2021 in Review
I’m not a big New Year’s or New Year’s Eve person. I never have been. Still, I’ve always enjoyed reflecting and journaling; changing over the calendar feels like as good a time as any to do so.
2021 was wild. Looking back, almost every month brought with it some significant event. For the sake of (relative) concision, though, I’ll limit this post to happenings in my professional life.
After a tough 2020 at work, I realized that it was time to make a job change. I was sad to contemplate moving on from my first full-time engineering job since I had wonderful coworkers and had learned so much there in an incredibly supportive environment. At the same time, I had been there for nearly two years and the company had undergone several changes, including multiple reorganizations after being acquired. I had also learned that I was dramatically underpaid compared to coworkers with the same level of experience who were doing the same job as me.
I spent the month of January doing interview after interview. I wound up making it through the final round with three companies. Most of my free time was spent either prepping for interviews or working on take-home code challenges.
By early February, I had received two job offers and was waiting on the outcome of the third when I had to make a decision. I opted to join a Chicago-based SaaS company as a platform engineer. 👩🏻💻
I started at my new company! Onboarding was a trip. 😵💫 (More about my thoughts on onboarding in another post or series of posts . . .)
I continued onboarding into my new job. It was a constant, stressful struggle because I was learning completely new-to-me technologies and infrastructure with minimal support. From the start, I noticed that my manager demonstrated little confidence or trust in me, and it was difficult to build relationships with a team that had worked together, in-person, for years while we were all working remotely. I’d never experienced such difficulties during onboarding in any previous role in any industry.
Also, learning Java on the job taught me that I don’t enjoy working in Java very much.
I decided to push through the challenges because I liked the company overall and didn’t want to go through another grueling job search. I also knew that, with time, I could learn everything I was being asked to learn and gain some valuable new skills, even if the team culture and the experience working on this team weren’t exactly what I had hoped they would be.
Sometime in May, I found out about a role opening up that would allow me to work with a trusted mentor in the Ruby community (my Guide from RailsConf 2019). Given everything I was experiencing at my current job and despite starting to feel a bit more comfortable there, I began considering what it would be like to change companies after only a few months in a new role. Cue lots of (misplaced) guilt about potentially leaving a company so soon after joining.
I once again spent most of my time prepping for and doing interviews - and ultimately received an offer for double what I’d been making at the start of 2021. 🎉
Despite the excitement about this new opportunity, I continued to expend a great deal of emotional energy feeling guilty about leaving my job (albeit for a better one) after only a few months.
I felt less guilty when some key people admitted to underestimating, under-leveling, and under-supporting me.
Thankfully, I had a couple weeks off between jobs, during which time we moved apartments. I had about a week off to get settled in and rest before starting my current job.
This was an exciting time, but I also had to begin the process of onboarding to a new company, tech stack and infrastructure, and team culture all over again. Because of this, I think about 2021 as “my year of onboarding.” I applied multiple lessons learned from my previous onboarding experience to ensure I had a better one at my new company.
August - October
The fall was a bit of a blur: ongoing onboarding, meeting people (virtually), learning new technologies (hello, kubernetes!), and refreshing old skills. I also got to participate in the annual planning process at a large tech company for the first time.
In November, I went to RubyConf in Denver - this was my first time traveling since July 2019, and all the associated COVID-era nerves and stressors came with it. Once there, though, I met and reconnected with a ton of wonderful people in the Ruby community. I also was lucky to have the opportunity to be a Guide to a Scholar (a newer member of the community). In a way, I had come full-circle from my first RailsConf in 2019, when I was a brand-new developer and a Scholar.
December was really tough on a personal level. I was extremely fortunate that my manager and team were understanding and supportive as I took some time needed to help out with family priorities.
A few key things stand out to me from 2021.
I am developing a set of boundaries when it comes to interviews.
When I was first trying to get into tech, I took every interview and call I could. Not only did this burn me out, but it also led to some incredibly frustrating experiences when my interviewers had no interest in hiring career changers. With a bit more experience on my resume, I am now in a position to turn things down when the process and/or company don’t feel right to me. More on that, perhaps, in a future blog post.
Feeling valued is, for me, about more than compensation alone.
Don’t get me wrong - a huge motivator in my initial job search this past year was to be more appropriately compensated. My first job change of the year came with a 57% increase in salary and much better benefits, but I landed on a team and with a manager that was not - as a whole - supportive. It was a demoralizing experience. My current job pays double what I was making in 2020, and I know that my manager and team support my ongoing growth as an engineer. That support makes a world of difference in how I feel about logging in for work each day.
That said, tech salaries can be life-changing and compensation alone is a valid reason to pursue a job or career change. I earn more in tech than I ever dreamed I could when I was an educator, and I have options for the future that I never expected I’d have just a few years ago.
Onboarding is a constant.
A mentor recently told me that even seasoned senior engineers are always onboarding to something. Even if they’ve been at the company for years, technology is always changing, and we have to adapt and learn new things as we go. Seeing things in this way made me feel a bit less like an imposter in my current job, and it was a helpful reminder that I went into tech because I truly love learning and wanted a career that would offer constant opportunities for learning and growth.
The priority in my career is me, not the company I work for.
I felt a lot of guilt about leaving a company so soon after joining. The guilt was made worse by the fact that the platform engineering side of my team was already short-staffed. But it just was not the right situation for me, career-wise.
My guilt stemmed not from a belief that I was irreplaceable, but from the feeling that I owed something to the company. In fact, my confidence as an engineer had taken a huge hit since taking this job. And while I would have advised any of my friends or colleagues to make the best choice for themselves were they in my shoes, I still felt bad about my decision. Several months on, I know I made the right one (see the section above on being supported). The company has done just fine even though one midlevel platform engineer left soon after being hired this spring.
I’m not in the tech world alone.
Taking steps to change situations I didn’t like ultimately landed me in a much better place than where I was at this time last year. However, I didn’t do so by myself - I relied on support from my professional network, my friends, and my family to get here. Job referrals, interview practice, and simple commiseration went a long way in getting me through the challenges of 2021. Getting back into the Ruby community was invigorating and motivating.
I’m grateful to everyone who helped me get to where I’m at as 2022 begins. ❤️