I have so much to share around my job search that it’s difficult capture my thoughts in a single post. So, let’s start with the easy part, the summary. After putting in my notice as a management consultant on September 15th and leaving October 15th, I received a job offer December 23rd. I’ll be starting a job with a former client on the 19th of January. It’s AbbVie, a pharmaceutical company in the far north suburbs of Chicago, about 60 miles from my home. I’ll be the infrastructure architect for their SAP environment. During my time there as a consultant I worked within the same group as part of the migration team.
Why I left my job
Now for the hard part – why did I leave my job to begin? It’s not lost on me how blessed I am. I grew up in one of the toughest neighborhoods in the U.S. Neither my mom nor dad finished high school (both did go on to get their GED’s as adults). The odds of me being successful were not good. So, to leave a high paying job at one of the most admired companies in the world, before I found another job simply because it created challenges in my life seems a bit insane.
It speaks to my personality and priorities. Being a management consultant can be a stressful job. Companies call in management consultants to solve extremely difficult problems. An example is a financial services client that had a credit card breach. Our firm was engaged to show three years of maturity in six months or a Fortune 500 the company would go out of business. A team of 90 consultants spent six months working a 24/7 schedule to meet the requirements. To say it was a stressful period would be an understatement. In two short years, I learned a tremendous amount about the business behind IT.
However, the travel and work schedule began to take its toll on my health and my family. In 2013, I traveled Monday through Thursday for 42 weeks out of the year. In addition, I was putting in about 60 hours a week. When I looked to the highest levels of the organization, I just didn’t see a career path that justified the sacrifice. Also complicating things, it’s difficult to find a new job with such a demanding schedule and set of responsibilities. So, I decided to make an investment in my search.
One of the things I was really excited about was the possibility of leveraging my brand on Twitter, LinkedIn, and VirtualizedGeek.com to find a new job. Something you can’t do while still working is just broadcast to the world that you are looking for a new job. My situation was a once in a lifetime opportunity. After putting in my notice, I broadcast to the world that I was looking for a new job in a tweet.
Slept on it for two nights. Just put in my notice at “The Firm.” Time to find the next big thing.
— Keith Townsend (@virtualizedgeek) September 16, 2014
The reaction was exactly what I hoped. I got re-tweeted, and the calls came pouring. The list of companies is a who’s who of enterprise IT. The list included VMware, EMC, Cisco and even a couple of large companies such as Comcast. The initial response was thrilling!
Now comes the interesting part of the story. I’d be lying if I said that focusing on the business side of IT for two years was all positive experience when it comes to a new job search. While I enjoyed the challenge of tackling problems from the business side, I realized that I’m a geek at heart. I don’t just enjoy technology. I love technology. So, my focus was finding another job in technology. The challenge is that I had stepped away from doing technology in my day to day job for two years. The industry had moved on a bit. I didn’t and don’t understand the actual work of an engineer that does DevOps; I haven’t cared for a significant VMware environment since vSphere 4.1. I hated to admit it but my engineering days were behind me. Management consulting for me was like Bilbo and Frodo leaving the Shire. Things would never be the same for me.
The network effect
I set out to use my network to find my next opportunity. With two years off the tech grid, I’d never get a technical job by applying for jobs via websites. One dominating trend showed itself early in my search. A dominant portion of my Twitter network is from the IT vendor space. Therefore, all but two of about 15 job opportunities were with vendors. There were two problems. Vendors wanted someone with deep product knowledge. Tech companies loved my management consulting experience. They just wanted someone that has the experience and aptitude of a Big 4 management consultant and the up to date technical knowledge of an Engineer/Architect.
The second problem was that I wanted to maintain my independence as a blogger. I take pride in VirtualizedGeek and critiques of vendors without fear of obvious bias. I refused to take a job that would take away this platform. Earlier in the year, I interviewed for Gartner and withdrew from consideration partially because I didn’t want to lose my platform. I greatly cherish my independent voice.
You can’t teach hunger
I knew it could take a few months to find a job. I was financially prepared for an extended search. It was still a humbling experience to look up mid-November and not receive any offers after going through several rounds of interviews with several tech companies. It all came down to my current technical knowledge. One position was for a Global OpenStack Strategist. I wanted the job. The company needed my business background. Recommended by one of the most well-known figures in the OpenStack community, it would have taken me about three months to get up to speed on the specifics of the technology. Everyone agreed, within three months I’d be the perfect fit. The hiring manager just wanted someone who could contribute immediately technically. A similar scenario repeated itself with every vendor I interviewed.
It was a gut check time. Looking at going into the holidays without a solid set of job leads, I was getting uncomfortable. I hadn’t started to question if it was the right thing to do, quitting without a job that is. The timing might have been poor, but it was the right thing. However, I was starting to get anxious. This in my opinion is a good thing. You can’t describe or fake hunger. It’s something you have to feel. I wanted a job. I needed to get back to work. It’s at this point I turned back to the real world.
I started to look on job boards. I even applied to a handful of jobs. I quickly came back to my senses and remembered that you don’t find jobs at my career level through applying on a website. You need an “in.” It’s at this point I noticed a posting on LinkedIn. My last client had taken my earlier advice and opened a requisition for a SAP Infrastructure Architect.
The right job at the right time
While working at the client, I thought to myself, if it weren’t for the 120 mile round trip commute, a SAP Infrastructure Architect job would be a great job. After six weeks of interviews, my perspective had changed. Time has a way of humbling even the proudest. At this point in my search, I softened my stance on working for a vendor. I wouldn’t doubt if some of the disdain I had for working for an IT vendor showed during my interviews. I was much too prideful. I decided that I wanted to either return to my previous role as an Infrastructure Architect. My technical skill and my newly acquired business chops made the role appealing. I no longer mattered if it were with a vendor or customer.
I called up the hiring manager and discussed my interest. From both sides, it just made sense. Within three weeks, I received an offer.
I go back to work on the 19th of January. This means I would have taken my entire 3-month period to find a job. Safe to say it was an expensive endeavor. It put a bit of a strain on my marriage and my pride. So was it worth it? No doubt in my mind. For me, the cost was comparable to investing in a Masters certificate. But, I learned much more than I could have in any classroom. I’m fortunate; I took a big risk that paid out as best as I could have hoped.
Would I have done it again the same way? Overall, the answer would be yes. I have some lessons learned that I hoped to share in future posts about some of my tactical decisions and approach. I’ll let you decide. What questions or comments do you have about my search? I’d love to help you avoid pain if possible in your own search or at least prepare you for it.