The Changelog – Episode #386

Engineer to manager and back again

talking career trajectory w/ Lauren Tan

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Lauren Tan joined us to talk about her blog post titled “Does it spark joy?” In this post Lauren shared the news of her resignation as an engineering manager at Netflix to return to being a software engineer. We examine the career trajectory of a software engineer and the seemingly inevitable draw to management for continued career growth. The idea of understanding “What are you optimizing for?” and whether or not what you’re doing truly brings you joy.

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Transcript

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Lauren, thanks for coming on the show. As I said on Twitter, we’re big fans of yours and all the work you’ve been doing, the open source and the vlogging you’ve been doing all these years; we appreciate you sitting down and coming on the Changelog.

Thank you, yeah. Thanks so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here.

So we have an interesting conversation, because you’re going through an interesting transition in your career, which we will tell the story of… But first, let’s hop back to the beginning, because this starts a couple years ago, but then it also starts back when you were 13. I thought maybe we’d start when you were 13, and you could tell us a story about how you got into programming and making things in the first place, because I think that will place a huge role in rooting out the rest of the conversation. So how did you get into it?

So with programming, it started in a pretty unusual way, I think, because I didn’t start programming right off the bat. My path into programming was actually from the design perspective. When I was 13 or so - I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but my stepdad handed me this pirated copy of what was then known as the Macromedia Fireworks; now it’s Adobe Fireworks, but back then it was Macromedia…

At first, I was like “I have no idea what this software is.” But I messed around a bit, it seemed like a really advanced Microsoft Paint, and so I started just learning and googling for tutorials… And I stumbled upon a web forum a while back, that had a form for people who were interested in design, and web design… And that was actually my entry point into web development and design.

I spent a lot of time on that forum, on IRC, chatting with lots of people… We thought we were really cool, making silly memes, and funny internet jokes at the time… But it was a really great experience, because despite this being so many years ago, I had a wealth of information and tutorials that I could look up. And there wasn’t quite the same level of tooling available, but it was definitely really fun to learn web development back then… When you can actually click a website, View Source, and you can see – maybe not everything, but you can see some of the HTML, the CSS, some of the JavaScript even… That was super-fun and helpful in learning.

I remember those days very well… I’m not sure if I used Macromedia Fireworks itself. Adam, did you ever use Fireworks?

Oh, yeah.

Did you?

[00:04:04.28] Yeah. I loved the brand Macromedia. It was a cool brand. It was interesting that acquisition they’d done too, with Adobe acquiring them. Just the whole merging… It would make sense now, you see in retrospect, but then it was – it was cool to use Fireworks, it was cool to use Macromedia products.

Didn’t they do a Flash player as well?

Yeah, they did Flash. I was gonna say. Before it was known as Adobe Flash, it was Macromedia Flash.

Innovative company. Totally innovative. So these were the good old days, as you said in your post, where you used to say things “roflcopter” and then laugh at them. [laughter]

Many of us fell in love with the internet in those days.

What’s the year? I don’t remember exactly what year it was… Probably somewhere in the late ’90s maybe.

Mm-hm. Well, phpBB was all the rage, so that places it, I think, late ‘90s, early 2000’s.

Yeah. And even forums. They were far more popular then than they are today… But they kind of have a comeback. It’s interesting the morphing of a portal like that. The whole portal world.

Right.

Yeah, it’s definitely very interesting. Nowadays I spend a lot of time on Reddit, which is in a way the uber-forum. Like, it’s the forum of forums.

Right.

But yeah, I definitely stumbled a really fun group of people and a community that if it were not for that forum, I would probably not even be in programming to begin with. So it’s pretty wild.

What was your path from that age to your first professional job in it?

First professional job… I guess if you count freelance…

I guess just anything that got paid. Whenever you were paid for the first time.

Anything where I got paid…

I call that professional. [laughter]

Yeah, cash in the bank. That’s professional right there.

Yeah, that’s professional.

That’s right, cash in the bank.

In that case, I don’t remember exactly, but I wanna say maybe 15-16 was when I got my first job, and that was to redesign the school website…

…and to kind of build it as well with HTML, CSS and some minimal JavaScript. So that was the first time. I don’t think I got paid very much. In fact, I don’t remember exactly – it was probably far too little for what I did, I think… Because it was a fairly comprehensive website. But it was a fun experience, and I definitely learned a lot.

So did you end up going to school for computer science, or did you move on from there?

No, so after all of that experience in high school, kind of messing around, trying to learn web development and graphic design and web design, funnily enough, after that experience I thought to myself – because I was growing up in Singapore at the time, and I think our community, we weren’t really very aware of the dotcom boom, and things like that… I wasn’t aware at least, so it never occurred to me that I could actually make a living doing web development.

Silly me, thinking l needed to go to college, I needed to do something that was practical, so with the encouragement of my parents, I went and did something very practical… And not to say computer science was unpractical, but it was something more conventional, which was at the time finance. So totally different, but… When I look back, I don’t regret it at all. I think I learned a lot of really cool things about business, that have actually really rounded up my knowledge, I think.

Coming back to how I approach my work today, both now in my new job as an engineer, and previously, at my job as an engineering manager - I feel like a lot of that information that I’ve learned has come in super-handy, so I don’t think I regret any of that.

It’s not a good thing when you regret your past, right? Like, the choices you made, the things you’ve done - you wouldn’t wanna regret the things you’ve done to get you where you’re at.

[00:07:56.10] Yeah, and I think there’s this really great quote from Steve Jobs, from one of his commencement speeches, or something like that… He mentions you can only connect the dots looking backwards, and that was a quote that really stuck with me. A lot of times it’s difficult for you where you are today to kind of predict where you’re gonna go, but you kind of have to trust that whatever you do, you can somehow figure out how to connect the dots backwards, and then you see how they connect and how to continue down that path.

For example, for myself - I’ve done finance, I’ve done design, I’ve done programming… So some of my friends have actually joked that I could be a one-person startup, because I can do all the roles…

For sure.

And obviously, maybe not doing all of them really well, but I know enough to be dangerous, I guess.

Have you considered that path?

The startup thing? Yeah, I’ve actually done it after college. That’s when my friend and I - we had an idea for a startup, and so we worked on it. It was called The Price Geek. It didn’t really go very far, but we learned a ton from that process, both in terms of how to even create a product, to writing better code, I guess, and even making it to the first page – I think we were at the top of Hacker News for a while, and that was really exciting and scary, because our server went down, obviously… And we were up all night, figuring out how to get it back up and running. Those were super-fun experiences.

This site is still up.

The site is still up, in fact.

Oh, nice.

It still has its super-old design, from many years ago…

It’s almost modern again… [laughter] It’s minimal.

PriceGeek.com, or what is it?

It’s ThePriceGeek.com, and the first question is “What is the market price for…?” and then there’s a form for searching.

