I met up with a friend and former mentor from the old Insurance.com group tonight, as he and his wife are moving to Seattle to work for Amazon. There were a number of old ICOM'ers there, and it was exceptionally weird to be sitting on the patio where so many after-work drinker were had. You know, if I were still in Seattle, fully one-third of the dev team from when I started would be out there.
As you might expect, this gathering brings a lot of emotional response for me. I see them starting an adventure that I started on two and a half years ago, and terrifying as it was at the time, it was awesome. For me, that adventure has been interrupted and on hold, and it makes me sad. For a hundred different reasons, I identify far more with the place I live for two years than I do the place where I lived for 36. What do you even do with that feeling?
We talked a bit about our experience at Insurance.com, and one of the things that really stood out was that our dev team had a great deal of longevity, which is rare in our line of work. Sure, some of the earlier folks were waiting for a pay-out that would never come, but we had no real turnover until the layoffs came. Why? Because I think we generally liked working with each other, in part because of good personality fits, but also because professionally we all made each other better. Few things are as satisfying as working with smart people. We collectively think that kind of group just isn't possible anymore in the Cleveland market. Many of the best folks have left town, and businesses don't see the value in building great teams.
There were down sides, of course. With the senior people hanging out for stock pay-outs, it meant the rest of us really had nowhere to go. I was certainly feeling restless when the layoffs came. You need a certain amount of responsibility to stay engaged, and those of us in the class of 2006 definitely weren't getting that.
We took a lot away from that business. We all learned how to think in a higher context about a great many things when it came to software development. It's rare, even in sophisticated shops, to find developers who understand and care deeply about the business of what you're doing. I think we also saw, in retrospect at least, that it's easy to get wrapped up in shit that just doesn't matter. We often automated and engineered stuff that had little return on investment, and invested great effort into things that might yield a .01% better customer conversion rate.
Some of the folks I worked with aren't likely to ever leave Cleveland. I never thought about it back in the day, now I think that sounds kind of sad. Others are already gone. Then there's me, who is back, and in some ways tortured by that. To live in the house I couldn't sell (but at least we sold Diana's), and to end up working remotely for a company that isn't even in the same state, makes for a completely weird situation.
Every day I wonder if the financial wins of our move-back are really worth the emotional toll of it all. It hasn't been a bad seven months, but I feel like I'm missing out on something. My niece and nephew keep getting bigger, friends are doing cool new things in Redmond, the mountains are still awesome... it's tough. I feel like the adventure is on hold.