Tuesday, August 22, 2006

I'm Gonna Be A Blue-Collar Man

My first day of work at Rocket Mobile was August 22, 2005. I had been told to show up "around nine"; wanting to make a good impression, I arrived about fifteen minutes early. I then realized that the reason they had said nine was because almost nobody arrives before nine. I got to explore the building a bit before Sheila came and I started my orientation.

I am a little amazed that I have become "the early guy" at work. In my college days I would regularly stay up until 2AM or later, numbly laughing at SNL shows from the 80s or pounding out one more piece of code. I started to shift towards an earlier schedule while working in the "war room" at Cerner; the cacophonous din grew so loud by 9 that it was very difficult to focus, so I started coming in earlier and earlier to get more work done. Still, so much of my image of the Silicon Valley startup is embodied here, including the "come in late, work until late" ethos, and it would be the perfect opportunity for me to shift back to a later start time. However, I have stuck to my early schedule, and these days am almost always the first person in the office and the first to leave.

I used to think of Raviant as being the archetypal "typical startup" company, but now I understand that it was more of a translation of the Silicon Valley ideal. Everything about the culture and environment here is designed to please me. This includes the dress (jeans & T-shirts), the conversation (casual and nerdy), the kitchen (fully stocked with energy drinks and snack foods), the drive (occasional insanely long hours, balanced by real camaraderie and joyous celebration of achievement). I love the thought of this model once being common in the area; the dot com boom is gone and never coming back, but I hope more companies like this will continue to come into existence.

On a technological front, it's been an interesting two steps forward, one step back for me. Without going into proprietary details, the code I'm working on now is in some ways much less advanced than what I was doing before, but in other ways is far more cutting edge. I feel more removed from my university training than ever before, for better and for worse. I wish I could go into more detail... it's very interesting. I love what I'm doing, and hope that it leads towards a viable career path for me.

Most of the relationships I've made since moving out here have been at work, so it's fortunate that they are such positive ones. It's hard to convey just how emotionally fulfilling it is to be around these people; this is the first time in my life that I've encountered so many of my own interests (anime, Neal Stephenson, obfuscated C, etc.) in so many people. It feels like I've finally found my tribe, the place where I belong. And it's interesting that that tribe isn't geographically based; most people working here moved here from the Midwest or the East Coast. Something about this place seems to draw people of a certain mindset. Anyways, they're good guys... fine senses of humor, plenty of shared interests, and great for conversations and activities. It has also been rewarding to spend time with older and more experienced coders, as well as be a mini-mentor to some fresh new hires.

The makeup of the company has changed drastically since I joined. We have expanded to double the number of employees and occupy twice the floor space. I've counted three major corporate reorganizations since I started. You can start to see the evolution of a hierarchy in the office, which is both a good and a bad thing. Most importantly, though, the new people we're getting are as smart and dedicated as the old, and I think the caliber of our work will only continue to increase as we gain more resources.

Probably the single most exciting aspect of work has been its financial success. At Cerner I felt like my work was very removed from the actual financials of the company... it definitely contributed, but it was hard to draw a straight line between the code I wrote and a dollar amount the company earned. Here, that line is much shorter, and it is tremendously gratifying to see how my work directly helps the company. I've gone from not being able to talk about what I'm working on to boasting about the phones our company has helped ship. Obviously, the biggest achievement to date has been our acquisition by Buongiorno, a development which (1) I feel validates my decision to join RM, and (2) opens some intriguing possibilities for the next year or so of my career.

I've also been grateful for good management here. You hear a lot of stories about the difference between recruitment and reality; I had a very positive experience during my interviews, but there was a kernel of apprehension about what I would actually end up with. Jim, my immediate supervisor, is funny and intelligent, a superior programmer who leads with his mind and not with his title. Scott, the VP of Engineering, is an incredibly kind man who I don't see enough of. And Wayne... well, in so many ways, he IS Rocket Mobile. I love his drive, his cheerfulness, the way he cares about the people in the company as much as the bottom line. He is honest and savvy, a combination which is probably more rare than I would like to think. I feel good knowing that he'll continue to be in charge of the show here.

So, yeah. In all honesty, work has been the center of my life since moving out here, which sounds bad but really isn't. Going to work energizes me, it gives me interesting tasks to work on and lets me interact with some good people. Things constantly change, of course, and who knows if I'll still feel this way a year from now, but I have loved my time here, and feel increasingly encouraged by the prospect of future Valley companies that will also get it right.

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