Yeah, so the idea was you would search “What’s the price of an iPhone?” So if you went onto Craigslist, or eBay, you could then have a good estimate for how much you should bid, or how much you should pay for either a new or used iPhone.

Yeah. So what happened?

The Price Geek - it really didn’t go very far, because I guess we ran out of money. We spent about a year or two on it, and at the time, given the business model that we had, which was to make money off affiliates - so if you purchased something through ThePriceGeek, then we’d get a small percentage off of it… But it just wasn’t enough to actually sustain a business. I think at its peak we probably made like $1,000 in a month. But definitely not enough to sustain two people working on it full-time… So after a while we just decided to call it quits, and maybe come back and try again later. We haven’t actually gone back and tried again, but I won’t say no; I think I could definitely consider it sometime in the future.

One thing you’d mentioned was having these skills… So did you have all those skills then, and used them? Or do you think you’ve sort of evolved them since them, to sort of be wiser now, versus then?

I definitely evolved them. I think at the time, being fresh out of college, you feel like you know everything, but you really don’t know anything at all… And I guess when you’ve just graduated from a business school and you’re thinking “Oh, I’m so great. I know everything about business”, only to be humbled by how little you know… I definitely feel I’ve come a very long way since that time. But still, I think that experience was pretty instrumental in kick-starting at least the basics of…

The hunger.

Yeah, there’s the hunger, but there’s also the part about “How do you actually run a business?” I think it’s a very romantic notion that people have of being an entrepreneur, working on your own thing, not having a boss to answer to… And people see the really fun parts of being an entrepreneur, but maybe what isn’t really talked about is the lonely parts, the really difficult and frustrating parts, where it’s just you and your friend or your co-founder, and there’s nobody else to do the work except the two of you, and it can get very lonely and very frustrating and very challenging.

I mean, you certainly learn a lot of things, but I think more people should probably talk about those things, as well as the good parts.

[00:12:24.03] It’s probably fast-forwarding a little bit, but some of that kind of came back up as an engineering manager for you, too… Where you sort of felt isolated or lonely, or things like that. So it sort of comes up when you’re in a position of leadership of some sort, because the amount of peers you have that have direct knowledge of what you do day to day is limited, so it’s naturally an isolating event to have that kind of position.

Yeah, it definitely is very – I think “isolating” is a great way to put it. You feel like you are going through an experience alone, but with a community, if that makes sense… For example, in my time at Netflix as an engineering manager I had a lot of peer managers to work with, but our interactions were more around – we would have one-on-ones, or we’d have weekly team meetings, and things like that. But it was on the same level of interaction that you might get if you were an engineer on an engineering team and you’re working with your peer every day.

The interactions are very different, so it can feel isolating in that sense, because you might be going through similar challenges. They’re not exactly the same, but you’re not going through the same challenges. You don’t have that shared sense of suffering or frustration or joy that you might get working on an engineering team like if you’re shipping a product and you do that together with your team. That’s very different.

So I don’t know, I find myself with – I guess as a manager you’re constantly dealing with these pretty difficult situations, that don’t have clear answers… And again, you can kind of run them by your peers, your managers, other managers in the company as well… But ultimately, it comes down to you trying to navigate that experience, whether it’s a frustrating situation that one of your engineers on your team is going through, that you need to give them support on, or maybe it’s a performance problem that someone’s having on the team, or something completely different. So it was frustrating, it was rewarding, it was many different emotions, I guess, that I went through as a manager.

Let’s return back to that moment when you decided to become a manager. So we had you at ThePriceGeek; let’s fast-forward - you’re at Netflix, you are a software engineer at Netflix. This is about two years ago now, and you remember the day vividly… So tell us what happened. I would like to talk about that decision, because ultimately what I’m interested in in addition to you and your story is the decision-making process, which you outline very well here. I think it’s still helpful for so many of us, because so many of us have to make these hard decisions… Like, “Do I move from developer to engineer, or from engineer to manager? Do I go into a startup? Do I work for a big company? Do I stay as an individual contributor?” All these difficult choices.

What I love about what you’re written is really the inside story of how you make these decisions. You had the first big decision, which is “I’m gonna move from software engineer to engineering manager.” That was two years ago. And then just recently, you’ve decided to revert and go the other way… So take us back to that day and the circumstances that surrounded your move from engineer to manager.

Going from engineer to manager was also a very challenging decision that I had to make, because it was my first time doing management professionally, of a fairly large software engineering team… I had never done it before, so it was something that I had to very consciously go after and make a choice that, you know, this was something that I wanted to do. But to give some more background, I started at Netflix as a software engineer, working on a lot of full-stack type work… But then about a year-and-a-half or two years into that job, my manager at the time left the company. And I was pretty devastated, because I really looked up to this manager, and they were in my mind a great coach, a great person… And when I heard about them leaving the company, I felt really sad and kind of almost lost even… Because now we were in a position where we didn’t have a manager, and there was this uncertainty about who that might be.

So after that whole announcement that my director at the time made to the team, that my manager was leaving, my director then kind of pulled me aside and said “Hey, Lauren, we’ve been having lots of discussions with you recently about management and leadership, and we think you’re ready. Why don’t you be the manager of this team?” And my reaction was like “Are you serious? I’ve never done management before.” Yes, I have been very curious, I’ve asked a lot of questions, I’ve had a lot of one-on-ones with different people, but I didn’t feel ready at all. I had a lot of, again, curiosity and interest in it, but I don’t feel like I was ready to lead a big team.

[00:17:49.27] So I told my director, I said “Give me a week to deliberate over this, because I wanna be very sure.” So I spent a week doing a lot of research, reading, talking to people, talking to friends, talking to people, talking to friends, talking to family, and just thinking “Is this really something that I want?”

But in the course of doing all that research, I came across this blog post by Charity Majors – and I don’t recall the exact title, but I think it was something around the engineer manager pendulum. That was an article that really spoke to me, because in her blog post she articulates this career path that isn’t very well spoken about in our industry, which is the secret path of pivoting between engineer and manager, kind of back and forth, and how that was actually a viable career path if you wanted to stay close to the technology, but then also develop your skills in leadership and management.

So that was really the a-ha moment, the light bulb for me in terms of like “Oh, you know what - actually, I can do this.” I then started to think about “Why was I spending all this time trying to make this perfect transition?”

Then I came across this other article that was written by someone who had read a shareholder letter from Jeff Bezos, who talks about the difference between type one and type two decisions. According to Jeff Bezos, a type one decision is the kind of decision where the consequences are irreversible. For example, if you jumped off a cliff, there is no turning back from that, right?

You’re done, yeah.

