go to work to make money, not to make friends. I have friends. That said, it is a special joy to make friends - even at work. At work, we spend a lot of time in the trenches together, and if we each make a good show of it, hopefully, there's not much reason to regret anything. That's been my lot at Zoomdata. I'm very grateful to have gotten to know such a hardworking, intelligent, team-spirited group of people. I'm happy to have gotten to work with them. "Not burning bridges" is easy for me because I like the people on the other side of the bridge I am crossing.

Image-uploaded-from-iOS-copy-2

Zoomdata is a really cool place with a really special spirit. It wouldn't be fair to hope for another working environment as nice as Zoomdata in my future. Nevertheless, one can hope. I don't do public displays of emotion and I loathe syrupy writing, but I will miss my Zoomder people and do my best to keep mental snapshots of many happy days.

Next stop, Blackboard.

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