Today, I quit my job.
Like any breakup, it was hard to make the decision, and I didn't take it lightly. My job at UCLA was the first one I ever loved, and much like a first serious relationship, it was hard to call it quits. But there's someone new, someone I'll be much happier with in the long run, someone that can take me to a different place. It was a long time coming, a long overdue change, but still it's sad to leave something I've contributed to for more than 2 years. It was my first real job after college, or at least the first one I actually enjoyed.
Back in 1995, I started using the web daily and began building my own pages soon after. They weren't much, mostly glorified bookmark lists. Through 1996 and into 1997, I continued to plug away at personal pages, learning new programming techniques and exploring design possibilities and limitations of the medium. In mid-1997, I took my first freelance job, building a university department site for $3k. Looking back, it probably corresponded to about $8-10 per hour, since the job took about two months of full time work, and entailed building a 50 page site from scratch. I interviewed staff, compiled bios and took digital photographs of all the employees. I didn't even know how to do simple things like server-side includes, which would have made changing templates easier than modifying 50 pages by hand.
In the fall of 1997, I took a job I hated, in a field I was trained in at school. I dreamed of the web at work, and used it every second I was home. I distinctly remember trying to convince my coworkers at the time that the internet wasn't a fad and would someday be ingrained into their lives. "Hogwash!" was the most popular reply to my line of argument.
I hated that job and searched extensively for a new employer. One day, there was an ad for a webmaster/designer position at UCLA, doing much of the same work I'd just done on that university department site. I constructed a cover letter of epic proportions, poring over it for days before finally printing it and sending it off with a resume. To my surprise and bewilderment, I was asked to come visit the campus for an interview a week or two later.
I recall the interview going extremely well, but the most impressive thing was being in a building filled with people working with computers, and knowing at that exact moment that I belonged somewhere like that, as opposed to where I was at my current position. So in that respect, the interview taught me something extraordinary, regardless of whether or not I got the job. I made a promise to myself to find a web-related job as soon as I could, if this one happened to fall through.
A week later I was given an offer and I enthusiastically accepted. I was walking on air for the final two weeks of drudgery at my old job. It required moving to Los Angeles, but I was happy to do it, and it went smoothly.
Looking back, I don't know if I was qualified for the job from that first day, but I did everything in my power to change that as quickly as possible. I was alone in a new city and channeled that loneliness into my new job. I worked 12-14 hours a day, reading hundreds of pages on design and coding techniques every day. I joined numerous mailing lists, contributed what knowledge I had, while soaking up the combined knowledge of the lists like a sponge. Thankfully, I got up to speed quickly, and kept my design muscles strong by redesigning everything in sight and building a few new sites from scratch. I recall going into design meetings with no less than 5 fully developed mockups for every new project. I can't imagine doing that today, but I was impassioned and filled with ideas I wanted desperately to share.
But like all relationships, people grow and change, and eventually it was time to leave. I put my name out there for several months, returned calls to the recruiters that had always been calling me, and accepted phone and in-person interviews at numerous places. I learned something from the process, which was I didn't want to work for someone I wasn't passionate about. I used to love my UCLA job, and I wanted to feel that way all over again.
During a trip to San Francisco for one of my failed interviews, something inside clicked. The same feeling I got from visiting UCLA for the first time came back to me. Although the people I saw working in SOMA didn't seem that enthused about what they were doing, I knew that the pace and the environment was more fitting for where I was developmentally, and the sense of belonging returned for the first time in over two years. As with UCLA, I made a decision that if I didn't join the company I was interviewing with that day, I'd look for something similar soon after.
I wrote about my experiences on that trip, and how I wanted to do something fulfilling, instead of taking a job merely for profit-driven reasons. I was contacted soon after by a company I know and love, about coming on as a designer.
It's hard to find people that "get" the web anymore. Everyone's scampering for the next big profit model, doing whatever it takes to create the next successful IPO. These are people that "use" the web or "do" the web, it's just another medium to them like television or radio (remember when people used to think television could educate us?). The people that really "get" the web are the people that can still remember how magical it was to hear stories from the other side of the world, they can remember the first time a complete stranger emailed them to share experiences similar to the one's they wrote about, and they know an interconnected world isn't just about selling stuff to everyone that can operate a mouse.
I'm getting the chance to join a team I know and love, and to help build a product I've been evangelizing about for months. The product can only get better, which will help even more people communicate and build a richer web for all of us. It's the good fight, a fight worth fighting, and I'll be proud to say I've been contributing to it.
I'm extremely lucky to have found and become friends with Ev, Meg, Paul, and Matt, and even luckier to be able to work with them. Simply put, I love these guys as friends, I love the products and ideas they have, I'm honored to be given the opportunity to contribute to that, and I'm once again going to love my job. I'm also going to get the chance to fall in love with the web, all over again.
I'm proud to say I'll soon be working for Pyra.
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