And that’s – okay, if you are really making a type one decision, then you should absolutely spend a lot of time being very sure that that’s something that you wanna do… Because once you walk through that door, there’s no turning back. But then there are the other type two decisions, which are more reversible. For Jeff Bezos, at the time, actually starting Amazon was a type two decision. When I started to read about that, I realized “You know what - why am I so paralyzed about this decision to go be a manager?” Because I knew I would learn a ton of new skills that I’d never really flexed a lot of as an engineer, and I knew that there was going to be a path back, as long as I didn’t become too rusty…

[00:20:14.06] There was something that constantly weighed on me as well, as a manager; it was like feeling this need of “Oh, I always have to be working on something in my spare time, or else I’m gonna get rusty and I’ll never be able to go back.”

But that was a lot of the thought process for me. It was really like “It’s a type two decision, so I don’t wanna spend any more time.” I had already spent a couple of days out of that week just losing sleep over “Should I be a manager or not?”, and just going for it. Going for it with both hands, and just saying “I’m gonna do this for the next year or two. I’m gonna put in 100% of my effort and do the best possible job I can. But at the end of the two years I need to revisit and reevaluate whether or not that’s the right choice for me.”

There’s just no way, honestly, that at any point in your life you can predict ahead and tell whether or not you will enjoy or regret doing something. You kind of have to go through it in order to get that kind of information to make that decision. So trying to over-analyze it is actually not very helpful.

It’s interesting that Jeff Bezos laid out these types of decisions, because I’ve also used – I think it’s a Jeff Bezos tool in some decision-making in my life as well… I think it’s him - I could be wrong, but there is an idea called the Regret Minimization Framework… Where when given two choices and when it’s difficult to weigh those two choices and the balance and decide “Are you gonna go left of are you gonna go right?”, he would choose the one that would – of course, you’re predicting, to a certain degree… So like you said, sometimes you have to live it out to know which one is true… But he would say “Okay, would I regret more or less going left, or going right?” And he would make the choice towards the one that would reduce his potential regret.

For example, in your case, if you would have stayed as an engineer, then you may have never known if you could be great. Maybe you were born to be the best manager ever, you know?

Yeah, exactly.

And 20 years, 30 years back, if you just were to continue down that one path of software engineer, you may have never known what kind of a manager you would have made. And so maybe you would have regretted that. So in that particular context, you’d say “Okay, would I regret more not trying, or would I regret more giving up what I have?” and that would be another way of navigating those types of decisions. I’ve used that, to some degree, and I think it’s worked out pretty well. It tends to lead you towards more yes’es than no’s, because you tend to think “Well, should I do this, yes or no? Well, I might regret not doing it, so I’ll say yes.” Not always the best decision, but one that’s served me pretty well.

One other thought to add to that though - sometimes, and not all the time, when you have an either/or decision, is to consider both. So often do we approach – and this isn’t a one-to-one for every single scenario in this regret framework, but how often does it have to be just either/or? Why can’t it just be both, too?

I think in some circumstances you could negotiate that, but I think in some cases “You know, should I move to New York City or not?” You can’t both.

Yeah, there it obviously doesn’t fi.

Right…

What I mean is don’t limit yourself to thinking it’s either/or only. Consider also “Could it be both?”

Think outside the box…

Right. Because all too often we limit ourselves in our choices, and it’s good, because you wanna reduce the amount of choices so there’s not a paradox, the paradox of choice idea… But so often we get caught up in either/or, when it actually could be both… And I’m not saying this is the case here, but I wanna throw that in there, because it’s a fun idea to consider when coming into tough decisions, why not both.

[00:24:07.28] But on that fact though - I mean, this pendulum means that, if I understand Charity’s argument, it’s that you can go into management and back out of it with more knowledge. And using Jerod’s idea, this regret framework, do that with less regret, because you did try. You didn’t not try and regret not trying. You can move into that pendulum into management and back out into engineering and still cultivate and grow your skillset and your experience level to be a more valuable individual contributor later on, or potentially your own boss in the future once you’ve decided to go back to ThePriceGeek, or to your next big idea.

Yeah, I really like the regret minimization framework you mentioned, Jerod. I don’t think I explicitly use that, but I can see how something like that would have been super-helpful for me… And also not just for me, but anyone else who is considering a similar transition of like “Hey, should I continue to be an engineer, or should I be a manager, or should I do something completely different?”

I also like how you spoke about “Why not both?”, which I think kind of speaks to me about Charity’s blog post, which is kind of doing both - having your cake and eating it too, in a way. But yeah, a lot of what she says is kind of what you touched on. As an engineer, you are honing your maker skills, and maybe some of the other skills you need to be a multiplier on your team… But generally speaking, you are mostly honing those maker skills of like programming, and architecture, and things like that. But you don’t get as many opportunities to flex the muscles of communication, or leadership, or having more of a sense of ownership… Although I guess even as an engineer, you should have some feeling of ownership of the product you’re working on, hopefully…

So if you are considering a transition as well, I think both that regret minimization framework and the type one/type two decision could be helpful… And thinking about the skills that you’ll gain is also very helpful. Because for me personally, I learned so many new things that I never knew that managers had to do before.

Even though you can read as much as you want, and you can read all the books, and you can do all the research, but going through it is gonna be completely different, because no experience is ever gonna be exactly the same. You come across a whole different cast of characters in your story, that are very different from what somebody else’s experience will be like. That just makes it a little bit more challenging, a little bit more fun, but also very educational, if you’re up for that challenge of learning completely new skills.

When I did this announcement, when I told all of my colleagues at Netflix that I was gonna leave the company and go elsewhere to be an engineer again, a lot of engineers at the company actually reached out to me to say “Oh, I would love to have a meeting with you to understand your thought process of how you navigated this engineering and manager - these two different tracks.”

One of the things I realized, that a lot of people were asking me, was this feeling of not knowing what it means to grow as an individual contributor. And maybe this is unique to Netflix, maybe it isn’t, but at Netflix we don’t really have very well-defined career ladders. For example, if you join as an engineer at Netflix, your title is senior software engineer, and there are no other engineering titles in that company.

[00:27:56.26] So if you are very used to growth in the sense of like “Oh, I started as a junior, then I’m a mid-level, then I’m a senior engineer”, then you’re not gonna get that same level of progression that you might get at a different company. That was something that I’ve found that a lot of the engineers that spoke to me after were kind of really grappling against… It was this feeling that you have to become a manager to grow in your career, which - I wanna say now, for the record, that I don’t think I would totally disagree with that; I don’t think you need to be a manager to level up in your career. It can be helpful to gain some new skills, but I don’t think it’s a requirement… And I can definitely talk about that a little bit later, I guess, with some of my thought process of why I’m now going back into engineering.

Break

[00:28:50.19]

Another thing that you point out with regards to this decision to become a manager - it does play into some of the things we’ve just discussed, is this principle… You have a guiding principle that has shaped your career, which is do things that scare you, and this was something that scared you… So that was an indicator that you should do it. I’m just curious where you learned that, where that came from, and how has that served you throughout your life.

