On New Jobs and Why I’m Not Afraid of Being Edgy
Most people I’m friends with know that I recently switched jobs. It was a really difficult decision to make ultimately, mostly because the opportunity blindsided me somewhat. I didn’t really think to write about it until recently, though, when I realized that on the upcoming marking of one full decade of me working professionally in development, I have worked over 7 of those years as a remote employee and that’s really something.
I worked for deviantART for a bit over three years as a PHP developer, spending two of those years leading the development of DreamUp.com, and then ultimately graduating to an Engineering Lead title as I left.
Although at times stressful and demanding, beckoning me to work odd hours, I was happy with my job. It introduced me to new friends, challenged me, and gave me some great opportunities. Occasionally, as a lot of people do, I looked at job boards, but was fairly dismissive of the listings because they just did not stack up for whatever reason. It always felt like a step down from where I already was or there was some sort of impasse in my culture and that company’s culture.
On “Web Ninjas” and “Edginess”
I one time, in the past year, sent an e-mail to a consulting company I had never heard of before, who was seeking out a “web ninja.” As most members of my late-20s, early 30s generation do, I dislike titles like these because they are pandering and evoke the same feelings in me that I get from seeing “booth babes” at conferences. It makes me feel undermined in some fashion.
I didn’t get an immediate response and forgot about it until one day, they did reply to let me know that the position had already been filled, but that after visiting my website, they had decided I was too “edgy.” And although it’s fine for them to hold that opinion of me. it was an unsolicited criticism of my personality that made me stop whimsically contacting companies I knew little about outside of their public-facing website. It was a learning experience for me, because it helped me discover that I will never work for a company that would have the audacity to claim that being “edgy” is a negative trait.
If you look up the word “edgy” in a thesaurus, you will discover that it is synonymous with words like “innovative,” “avant-garde,” and “original.” These are things that, although I can’t say for myself if I am them, that I aspire to be and are the words I would use to describe the people I admire most.
It seems that the word has become confused somewhere with immaturity, when really I think the word is applicable to those who are the most sincere of their emotions and passions and feel little reserve in making those two things known to the world.
On Passion and Humility
Some time early last year, while learning American Sign Language, I came up with an idea for a simple web app that was meant to help me while I spent the spring and summer in Europe. I iterated on it several times before realizing that it would be useful as an educational platform for other people as well and eventually launched it into a beta. I had countless positive interactions with people regarding my ideas.
Friends said they could see a spark in my eyes when I talked about it. I was happy and optimistic, and found when other people heard me confidently sharing my ideas, they seemed to hold me in higher esteem and were more encouraging of my intellectual passions. And to me, that felt like the opposite of being told that I was “too edgy.” I wanted to feel that way all the time, but at the same time, I am terrified of being arrogant or overly cocky and becoming impractical or short-sighted as a result. I like being humble with stars in my eyes.
I felt my job at deviantART kept me humbled. It was an old codebase and although there were a couple of people who I just could never agree with, I really valued people’s opinions and felt like my personality was not just accepted, but very strongly embraced. There was a culture there and you didn’t have to have a separate “work personality.” That’s as equally important to me as having great passion. When everyone is passionate, people stop mincing their words and their true personalities come out. Sometimes you just won’t get along with these personalities no matter how hard you try. Sometimes you really will. Being a few years older and wiser has helped me see that despite that, I still appreciate those people for having the loud personalities that they do.
On Moving Forward
I wasn’t job-hunting at all. I had actually scheduled vacation time with deviantART.
I woke up one morning and was lazily skimming my Twitter feed on my phone while still laying in bed. I was following Treehouse, having signed up for it last September in an awkward fit of curiosity with iOS development, built my own crystal ball app (which my friend Ivor asked: “Is the first prediction ‘You will make an in-app purchase?’”) and found myself sucked in to countless other pieces of content, some which I was rather expertly versed in, other things not so much.
Treehouse was hiring developers. The site that helped me learn. The site that friends of mine had joined to learn. The site where I say the name to other people and either they use it or know someone who has with positive results. And I realized as I thought about it, I had the same gleam in my eye that I had discussing my language-learning app with others.
So, I opened my laptop and while sitting, legs crossed in the center of my bed, filled out this rather quizzical web form asking questions about what things in development I’m passionate about, what I’m most proud of, examples of a difficult problem I’ve solved, and although these things beckoned storytelling about my professional experience and formal education, did not outright call to question those things. No resume was requested. No cover sheet. No Linkedin profile.
On Confidence and Imposter Syndrome
I didn’t hear back immediately, but I didn’t assume anything negative about it. When I eventually did hear back, I of course was very excited, but I noticed something very different in myself at this point. Although I don’t feel like I am knowledgeable about everything, I felt confident about my intelligence and for one of the first times in my life in regards to my career, I didn’t have the feeling that has been thrown into the spotlight in the tech industry lately: Imposter Syndrome.
I struggled with Imposter Syndrome quite a bit with deviantART. I confided in a lot of people this feeling and was ubiquitously met with laughter over it. On any given day, I had some reason why I sucked as a developer, whether it was because I caused a bug or because someone else disagreed with me on some frivolous matter. I had a running bet with my friend Luka that I would be fired within the next 6 months and if I wasn’t, I had to buy him a drink. I still owe him the drink. Articles started popping up all over the Internet about this newfound syndrome, explaining how common it is in developers… and very particularly womendevelopers, so much that it even made an appearance at this year’s RailsConf in the form of a presentation about the “Imposter Cycle.”
But I didn’t feel like an imposter for once. I felt like me.
And I realized that when I feel like myself, when I stop feeling dread about the things I don’t yet know… all the space in my head that is preoccupied with that dread… becomes filled with excitement and energy for learning. And only when I feel positive humility, just as I’ve always preached about learning human language, I learn rapidly, using the things I already have and know as my backbone.
I’ve been with Treehouse now for about just three weeks now. And I thought I’d share that I’m really happy about it. Because edginess or any awkward preoccupation towards it… just isn’t a thing. I think it was because throughout the whole process, although my past jobs and my education filled in the storyline obviously, those things didn’t define me. I defined myself. And that makes me feel really, really good.
Never, ever let anyone tell you that you’re too edgy.