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Obligatory new job post

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While by no means obligatory, it seems as though writing a new post after accepting a life-changing position with a new employer is the socially acceptable means of public broadcasting one’s excitement. This is that post for me.

Most people write their new job posts filled with carefully crafted optimistic phrases designed to express trepidation, subtly seek reassurance, and avoid alienating their new employer. Sometimes these blog posts are filled with details of how the new job will affect them, their family, or their dreams for the future. This isn’t that post for me.

This post is about saying all the things we’re taught not to say. To talk about the things we’re repeatedly told not to talk about. This post is about personal vulnerability. It’s about insecurity. It is also about shameless bragging and self-promotion. I am now a Director of Product Marketing at Juniper. Here is my horn. I am tooting it.

When I was approached about a position at Juniper Networks I thought I was being punked. Juniper is a huge company. They try to hire only the very best, and they have the money to be choosy about it. Juniper doesn’t have to compromise, so what could they possibly want with me?

I don’t have a bunch of letters after my name. I haven’t worked at a bunch of enterprises prior to taking on a position at a fortune 1000 with the word “director” in the title. I didn’t exploit access to some secret old boys’ network. There were no dark rites. The Old Ones were not summoned.

I went through the interview process. I was offered the position, and I accepted it. I packed my bags and headed to the mothership for orientation…and throughout the entire adventure, none of it seemed real.

Is this really happening?

Over and over, I asked myself one question: “is this really happening”? Some context is relevant, and if you’ll stick with me, I promise there’s a relevant story underneath all this navel gazing.

In my experience, one doesn’t get a position with a fancy title at a big company unless you have a fist full of credentials, or have spent a lifetime grinding experience from the low level positions, and making the contacts necessary to get promoted from the ranks. I have done neither, and yet here I am.

It is this gap between experience and reality that is at the root of that nagging question: “is this really happening”? After my first week of orientation at the mothership I do understand why I’m here, and why I have the job I have, but it is the journey towards that understanding that is relevant…and instructive.

Feeling like I don’t fit

I was born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Edmonton is a little scrap of nowhere surrounded by more nowhere in the middle of nowhere. Neither Edmonton nor Alberta are particularly well known as centers for technological or business innovation. Oh, some of our post-secondary institutions have made a bit of a name for themselves in primary research for nanotechnology and biotech, but if we’re being honest about things, Alberta is about primary resource production and extractions. Farms, forestry, mining, oil, and gas.

What’s important to understand here is that the city where I have lived all of my life does not have a culture where ideas are valued. We don’t so much bring new ideas to life as we do implement other people’s ideas. We don’t design the machine that dismantles a mountain to get at the precious bits inside, we are the ones who use it to do that dismantling.

Albertan culture values conformity, hard work, and the willingness to sacrifice work-life balance in a macho display of false unflappability. If your superpowers are the ablity to generate ideas, analyze large quantities of data, or think outside the box, then in Alberta you’re an outsider. You’re “the other”. Thinking, writing, and problem solving aren’t “real work”. Worse, they mean you are likely to think differently from the group, and where I grew up, different is very – very – bad.

Diversity exists

Fortunately for me, the whole world isn’t the bubble I grew up in. There are places out there where ideas are valued. Where being a big data engine in human form is not considered a flaw, but a superpower.

Through a series of unlikely events, I went from being a generic small business systems administrator, to someone who spend enough time talking to Silicon Valley types that I learned how that world worked. Drew Cullen, one of the principals behind Technology trade magazine The Register noticed me posting rather a lot on The Register’s forums. He plucked me from the muck, taught me how to tell stories, and told me that nobody says “whilst” anymore.

And while I owe almost everything I’ve become to Drew’s decision to drag me out of the bubble I grew up in, he’s totally wrong about the whilst thing. (Alternately: I’m bringing it back. Take your pick.)

Drew made me goodly learn the words making. Many others took a chance on me, and gave me other important opportunities to learn. Rich Pappas, in particular, became a mentor to me, teaching and guiding me. Far more importantly, he would regularly tell me ween I was full of [insert poop emjoi here].

I went from sysadmin to writer. From writer to independent analyst and marketing consultant. And from there to something with “director” in the title; a title that brings with it all those introspective questions that always end in “is this really happening”.

The truth is that I did not teleport into this position. I got here day by day, month by month, and year by year. I learned the ropes the hard way. I failed. I succeeded. And I became deeply, irretrievably embedded in a new culture: one where new ideas are cherished, where analytical abilities are prized, and where out-of-the-box thinking can earn you positions with fancy words in the title.

Insider, outsider, imposter, bingo!

I could write a lot here about the wild emotional swings between triumph, pride, and schadenfreude on the one side, and a deeply humbling sense of impostor syndrome on the other. Had you asked me what my “I’ve got a new job” blog post would be about a week ago, that’s what I would have chosen as a topic.

The thing of it is, my trip to the mothership has me realize that I’m not an imposter. I’ve earned my stripes. I’ve put in my time. From call centers and helpdesk positions, all the way through to writing whitepapers and ebooks tens of thousands of words long. I’ve learned the lingo, played with the bleeding edge emerging technologies, and held my own in discussions about data center design and marketing strategy with some of the best in the business.

I’m proud of that.  ANd just like anyone else who has managed to level up their career in a significant way, I want to strut and preen my feathers. In your face, everyone who’s ever bullied me! Have at you, I bite my thumb at thee, and something in Klingon.

My ego, whilst (have at you!) enjoying its moment in the sun, isn’t actually important. Being recognized for my talents feels good, but I am also painfully aware that I made a crazy amount of mistakes along the way.

That’s the interesting part of this all. I am not special, and yet I got to where I am. I was the bullied, not the bully, and yet I found a place where I belong. There is a niche where people who understand technology and can tell stories are considered valuable. A square hole for a square peg like me.

In other words, it doesn’t matter how much you doubt yourself, or how horrible people were to you because you didn’t fit in: there really is a place for everyone. Though, it can take an exhausting amount of work to find it.

Never underestimate your power to enable others

Drew and Rich may be the two people I call out as being primarily responsible for my personal success, but the reality is far more complicated than that. There have been dozens of people over the years who have been vital to my success.

Many of these individuals are people I have met through conferences, PR gigs by vendors, and at clients that have commissioned writing through my content marketing company, eGeek. The online systems administrations communities have also introduced me to many supportive individuals, with the VMware vExpert community in particular have introduced me to people I sincerely hope will remain lifelong friends.

The dozens of people responsible for my success have encouraged me. They have educated me. They have called me out on my errors, celebrated my successes, consoled me through my tragedies, and generally been decent human beings.

The support of others – their knowledge, their emotional backing, standing up for me when I was bullied, and kicking me when I myself wronged others – all of it made me who I am. Their support was more than kindness or emotional support; their skills complimented me by providing in my life what I could not.

None of us are islands. We are all interdependent on one another. As I mentor other tech nerds into becoming junior writers, I aim to bear my own journey in mind, and retain some semblance of humility. As I write this, I hope I inspire even one person to try mentoring others themselves.

TL;DR

With my new job, my life has changed, but it’s not that change – nor even anything about my life – that is what’s important. What’s important about this new job is that it symbolizes two things. It doesn’t matter how much we feel like a broken toy, there’s a place for everyone. But we don’t make it to where we belong alone, so if you can help others level up at any point in your journey, take the time to pay what others have done for you forward.

If the people around you tell you that you are strange and weird, and that you’re not going to amount to anything, then you’re surrounded by the wrong people. Good luck to you all.

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