I don’t think I really formulated or articulated this principle until quite recently… And again, going back to that quote I mentioned, being able to connect the dots looking backwards - when I started to do that exercise of looking back on my path to where I am today, I realized the thing that has given me a lot of success is leaning into those experiences which at the time seemed extremely scary, extremely daunting, or me feeling like an impostor… And I’ve come to recognize that maybe 8 or 9 times out of then when I do feel that fear, it’s because I maybe feel like I’m not good enough to do that, whatever that might be. But I’ve found that it’s – maybe this is just helpful for me; I don’t know if it’s helpful for others… But I find it very motivating to be like “Hm, maybe I can prove myself wrong. Maybe I CAN do this. But I won’t know until aI try.” That kind of mentality has helped me out so much in my career.

[00:31:55.15] One example that comes to mind is public speaking. Public speaking actually used to be my greatest fear of all time. It was so bad, to the point where I would get up on stage, or I would go at the front of the class and give a presentation on a topic that I had spent hours and hours preparing for… But I would be so nervous that I would literally shake. I would physically shake, and I would be so nervous that I would be unable to do the presentation in a way that people could understand me.

Pretty early on in my engineering career I started doing a lot of blogging about a JavaScript framework I was using at the time… And unbeknownst to me, the creator of the framework stumbled upon those blog posts as well. I think they liked reading those blog posts, because they then invited me to come and be a speaker - or to apply to be a speaker - at one of the upcoming conferences for that framework… The Ember.js framework, at the time.

I remember thinking to myself “No way. There’s no way I can do this. I can’t even go out to my class and give a presentation… How can I go up on stage to my first conference ever?” I had never been to a conference even at that point… And give a talk to hundreds of developers - that was something that seemed so impossible, something that I could never do. And to be honest, I almost never did it, because I truly didn’t believe that I could do it. But the person who reached out to me - her name is Leah Silber, and she was very encouraging, and she really encouraged me to just try it out; she would give me a lot of advice about how to do things like that.

So I think her message to me was really that I would not go through this alone… And I think that gave me a lot of courage to at least give it a try. This is where I think that whole mindset of “Let me just give it a try and see what happens. I’ll worry about it later if it does happen” came to be for me.

So I put together a proposal and I didn’t think too much about it. I didn’t think it would actually get accepted, but then lo and behold, it did get accepted. That was the point where I then started to panic, like “Okay, now–”

[laughs] Now you had to worry about it…

“Now I am in big trouble… I have to prepare a 30-minute talk, for 600-700 people”, and I felt this weird sense of calm, actually, when I first heard about the – I guess after the initial shock and horror and panic… I felt a sense of calm, because I think I’m the kind of person who’s very motivated by deadlines, and some kind of stress, which is why I think I did pretty well in college, with the constant deadlines looming over me.

But that was a great motivator, because now I could say “Okay, I have three months, and I need to come up with a talk. So let me work backwards and formulate a plan for how I’m gonna do this.” Going through those steps really gave me a lot of confidence to prepare a good talk, spend many hours preparing for it…

When I finally did the talk, and I went on stage, the first couple of minutes were extremely terrifying. The recording is still somewhere on YouTube, I’ll probably link it later… I don’t know if you’ll be able to see it on the recording, but I was so nervous. I was definitely shaking… But after 2-3 minutes in, the hours and hours I had spent practicing really kicked in, and then I started feeling way more confident.

After that initial feeling of like “Oh, you know what - I can do this…”, and just me saying “I can do this” in my head - I know it sounds maybe kind of cheesy, but that was the turning point for me in that particular talk… Because I started feeling way more confident, and the rest of the talk in my mind went really well. By the end of it I was on a high. I was so elated that I had done - at least from my perspective - a good job of doing my talk, that I then signed up to do another talk… Not immediately, but I then started feeling more confident about applying to future other conferences, and kind of doing more talks there.

[00:36:10.17] So that’s definitely been something that I’ve learned - when I’m afraid of something, and I’m really unsure if I can do it or not, I think the thought that I keep coming back to is “Let me just give it a try, and see where it takes me.” If I don’t get accepted, if I get rejected, then so be it. When I was interviewing, I had the same thought - I was scared of interviewing, to be honest with you. I think nobody really likes interviewing, especially in Silicon Valley; I think there’s a reputation of the interviews here being extremely obtuse, and involving a lot of whiteboarding…

And even for myself, working in a Silicon Valley company, there was this sense of hesitation and uncertainty and fear about going into that process as well, which would have kind of really held me back on interviewing. So that’s another situation where I realized maybe it’s a good idea for me to not be so paralyzed by this fear, but instead use it to encourage and motivate me to do better.

So your “Do things that scare you” principle rhymes with one that I’ve been using a bit in my life, and have advised others, which also sounds kind of cheesy, but it’s to get outside your comfort zone… Because nothing cool ever happens inside your comfort zone. The story you’ve just told with the conference talk, which resonates with me and with many people who have given public speaking a try, and overcome that particular fear - which many, many people are deathly afraid of public speaking; it’s one of the scariest things there is… Those bodily reactions you were describing, when you were doing that first talk, with the shaking, and maybe they’re sweating, and maybe the back of your neck heats up -it’s because you’re not comfortable.

So you’re afraid, of course; you’re anxious, you’re agitated… It’s uncomfortable by definition. And so often, going through that process matures, establishes, and produces the interesting parts of your life. Nobody ever says “Remember the story the other night when I stayed home and watched Netflix, and we saw that one show that we’ve seen?”, or watched The Office… I’m not gonna go tell my friends about that, but… When you get outside of your comfort zone, you do things that scare you, you produce really the interesting and the valuable aspects of your life.

So I’m with you… Step outside your comfort zone, do the things that scare you, lean into your fears, and good things can come from that.

Yeah. Somebody that said kind of an alternate version of Steve Jobs’ famous quote, which was “Stay hungry. Stay foolish”, said “Stay uncomfortable. Stay hungry.” Because contentment will drive no desire to be uncomfortable, no desire to be hungry… Because if you’re content, you’re full; you’re not seeking your next million, you’re not seeking your next adventure, your next uncomfortable scenario… And you become stagnant, less aggressive, careless potentially even.

When you’re uncomfortable, hungry, you’re unsettled. You’re seeking something new, a new adventure. There’s nothing holding you back.

Yeah. And I have this really great print-out of a comic from this company called ZEN PENCILS. They do these great cartoons of famous quotes, and I have one on my wall which kind of talks a lot about what you’re saying - it’s really leaning into those uncomfortable moments and just being determined about trying something new and struggling a little bit. I think those are, as you say, really the experiences that shape you and make you a better person. Obviously, not every experience will result in that kind of learning, but there are certain things that can.

