Monday, January 24, 2011

Why I left Aquilent

I wrote the bulk of this post in November last year. Since then, I have indeed left Aquilent and now work at NIH.


How do you keep employees happy?

I am sure most people will immediately think of money when asked this question. To me, it's never been about money. Sure, everyone wants to be adequately compensated and certainly I wouldn't volunteer for a pay cut. But it takes more than money to keep a good employee happy. I am careful to qualify that with "good employee" because a bad employee will stick around and take the money. I think a key aspect of what keeps employees happy is how good the daily work experience is (from the employee's perspective). If your employees hate coming to work each day, you can be bet no amount of money will make them happy or keep them from leaving.

Why am I talking about this? Well it occurred to me while riding the Metro to DC (where I am working on a SharePoint implementation project...feel free to Google that..I'll wait). So while on the metro for my 1-hour commute to work, I realized...why the heck am I doing this? The best part of my work day is leaving work for the train ride home. I remembered when I used to work on NASA projects calculating optimum download windows for scientific data from NASA space satellites...when I used to work on a site that the Navy uses to procure billions in service contracts...when I used to work on stuff so cool that I literally came in to work so excited I couldn't sleep...when I came in early, planning to leave early only to have to stay late because what I was working on was just so cool and interesting. Now, I am enduring a 1-hour commute to DC (on my own dime at the rate of $15 per day) to install and configure SharePoint.

Another reason is I just wasn't being put on projects that I wanted to do. SharePoint development is a very marketable and in-demand skill that I happen to have. But it's not what I like to do, at least not in the context of developing intranet sites. I mean, really, where's the fun in developing an intranet? So while it's great that Aquilent is getting more and more SharePoint projects/website development work, it's not in my best interest. It doesn't make me happy and (even worse) it takes me farther and farther away from what I really want to do. At some point this year, something a co-worker said to me caused me to think back to the last time I wrote code. I was shocked to discovered it was more than 1 year ago. In that time, I had been doing SharePoint administration and support.

Finally, let me describe an hypothetical situation for you and you tell me what you'll do. Say you have openings for technical leads on 2 projects and you have an in-house resource that has the technical knowledge required on both projects. However, this resource has been an integral part of the first project (in fact, he was 1 of 3 original developers of the project). In addition, this resource has been with the company for 10 years and has indicated that he'll like to work on the first project. So here's the dilemma: you are definitely going to need to hire 1 new person (since you have 2 openings). So do you:
  • put the in-house resource on the project he wants, has the technical knowledge for and (very important) the domain knowledge OR
  • put the in-house resource on the project he doesn't want; ask him to pay $15 per day to commute to DC and hire someone brand new without domain knowledge for the second project?
If you pick option b, I definitely can't work for or with you. Why lose the domain knowledge of the in-house resource if you don't have to? With option B, you have 2 people on 2 projects that they have no experience in. With option A, you only have 1 person on a new project. To me, this sort of decision is a no-brainer.

So yeah, I can sit around and count the money but the daily experience sucks. What good is getting well paid every 2 weeks when you feel like quitting every single work day? Funny thing is, this is the reason I left Sprint 10 years ago. Back then I asked myself: "Did I spend 4 years in college so I can spend a sizable chunk of my life stuck in beltway traffic?" Today, the question is "Did I spend 4+1 years in college and 10 years working for this company so I can spend 2 hours of each work day of my life commuting to DC? So I can be told to take a pay cut (that's what I think of having to pay $15 to commute to DC)? So I can be put on projects that do not advance my career (along the path that I want)?" The answer to all those is no and thus am leaving Aquilent less than 2 years after writing "Why I am still at Aquilent".