An Unexpected Gap aka: My First Layoff
I am a practicing buddhist, and have been studying a series by Mingyur Rinpoche about The Bardo of every day life. The term “Bardo” is the state buddhists believe the mind enters at the time of death. It literally means “gap” or sort of “in-between.” When we look closely, there are gaps through out life, not unlike like death, where an old reality ceases but a new one has not yet begun. The “Gaps” are often difficult periods of change, but also opportunities for growth.
As of yesterday at about 11am I was one of the people “let go” from what was a hyper-growth unicorn startup, Caribou Financial (not coffee). Now get to experience my own gap and now get to chance to look inward and make use of this unexpected gap. Already, I have been experiencing outpourings of kindness, feelings of relief and excitement to imagine the possibilities for the future.
Caribou is a “FinTech” that thrives when we could refinance people’s auto loans at lower rates, which is a challenge now with the current interest rates. I have never been laid off or “let go” before. I knew eventually my luck would run out and I’d experience a RIF first hand. I imagined the dreaded “Mandatory sync” appointment added to my calendar with 15 minutes notice and then dreading what must be coming. Yes, I felt nervous, but I did not feel dread or surprise; and then when it was done, a little anger which quickly subsided when my thoughts turned to concern for the others. Then for several several hours I oscillated between confusing emotions and confusing thoughts.
Eventually the cycle was broken when I realized how many people had been reaching out and were concerned about me!
I am unbelievably grateful for the kind messages, sympathy and empathy I am experiencing from my colleagues. Hearing messages about how teammates enjoyed working with me, had learned, grown, and been inspired was just what I needed to feel peaceful and satisfied with my tenure at Caribou.
In my early 30’s I went through a seeking period where I was unsatisfied at work so decided to start a photography business. I thought the cause of my dissatisfaction was the bland cubicles and meaningless projects and that by having a profession that got me out in the world, meeting people and making art would make me happy. There was certainly initial excitement, but once again faded into monotony.
After several years of this, I was having lunch with a mentor, Rod, who said to me “You know Andy, you need to find your ‘True North.’ Take me for example, my true north is helping mentor young men like yourself find their way through life. I can do that anywhere at any job.”
Rod was right and that is when I really started to understand how to be happy at work. If figured it out: Kind & interesting people and an interesting puzzle.
I had both at Caribou, but the events of the past day remind me why its so important to never loose sight of the ‘True North’ of meaningful interactions with co-workers.
The whole time I was at Caribou, I felt a sense of responsibility for the platform, its scale, architecture my team’s happiness, overall developer happiness, velocity and more. The business changed and adapted with every round of funding and the people who I worked with at the beginning were out numbered 6:1 by the end.
As I settled into bed last night, I felt freed from a constant tension I had stopped noticing. Even though it is unplanned, I am grateful for a chance to reset and recover from a wild ride. I’d totally do it again, but next time, I’ll be watching for signs of tension and protecting energy levels.
The Bardo of Becoming is the last steps in the reincarnation cycle. As the gap draws to a close we experienced the Bardo of Becoming where the next reality comes into existence. Before the next phase of my career beings, I am using this gap, to reflect on:
- What type of challenge/puzzle will be fulfilling and not just “reusing” an old playbook.
- How does AI impact developer experience, and development as a whole, how would I advise my employer or customer?
- I got on the front end of Kubernetes, its now solidly main stream, but will it stay there? Is Wasm the future? Wasm+K8s?
- How do we approach the ethical dilemmas that will arise from advances in AI and Machine Learning?
- What industry is right for me? I have experience in Healthcare, FinTech, Insurance, Retail, etc. Is one more interesting to me than another?
The interactions with my coworkers, the space to recover from a hyper growth environment, and explore and unimagined future are making this unplanned gap more than just tolerable, but perhaps an event worthy of gratitude.