[00:40:13.09] I guess one tip I would give myself ten years ago would be when I feel afraid about something, I should really question and try to understand why. Am I afraid because I don’t think I can do it, or is there something else? And try to really understand whether or not there is any truth to that, or is it just maybe my emotions or my insecurities coming at the forefront. And not to say you should dismiss your emotions, but if that nagging voice in your head is holding you back, then maybe you shouldn’t listen to that voice all the time.

I don’t know if this will scale to every single decision I’ll have to make, but at least for the ones that I come across professionally, a lot of the times I’ve found it to be very helpful.

We do a show called Brain Science, and Mireille Reece is a doctor in clinical psychology, and she’s my co-host on that show… And something that she says often is “Fear is feedback.” It’s not that you wanna diminish it, or squash it completely; you wanna (as you said) question it, examine it. “Why do I feel uncomfortable here? Why do I have fear about public speaking?” Some of those answers may be obvious, but specifically for you, you may get a different answer… So fear is just simply feedback. And it’s certainly an emotion as well, but it’s feedback towards you, rather than just simply this emotion that you should try to avoid.

So what was it about management that terrified you? Was it simply the unknown, the uncharted, or were there specific aspects of it that were “scary”, for a lack of better term? Did you identify specific things that were terrifying?

Yeah, I think for sure the uncertainty, the unknown was a big part of it. Not having done management before, this feeling that I would be a terrible manager… I think I had a real fear about that, because I guess I was in a position now where my decisions and my actions would impact not just myself and maybe a few others, but a much larger sphere of people that I would impact.

I guess that’s not really necessarily something that’s unique to being a manager, because even as an engineer, you do have actually – and I guess maybe I didn’t realize it at the time, but as an engineer, depending on the kind of products you’re working on, or the cross-functional teams that you work with, your work does have a lot of impact, whether you realize it or not… And your work, whether it’s in the open source community, or with the product that you’re building for your company, you have a huge ton of impact to your users, your stakeholders, your product managers, designers, back-end engineers and so forth.

So going into that as a manager was scary from that perspective of feeling that now I would have to answer to so many more people, and be on the hook for every single thing that would be bad or good. It was kind of scary, but I think it was scary in a good way; it was exciting-scary…

I wasn’t so terrified to the point where I was not excited about it. I was excited about it, but then just really unsure about the unknown. I think the thing that was actually quite scary was this thought process of “Would I be able to come back?” In my mind, I knew that if I kept my skills sharp, there’s no reason why I couldn’t go back. But I had to really accept this notion that maybe if I did choose to go back to being an engineer, that I couldn’t guarantee that it would be with the same company, at Netflix.

[00:44:18.11] Fortunately for me, as I was exploring this path back to being an engineer, that was actually an opportunity available to me, to be an engineer at Netflix. I was afraid before I was a manager that that wouldn’t be available, because then that would mean going out and interviewing, and everybody hates interviewing… So that was something I was maybe thinking too far ahead, and kind of just scaring myself for no good reason.

Well, especially if you enjoyed working there, you would wanna question anything that would change to impact you not being able to continue there when your path changed again. It’s interesting to see that the path into and out of management has to be seen as this - I think Charity mentioned it too in the post you referenced - promotion, or lack of promotion (I don’t know what’s the opposite of promotion). You know, whenever you go back to being an engineer, does it have to be this sort of up and down? Can’t it not just be simply a lateral move into a new lane, into a new skillset, and then be able to come back, even at Netflix, for example?

Yeah, I think this is something that’s probably very commonly misunderstood about management… And I’ll also say it’s very subjective, because on one hand, I wanna agree with Charity; I wanna say that you should be seeing the engineer and manager - these two career paths as completely independent of each other, and as you say, you should think about them like they’re lateral moves… But the reality is also as a manager it is true - and I can’t deny this fact - that you do actually, as you rise in the ladder of being a manager, you do get actually more influence over others who aren’t at that same level.

So I don’t think it’s fair for me to say that if you’re an engineer, that you’d be on the same level of impact or influence as a vice-president of the company… But it doesn’t mean that that’s the only path to impact. And in fact, I think at certain companies, maybe the bigger Silicon Valley companies, they do actually have these great, well-defined career paths in the engineering track, where you can actually get to the level of an engineer who is at the vice-president or the director equivalent of a manager. I think at smaller companies you probably won’t see things like that.

I think all of this contributes to the feeling of - for a lot of engineers, and myself included, many years ago, that the only path up is to become a manager… And now, having gone through that, I can pretty confidently say that’s really not the case. At Netflix, for example, we have very senior engineers, who in fact I would consider senior to myself, even though I was a manager… I think it’s possible, it’s just not very well-defined and well-articulated. But I think that’s part of the challenge of growing more senior in any industry, whether you’re an engineer, or a designer, or a product manager.

One of the things that I really learned is the higher you go, the more senior you get, the more ambiguous everything becomes… And it’ll get harder and harder to have this well-defined career path laid out for you, that you just need to execute on. Because at those levels, you can’t really just rely on a career path that someone else is laying out for you.

I think of it this way… When I went to art school for a while, before college, doing finance - yes, you do learn a lot about the maker skills, like how to draw, how to paint, or if you’re an engineer, how to code, how to architect… And those are, in some ways, the fundamental skills of being an engineer.

[00:48:21.11] In your early days as a junior engineer, as a mid-level engineer, even up to a senior engineer, I think it’s fairly well-defined that if you work on those technical maker skills, then you will advance in your career, up to a point. But the part after the senior part is the part where it gets really murky… And for a lot of engineers, whether you are at a big company or small company, it can start to feel like – and I don’t know if you’ve encountered this before, Adam and Jerod, but… Whether you’re encountered this feeling of not knowing how to grow in your career, like “What should I be doing next?”

You’ve been doing engineering for a while, let’s say like a decade, and you’re starting to question “What do I need to be doing to get to the next level? What even is the next level?” And I think those are very good questions to ask, but they’re also indicative that – it’s just very difficult to reason about growth after a certain stage in your career… But I’ve actually been trying to write down some of these thoughts in a blog post that I hope to share somewhat soon, about how to think about your career and how to think about growth as an individual contributor… But yeah, I’m actually curious to hear whether either of you felt at any point in your career that same feeling of “Where do I go from here?”

Oh, yeah… A hundred percent, yeah.

