A change of scenery.

I was just offered the position “Architect: Lead Generation” at AT&T Interactive.

Changing jobs is hard. Really, when you change jobs, you’re taking a real risk: can you do the work you’re being hired for? Can you come up to speed fast enough and understand the problem set well enough to do the work in a timely fashion? Can you adapt to the new corporate culture–or, if you’re high enough up in the totem pole, create a micro-culture around you that you can live with? With larger companies–like a Symantec, a Sony or a Yahoo!, can you navigate and understand the corporate bureaucracy? And–worse of all–is the project you’re being placed on one that is favored by upper management, or are you being set up to fail because of an internal bureaucratic struggle at a level beyond what you can influence?

With small companies, of course, there are different problems: do the people there have a sufficient skill-set to execute? Can you grow the staff fast enough to satisfy the needs of sales and marketing? Are your initial design assumptions correct or did you just build something that is five degrees off from what the market needed? And of course you still have dysfunction, though often the dysfunction looks different it comes from the same source: people are imperfect, and any organization will inherently have internal competition between its organization members as people have the need (due to greed or ego) to assert themselves.

But the change is always difficult: vacation pay is paid out and you have no accumulated vacation at the new job–meaning that two week vacation you wanted to take is now a year away. There is plenty of time spent navigating the new environment–oh, and the constant “well, of course everyone knows” stuff which bites you in the ass.

For me the decision to change jobs has always been predicated upon a personal evaluation: is the potential reward of a new job greater than the lost opportunity costs of the current job and the risks of a transition? My transition from Symantec to Yahoo! was driven by two factors: a very long commute, and not working on a project that interested me made the opportunity costs of walking away from Symantec relatively low. My departure from Yahoo! was driven by a firm belief in a dysfunctional management structure which (I believed) set up our project for failure–a dysfunction that appeared to me to come from the executive suite. (From what I’ve seen with the recent quarterly results, it appears that dysfunction may be over. But once burnt, twice shy.)

And for me, as someone who appears to be perpetually pegged as a sole contributor, the ability to move into an architectural role at a large company, where I would have managerial and design responsibilities greatly advances my own career path–that’s a big deal. That’s a big upside.

Yes, there is always a lost opportunity cost: leaving Geodelic means I’m giving up working on a product I know like the back of my hand, where all of the major problems have been solved, and trading it for The Great Unknown. I’m also walking away from a potentially extremely lucrative equity stake.

But in the end, I believe moving to AT&T Interactive will put my career farther forward in the direction I want to go–a leadership position–than if I stayed at Geodelic. I’ll have the opportunity to provide significant influence to the front-end interfaces people will use when they interact with our product, and I’ll have the opportunity to build a team and establish a culture which promotes design excellence–which, I believe, is the “next big thing” in the tech industry.

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