It’s been over a year since I left Etsy. In that time, especially as I watched former colleagues similarly disperse across the tech landscape, I’ve reflected on my time there and what the future can be.
From the Boonies to the Big Time
I came from a relative backwater: a medical management company using a combination of direct engagement (via dedicated nurses with clinical experience) and technology to make a difference in people’s lives through coordinated care. An outcome of this work was that overall healthcare costs were reduced (it’s amazing what can be accomplished when quality is built in to a process). Unless you were in the industry you’d likely not notice our office as you drove by the nondescript plaza a mile before a toll bridge. It was a startup where I helped build and grow Operations. Still, I didn’t feel accomplished. I was driven to work on larger, more interesting problems.
When I was lucky enough to be offered a job at Etsy, I thought I had made it. At that time, I’d been working in tech for 15 years and what I wanted most was, in some way, to get out. Not out of the work, but from what felt like obscurity. Etsy loomed large in my mind. The ethos of the company fit my own, being drawn towards creating and possessing the pluck of a craftsperson. The people that worked there, the work they did, and the environment were compelling. Folks that I had read about in blog posts or whose books sat on my shelves were now my coworkers.
And for most of the next 4 years, I was truly happy. At some point things, as things inevitably do, changed. I recognized it was time for me to move on.
In my reflections of late, I was struck by the realization I had internalized, or perhaps imagined, this notion that working at Etsy, being an Etsian, gave me and my teammates a distinguishable cachet. That upon anyone’s departure, the options for employment would be near limitless. We could spin up prestigious jobs from the ether and almost write our own checks. This would materialize in events like the executive team taking on C-level roles at other high-profile companies and engineers kicking off all manner of amazing startups.
To some extent, this imagined future has come to pass for a few folks as Etsy alumni launched new services and tools or opened consultancies. But reality is a lot more boring. Most of us have turned out well and are doing work that we either enjoy or generally keeps us well fed. Looking back, it occurs to me that I had been feeling something that, initially, was elusive.
Feeling it Out
I had difficulty describing this feeling because it was more a complex ball of emotions that required time to navigate before I could understand it all. I felt loss (I’d left a great group of folks); solitude (I was on my own again, professionally); fear (I was starting all over again); excitement (I was starting all over again).
Importantly, a thing I felt, though not as an emotion, was impact.
When I started at Etsy, I got impact for free. I didn’t have to work for it. It was evident in the work and the people I was surrounded by. I had been adopted into a family that offered its support and valued my creativity, expression, and work. And it felt good. When folks heard I worked at Etsy, they wanted to learn more about what it was like. I’d never experienced that in any of my past jobs. It was thrilling.
But I hadn’t earned it.
Many folks had done the hard work to make Etsy what is was before I’d even gotten there. They tackled critical problems such as the tech stack and interpersonal/organizational bits like blameless postmortems, learning from failure, and inclusivity. Not all of those problems are fully solved, but plenty of work had been done that it was easy for someone like me to come on board, quickly learn, and immediately benefit from it all.
I’ve not been at Etsy for over a year. What does that mean for me? I’m at Bloomberg now, a data, information, and media company with a strong philanthropic mission (even employee referrals are rewarded with donations to charities that employees can select). At nearly 40 years old, our organization has seen many different technologies and trends. The confluence of legacy and newer technology presents a number of invigorating challenges. And it’s within those that I see an incredible opportunity to be impactful, to do the really hard things, and to deliver results that help others do their best work.
I have the chance, and I daresay, responsibility to make a difference. In just over a year, I’ve been able to make progress on the following (incomplete, unordered) list of items:
- Developing and fostering long-term, cross-team relationships
- Demonstrating how to build in quality while maintaining speed
- Conducting blameless incident reviews
- Guiding architecture and operability reviews
- Leading with vulnerability
- Encouraging monitoring and observability as first-class citizens
- Refining goals and driving work plans
At Bloomberg, it’s my turn to do the important work that brings lasting impact. It’s time I reciprocate the effort that others put in that made it easier for me to advance my career faster than I had previously. I’m no longer with Etsy but Etsy is always with me. I will bring some of it with me everywhere I go and I sincerely hope that what I build will in some way reflect the amazing experiences I had there.