Monday through Friday. [laughter]

Every day…

My career trajectory is not normal. I have never been inside of a large corporation, so I don’t have very many of the experiences that lots of people have to fall back on. I’ve always been either in a very small business of six people since college – since I graduated college, I worked for a company of six, and then I worked for myself ever since… So I’ve definitely wondered where to go next, a lot, but never inside of a corporate hierarchy or any sort of predefined tracks. I’ve never had any tracks, really. Adam, you’ve had a little bit of that before you went indie…

Only a little bit, yeah. The closest that I came to – I mean, I did a lot of freelance, both front-end and development stuff, and I think the closest thing that comes to that might be my time at Pure Charity, where I worked for somebody else; I wasn’t a freelancer anymore. I didn’t work for myself, like you had done, Jerod. So that was the time where it really – I had a path there… And that was unique for me, and particularly because it was a distributed company, but it also had collocated people as well. There was this aspect of “us and them”, us being the people – well, I guess “them” being the people at corporate, so to speak, the collocated, and the “us” being the distributed people. And it was very divided in terms of communication patterns, and stuff like that.

It made it difficult, because I had risen to the amount that I could rise in that company, unless I moved. And for me, moving wasn’t an option, simply because I love living here in Texas, and that’s where I live… So my ceiling was basically based upon my location, and that’s just unfortunate, but… That was the case there.

So like Jerod, I don’t have experience in large corporations, or the corporate ladder, or tracks to get to a certain position, and that’s why I’m so enamored by people who have that path… Because it’s changed over time, but it’s such an interesting path to navigate, because there’s almost a lot of unknowns. No one’s written a book on it, because it’s constantly changing. And there’s to some degree corporate books on it, but startups today – Netflix has become that way by maybe managerial standards, or different things like that they do, but that’s not how it began… So not all corporations are the same, even when they have growth. But there’s some degree of similarity.

[00:52:21.04] Yeah, I would say from people I’ve spoken to and just observing that, having a rich engineering hierarchy track, or whatever you call it, like having many ways to level up inside the corporation, and maintain your role as an engineer, is relatively new, and I think relatively rare to maybe Silicon Valley, maybe to even some of the larger companies inside Silicon Valley… Because I know there’s a lot of people who I’ve spoken to who feel like the only place they can go in order to increase their salary, to increase their influence etc. is to go into management.

Yeah. Or build your own thing…

Or leave.

And sell it. Be acquired.

Yeah. I would say there’s definitely a lack of resources about how to think about where to go next… And I do wanna say actually – I think working at a big company shouldn’t necessarily be the goal. In some ways, I kind of envy the small – or maybe the grass is greener… But I kind of envy the smaller setup, where you’re in a position where you have a lot more natural sense of ownership over whatever it is you’re doing.

And in fact, actually that’s probably the thing that I feel is probably lacking in a lot of the engineers that work in big corporations… Not because they’re not naturally owners of the product. Because maybe they’re not thinking about their time there as more than just a coding part of the job.

This actually reminds me of something I used to say to myself, and I think a lot of developers say this to themselves a lot, but… There’s often this joke that you became an engineer because you don’t like talking to people…

Right.

I certainly had that mindset before. Many years ago I was like “Oh yeah, this is the perfect job for me, because I’m an introvert and I don’t like talking to people.”

Right. “I’d rather talk to computers.”

Yeah. But as I’ve realized, when I’m talking about how your growth looks like beyond the point of you mastering your engineering skills is to actually be a great communicator, to be a leader, to have influence on certain topics, and discussions, and points of view… That is not something that you can do or get by just sitting in front of your computer all day, just coding away.

I think one of the things that I’ve seen that is the most limiting in a lot of the engineers that I’ve worked with in the past - it’s not about their skills, it’s about the mindset. And if you don’t have the right mindset, then you’re gonna be stuck for a while (or a long time), maybe even forever, if you never change your mindset, that your job is more than just programming. If you wanna do 100% of your time on programming, that’s totally fine. But then you also have to acknowledge that maybe you won’t get extremely that much further in your career if you don’t flex and hone those other skills.

And even if you work on open source and if you work on a really popular library, you still have to master those skills of communication and influence and writing skills, that again, you’re not gonna get just by standing in front of your code editor all day.

One example in the community – one person who I really look up in that regard is Dam Abramov. I think he does a great job not just technically, but also in terms of how he communicates with others in the community, and just by seeing the way he communicates and presents himself and talks about certain topics… I think it goes to show that growth is more than just your technical skills. Obviously, it’s a core part of your toolset, but it shouldn’t be the only point of focus.

[00:56:30.15] I absolutely agree. I think the best developers are great communicators, almost to a one. That being said, there are other skills - and maybe even characteristics - that are stereotypical of engineers, that wouldn’t translate well into management. I think of things like just obsessing over nitpicky, picayune details that a compiler requires you to be obsessed over, you know? Like, the correct placement of a semicolon… And to just dive head-deep into a problem, and just relentlessly debug.

Did you wonder if those skills would be lost, or maybe even get rusty, when you moved into management? Because a bad manager is a micro-manager, but a good programmer is kind of a micro-programmer, in a sense, right? What are your thoughts on other skills that engineers kind of naturally have, or have gained through experience, that when they make the move to management are just completely lost? Did you experience that?

I definitely encountered that, and hopefully if someone’s considering this transition to be a manager as well, that you have someone who is giving you good advice on that transition… But my experience - to your point - I think there has been a lot of context-switching and mindset-shifting that you have to do as a manager… And one of the things I wish was better articulated was this reality that being a manager is really a completely different job. And as you say, as a programmer, your success is really determined on how much attention you can put on the details, and your ability to write great code, and really be very focused on a few big problems.

So you’re really kind of dealing with the trees, using that analogy of the forest and the trees. You are really in the weeds, and you’re kind of nitpicking over “Where should the tree be placed? How much water should we be giving the tree? What fertilizer should we use?” I don’t actually know if trees need fertilizer, but…

It’s good at something…

You care a lot about the details - the soil, the sunlight, and things like that.

Right…

But as a manager, your job shifts more to the forest.

The big picture.

Now, instead of you managing one or two trees, you are managing a whole forest of trees. And you’re not just managing the trees in the forest, but also the people around it, so the park rangers, or the people who are trying to come down and cut all the trees. So you kind of have to really change the way that you operate. And I’ll actually say that a really good engineer will probably make a really poor manager, for all of those reasons that you’ve mentioned… Which is you care a lot about the details – and I’m not saying you have to nitpick to be a great engineer, but you have to put a level of care and thought into all the code that you write. Not to say as a manager you don’t put any care into what you do, but it becomes much more ambiguous.

[00:59:53.15] There isn’t something as simple as – you know, as a manager, there’s no linter. There is no compiler. I wish there was a compiler for management positions. [laughter] Then I could type-check my management decisions, or something like that. But the reality is you don’t have those tools.

As an engineer, you might typically be more comfortable with “I would rather have something more authoritative make a call for me.” Like, “Okay, let me refer to the best practices document in the community on how to write this JavaScript, and everyone should follow this bible of how we write JavaScript.” But you don’t have that for management. There is no golden bible of management that people follow. It’s very vague, it’s very ambiguous. You kind of have to just go with your gut and see where it takes you.

