Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I Loved It!

Talking to Helen, photoshoot stylist and lifecoach -- I keep thinking she should combine the two: fix your wardrobe, pad, and career in one very expensive go -- she asked me in five minutes a couple of question that made me rethink what I want out of work. So what did I like about past gigs?

And I realize that the gig that I have had which I ended up liking the most was when I did two external sites, and for Nokia. First of all it was working for a company I could respect, and that had its act together or at least was striving to do so. I really liked the corporate culture of Nokia because I could handle it. A core value was respect, and the company meant it, those cute Finns, even though they could complain so bitterly on the Intranet their manager wasn't giving it. You have to love a company where I could have an internal blog telling people honestly how a re-org of our department was botched, and the only response I ever got from above was my direct manager telling me "The division heads don't like what you wrote, but you were truthful, and the company did set up and allow this internal-blogging experiment, so that's all." I'd work again for the company itself in a heartbeat.

Second the work for these sites was relevant and served many people doing interesting things. When I worked on WAP tools, it became quickly apparent that most of it was to be used by people who wanted to create what I call the Mobile Pizza-Coupon Delivery Eco-system, and that was disheartening. The whole WAP thing just ended up getting no respect. Putting researchers in touch with each-other and creating tools for their work was fulfilling. I didn't get very far with that, just the first iteration before I moved on, but I could see where I could take it. The whole thing was kind of glamorous as well because it was so high-profile -- second time something I made hit the Slashdot front page -- and had such growth potential; for example, there was an article in some business magazine about how P&G had used their research website to create a whole research extranet and research ecology, and I was seeing myself doing that over future versions as the sites grew.

Third, event though this was a two-person project, Barbara and I, and I was not its manager, I had a lot of control, being both technical and creative lead. Thanks to working with Disney Mobile I have learned how to be a better creative lead on projects like this, knowing what to farm out and what to do myself better. Although, of course, the project had no budget so I had to do everything myself, and I did it well within my capabilities. Technologically I was also doing too much myself setting this new thing up, but since it was new it was fun, as was making it ready to go on autopilot and be maintained by others as I worked on the next new thing.

Fourth, I was compensated well on many fronts. Hell, by the end I was even in my own office. So why did I leave that gig and Nokia? Location was one: I wanted out of Boston, and Nokia was not located where I wanted to be. I also did not have the clout in this project and company to say "I want to do this from a distance permanently"; that month that I worked on this while in a flat in Amsterdam basically happened because my manager and I didn't tell anyone I wasn't in my cube. It turned out to be a fabulous move; thanks to my location and working habits, I was catching the best parts of both the European and American workday during a critical phase, thus shortening the lag in certain problems. I was also working with a fabulous hosting team, the kind of guys who were truly comfortable using IM and email.

It was exciting to take the traditionally most closed part of a closed company and giving it an opportunity to interact with the world, something many of the researchers clamored for but the company culture decidedly did not. My project manager, who had gotten the ball rolling, did a lot of the legwork to get publishing policies in place, create buy-in, move a consensus-based company into a new direction on this vital issue. She did all this work brilliantly. However, here was also the second problem with this project: once I set it up and I saw what the potential was, I wanted to lead it. Another component of my perfect job is that I mean something, that I get to leave my mark, develop leadership and rise. That was not going to happen here while we were both working on it. I would never do any kind of leadership play, not while I respected the work that Barbara had done so. So therefore my ambition was in the way of staying. I would only stay a web-slinger on this project if it had my name above the line, else I would want to do the usual hit-and-run. I just did not want to be a 40 y.o. underling web-slinger. Creative consultant, services prototyper, technology analyst, fine, but not the same thing for years unless it was mine.

Just going over my past gigs and evaluating which one I liked most was very useful. I hope the next opportunity I get will be a good fit on these levels.