I would say that I’ve heard a lot of managers and leaders over the years - just because I’m a podcast junkie - interviewed, and I’ve never heard a group of people give the most diverse advice… Like, even completely contrary advice. You’d have one manager say “This is the way you do it”, and they swear by it, it’s served them well their entire career… And that’s their experience. And then you’ll have another person that says darn near the exact opposite thing, and they swear by it, and it served them well their whole career… And like you said, best practices - I don’t know if they exist.

But there is actually one skill, or a couple of skills that I think do translate very well from engineering to management. I think one of them, in my mind, that is the most useful, is balancing trade-offs. As engineers, we do that very often. There’s always a trade-off in the choices we make, whether it’s performance, or memory usage, or whatever the trade-offs we’re making are… But the same holds for decisions in management. Like, “Should I hire this person? Should this person be let go from the team?” Those are not as easy to make, but it all comes down to trade-offs, and there’s no perfect answer of “Yes, this person is the best person for the team, and no one will ever be as good as them.” There’s no black and white there; it’s very much grey, and you kind of have to really weigh the trade-offs.

I think that is actually something that as an engineer you kind of learn how to think about trade-offs and how to approach those kinds of decisions with care and thought and nuance.

Then, going back to what I’ve said earlier, you run the risk of sometimes leaning too much into that, and then you’re in that analysis paralysis on what is a type two decision… So you’re now applying type one decision-making to a type two decision, and that causes you to go super-slowly; that’s just very frustrating.

I think recognizing the type of decision you’re making, and then knowing when to apply what decision-making framework is very helpful, and I think something that I’ve had to learn over the past two years.

Yeah. Well, the path you’re considering now is going back into being an engineer, right?

Yes, that’s correct.

And that stemmed from a conversation - a question, really - that asked you “What brings you ultimate joy?” …which, considering [unintelligible 01:03:21.19] and Netflix…

[laughs] It’s so poignant.

…and being ironic, and… That’s just interesting to me. But sometimes you even hear “What are you optimizing for?” I’d heard this from Saron Yitbarek a while back; she wrote an article titled “The One Question That Will Change Your Life”, and she said basically “What are you optimizing for?”

When you think about this, when you say “What’s the ultimate joy for you? What are you optimizing for?”, what are some of your answers? What’s taking you back from these two years of enjoyment, and to some degree some fear in there as well, because hey, that’s how it works, discontentment… But - back into being an engineer…?

[01:04:07.10] Yeah… I really like that. “What are you optimizing for?” is a great way to put it. I think for me personally – when I had the discussion with my director, he asked me this question, “What brings you–” Because I had shared with him all of the thought process behind whether or not I would stay as a manager, or go back to being an engineer… And in return, he asked me this question which made me a little frustrated at the time, but looking back in hindsight, I realized that that was a really great question… But his question was what brings me ultimate joy.

I really struggled with it at first, because I really – I love engineering, I love programming. In fact, it was my hobby, and that was how I got into the industry in the first place… But when I was thinking and reflecting on this question, I also realized, you know what - there’s a lot of things about management that I enjoy, and I’ve learned so much, and I really like that process of learning. So how do I think about the next step of my career? Do I wanna continue going down the path of the manager, or do I wanna be an engineer again? How do I think about this problem?

So this question, of what brought me ultimate joy, was a really great forcing question. The goal of the question, at least in my head, was not necessarily to come up with the one thing that I was gonna do for the rest of my life, but rather a forcing question of, at least for the next 3-4 years, what is the thing that I’m optimizing for, what is the thing I wanna get better at.

I spent a couple of months just really sleeping over this question, and thinking about what it was, and I realized that the thing that I was missing the most, and the thing that I wanted to continue working on, was those maker skills. I felt that I had learned so much as a manager in those past few years… Obviously, I don’t consider myself a management guru or an expert having only done two years in it, but I do feel like I’ve learned a lot of great lessons that I can bring back with me in the individual contributor track.

I was very excited about going back and being a maker again, and creating things with nothing more than my keyboard and my mouth, and talking to people, and things like that. That’s something that to me is still very magical, and something that I don’t wanna give up… And I realized, going back to this blog post from Charity Majors, that she essentially encourages people who are considering this engineer-manager pendulum to give it about two years each time… Because if you spend too much time away from engineering, then you might become so rusty that it becomes almost impossible or very difficult to go back into it. And then you’re kind of stuck in maybe a track that you’re not super-excited about. And there’s nothing worse than reporting to a manager who hates their job… [laughter] I don’t know if you’ve had a manager like that before, but…

I’ve got a manager like that…

Yeah. If you have one, you know. It’s not a great experience. And I certainly didn’t wanna become a manager who was like that, who hated their job and were just stuck in it. So for me it was kind of a no-brainer, like “Yeah, I should definitely go back to being an engineer”, and reevaluate again in 2-3 years and see “Do I wanna keep going, or not?”

But I think for me it’s not so much about defining a career for the rest of my life, it’s just more so about “Here’s the next 2-3 years.” I’ll take it as it goes, but the lesson for myself is that I need to keep going back and just reevaluating every year to see if whatever I was doing was still my dream job. And if it wasn’t my dream job, then I really need to ask myself the questions of “Why isn’t it my dream job?” and to make the right decisions that would help me correct that.

But again, I think if you don’t lean into those things that scare you, and the things that you feel that you can learn from, then you might not be learning and progressing and growing as much as you could be.

Break

[01:08:43.06]

I like this idea of attaching time to this pendulum swing, because it also lends to the other idea of when you say no to something, or you make a decision to go one way or another, which we’ve been talking about. Sometimes a way to soften the no is to say no, and then put the word in parentheses “not yet”. You’re saying no, but not indefinitely. Saying “not yet” means “Well, I’m just saying no for now. It doesn’t make sense now”, and you’re kind of making choices for the present, rather than simply just this longest-term view that you can possibly imagine, because it’s just too far out… And to make some choices today that impact your career direction in the next couple of years puts you on the trajectory, and then as you sort of look down that list of what brings you joy, this list of things that bring you joy, you can begin to attach those to your trajectory and constantly find yourself back to alignment, rather than this long-term trajectory that you can’t really predict because it’s unpredictable, and you feel lost because of it.

Yeah, I do have to agree. I think the time-boxing is very useful, because it gives you a timeline of when you need to reevaluate. Before you get to that point – at least for myself, I try to dedicate 100% of my interest and passion into whatever it is I’m doing for the now, and then I kind of put off the thinking about the future until a year or two from now. Because like you say, there’s just no way that you can predict what’s gonna happen in five years, let alone next year… So you should think about it, but you shouldn’t be paralyzed by thinking about how to optimize for that, I think.

Did you have anybody walk alone with you with this choice, or was this simply something that you internally deliberated? Or did you have a board of advisors? It wasn’t mentioned in your post, so I wasn’t sure… I know you had some advice from the initial question I asked you, but I wasn’t sure if this decision tree, this exploration was just you alone.

I definitely wasn’t alone. I think I had a lot of help. I guess “board of advisors” is pretty catchy. I should probably start referring to those people as my board of advisors… [laughs]

[01:12:00.00] Everybody’s gotta have one.

Yeah, my advisory board… But I definitely had a lot of help through this decision, including the colleagues that I had at Netflix, also some of the people I’ve worked with in the past that were helpful in helping me make this decision… And then there was a lot of time that I had to spend just on my own, because ultimately only I can make this decision for myself. So I did have to spend quite a bit of time just thinking about it, deliberating, writing actually helped me out a lot… But again, having people that you can talk to is really helpful.

Actually, I wanna say, whoever is listening - if you are also deliberating something like this, or if you wanna talk about your career, I’m definitely open to chatting, so feel free to reach out to me.

That’s awfully kind of you, Lauren… And you’re headed back to be a software engineer once again. Does this next move of yours - you’ve resigned at Netflix, you’re gonna be a software engineer - scare you?

It is. It’s very scary, because in my four years working at Netflix I’ve really grown to love working there. I love the culture, I love the people, and I think the vision and the way that that company is going about achieving that vision is very exciting to me still… So it was definitely a very difficult decision for me to leave.

I guess some of you might be wondering why I decided to leave if I loved it so much - and it really boiled down to the fact that I came across an opportunity that, as you say, I felt like I would regret not doing. And I’m not ready to say fully what it is, but I can at least share that I will be joining Facebook as a front-end engineer. So I’ll be hopefully working on something that is very personally exciting for me, and also an experience that I’ll learn a lot from.

And not to say there weren’t’ opportunities like that at Netflix, but it was a very different set of circumstances that I was trying to optimize for, and that’s kind of how I made that very tough decision of like “Oh man, do I actually need to leave the company to do this?”

I think one of the great things about the Bay Area - and I don’t know about the rest of America - it seems to me that in this engineering community that we have in Silicon Valley, one of the great things about it is that you never fully close the door on any one place, assuming you don’t leave on bad terms.

It’s very common for people in the tech industry here to do what is known as a boomerang - you leave a company, and then a couple years later you come back, maybe in a different role, in a different level, different team. So it’s definitely possible, and I’m not gonna say it’s a guarantee, but I think that was also a bit of a relief for me, knowing that (assuming that I didn’t burn any bridges or upset anyone as I left, and I hope I didn’t) the door would be still open, and maybe one day I would go back, or maybe I wouldn’t. Obviously, I can’t predict the future of what I wanna do, but at least knowing that I hadn’t fully closed the door was helpful.

Well, it moved it from an irreversible decision to a potentially reversible decision, right?

Exactly, right. You got it.

Well, Lauren, this has been a really awesome conversation. I feel like you’ve shared a lot. I’m so glad that you came on the show and talked about this transition for you. All these decisions – all of us have to make decisions of this kind, and I feel like you’ve provided a lot of tools for folks, and help along the way of maybe making hard decisions in the lives.

You do share at the end three questions that you gathered from @millie on Twitter; these are questions you can ask yourself, and I just thought I would share them with the audience, so that they also could think about these things, before we tail off here.

[01:16:14.14] The first one is “If you find it hard to wake up excited about going to work in the mornings, ask yourself why. If working at your company is not aligned with your long-term goals or values, consider making a move. If you’ve never thought about where you’d like to be in three years, sit down and think about it.” Those are some great things to chew on.

Any final words from you Lauren, or from you, Adam, before we call this a show?

I will add that in my blog post I link to that slide deck from @millie. I definitely recommend reading through that. It may not be completely applicable to you, but I do think there are a lot of questions in there that will help you think about your career and help you – it’s not gonna give you any answers, but I think it’ll give you the right questions that you should think about, so that you could come up with the answers for yourself, and so that you can then start thinking about how you want to progress and get you closer to that goal that you have.

Excellent. We will scoop that up for our show notes, as well. Adam, final words, final thoughts?

Well, the one thing I think I wanted to add, but not take deeply, is this idea of a generative quitter. We talked about generative cultures, Jerod, but not generative quitters.

What’s a generative quitter?

A generative quitter is – there’s three common types of quitters. This is going a little deep, but I’ll give it to you.

Let’s have it.

You’ve got the typical people who are bridge-burners, you’ve got the two-week lame duck… [laughter] And I don’t have to explain these, because they just sort of land there…

Yeah, we know what that is.

This generative quitter option is this radical third option, where most people think quitting is a negative thing, and a destructive thing, and as you’ve mentioned here, it doesn’t have to be that way. This boomerang effect - it means leaving, ending, bailing out, but quitting is something we all do, so we have to reframe how we quit… And it’s a chance to reframe quitting into a chance to refresh and renew things for the company, and as well for you, to take that next chapter.

There’s many ways you can leave a job, so why not leave a way that’s generative, that passes the baton well, that does the next person in your seat a service, and then also your reputation a service by just being a kind quitter, I suppose.

We linked it up in News this week, and I’ll put it in the show notes too, but it’s a post on LinkedIn titled “How to quit your job spectacularly well.”

That’s cool.

It can’t get any better than that.

I like that. Thanks for sharing that.

That is really cool. I had never heard of that term before, but it makes total sense.

Yeah. So does the two-week lame duck. [laughter] [unintelligible 01:18:51.09]

Well, we all burn bridges… I mean, I guess we don’t all – sometimes you do that; you don’t mean to. I suppose maybe when you’re younger and naive, or maybe younger and less experienced… And we’ve all been, to some degree, a lame duck, whether it’s a week or two weeks or that day. Maybe you’re just a day-long lame duck, or something, but… Generative quitter.

I think one of the risks is also - as you leave, you leave with this huge pile of feedback that you had never given anyone before, and then you sort of burn bridges that way… Because you’ve been sitting on all this feedback, it doesn’t come out right at the very end… I think that’s actually one of the great things about the culture at Netflix, it’s the culture of feedback - it’s constant, it’s ongoing.

When I left, I really didn’t have anything extra to say… And that was a new experience, I think, but it goes to show that you can leave well - at least I hope I left well… And yeah, I’m looking forward to reading that article.

Yeah. Thank you for your courage to write this… To share just the back-story or how you made decisions. Some of this is very personal to you, and it’s very much wisdom from the trenches of doing it… And why not try to spark joy in your life by making choices that make sense for your carrier, and choosing to come back to engineering. It’s always a good thing.

Yup. Thank you so much for reading it and for inviting me on this podcast. I had a lot of fun.

It’s been awesome to have you. Thank you.

Thanks, Lauren. This was awesome.

Yeah, thank you.

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