17 Feb

From a big company to a small startup

jobs_jobs_jobsAs some of you have noticed by viewing my Working Experience page, I’ve changed my job in December 2012. I was a Solutions Consultant at PSTech, a great company from Serbia. A lot of people asked me how I could abandon such a fine position and career promise. This article will be an attempt to answer that question.

For starters, I would like to consider some of the reasons why people change their jobs:

  • FInancial benefits (“I should have a bigger salary!”)
  • Lousy working atmosphere (“These people annoy me, and that guy has the most idiotic mustache ever!”)
  • Poor career development options (“Are they ever going to consider me for that team lead position or what?”)
  • An unexpected opportunity (“Oh, my cousin from Sweden just offered me a dream job. So long suckers!”)
  • The brief (or not so brief) moment of insanity (“Everything’s great! I’m leaving!”)

People change their jobs for a variety of reasons but with a common motive: we all want a better life and we think we are smart enough to recognize that changing our job would benefit the cause. Yes, a lot of people do it because they don’t have a choice or they are being forced by other people or life itself. Fortunately, I had the freedom of choice.

The beginning

I must admit I had been tempted to leave my previous company on several occasions. A significant   number of job opportunities opened up right after I started working, finished college and proved to be good in what I do. Most of them were abroad and I can honestly say that I’ve turned down some great opportunities where companies requested that I move to a different country. No regrets there.

My entire PSTech experience included a very strange career path. In the very beginning I joined their ranks as a Marketing & Sales Intern. Back then I was a student in charge of a student organisation with a fine set of organisational skills and desire to work as a Product Manager, Project Manager or a Marketing Manager. Yes – a manager, not software developer. PSTech could not offer such a position, not to a young student or anyone at that particular moment. An offer was presented to me – I could start my career as a Software Engineer. I was pretty good at developing software and I took it. I’ve often thought about this moment where my career could have gone in a totally different direction since I had other opportunities. I know that I’ve chosen PSTech because I really liked the people and the positive energy they radiated.

In the beginning I worked with SugarCRM and was kind of underestimated by my manager. Believe me, this did not change a bit in the next two years, with a huge disregard for the results I provided. But I’ve changed managers. I got a lousy starting salary, a CRM Software Engineer position and…wait for it…a fantastic team! This is where I met two people that influenced my future career a lot. My first project was a fantastic piece of software that unlocked our creativity potential and I couldn’t wish for a better start. Result was a lot of useful knowledge gained and I also started a side-job as a Freelance Software Developer and a professional IT Trainer. My skill and competences grew exponentially and the salary issue didn’t bother me much since I earned a lot in total.

A change

I was subjected to a lot of prejudice from my fellow colleagues since it was very clear that I had an ambition to hold a position with more responsibility. People talked behind my back. None of them really knew me and did not even bother to take an interest in my student “career” or actually talk to me about my skills, but they were eager to put a label. I had the impression people were regarding me as “a lousy software engineer pushing his way into management where he clearly does not belong”. That really bothered me, but I was used to that kind of attitude from people, although I wasn’t ready for the intensity of prejudice. My previous encounter with that kind of judgment was during college. However, you quickly learn that people never grow up.

Fortunately, not everyone shared the prejudice. My initial contact with the company was during my studies and it was a contact made with the management, not engineers. It seamed to me that they recognized my potential and the truth is they motivated me a lot. That erased the fact that assumptions that some of my colleagues had about me actually bothered me.

Soon enough, my manager had the opportunity to forget about me for a while by sending me to work on an external project outside the office. He didn’t consider that project as relevant (what proved to be a big mistake), and he sent me to assist a very competent senior Java engineer and work with him on a PHP project. The project was a huge success and the company benefited with two more contracts with the client.

I’ve developed a fantastic relationship with a number of colleagues and clients. My job description changed a bit since we started to do consulting and really integrated well with the client’s infrastructure. There was a moment where I was ready to leave the company since my salary did not change a bit – and my results were outstanding – but my request for a raise was met and I let go of the thought for the time being since I gravitated toward a slightly different career path.

The return

The project contract ended after more than a year of work and I was back in the office, with an obligation to perform monthly maintenance on the web portal that was the project’s output. At the same time I started working as a Solutions Consultant. I performed marketing tasks, managed pre-sales, carried out product demos and implemented a few ideas. Everything was as I expected and I finally got to work with the manager who handled my internship. I’ve gained a lot in a very small time frame and my satisfaction grew. I’ve taken over different tasks, got involved in a number of projects and could clearly see my career blossoming. After almost six months my perspective changed.

My responsibilities grew with each new project and tasks. It took more effort to deliver results. In the meantime, the web portal that I’ve worked on required additional attention that eventually resulted in an extended contract that went beyond maintenance and became another development phase. I could no longer do what I enjoyed since I was 100% contracted to a single client. But I had to assist people who took over my previous tasks – and also my achievements.

I was not content and that feeling was enhanced by the fact my salary was still far away from where I expected it to be. I’ve decided to request a raise again. One would expect that people should be rewarded for good results and this was presented to us as company policy. However, this was the second time I had to initialize the entire process. I was not happy about it. It took some time and a little research, but  I knew what is the minimum salary that would “cover” my needs and represent a fair reward for my efforts. I am absolutely certain I made a fair request. My manager agreed and he promised this will be handled in a month.

The people I worked with were great and I enjoyed my working hours, but I was not pleased with the fact that my previous effort with clients was used by other people to achieve results. However, I was confident that I would overcome all issues and build a good career as a Product Manager or even Account Manager if the future reveals I could handle the responsibility and effort. But then everything changed in a single day.

It was the beginning of the month and we were all expecting our salaries. I was eager to receive the raise and patiently waited for the message from my bank. And I did – but not the one I expected.

A moment

My bank account received (what appeared to be) a wrong amount of money. It was bigger than the figure I was used to seeing on monthly basis but smaller than the one we agreed upon. I checked with the accounting and they confirmed this figure was my current salary. An initial reaction was a disappointment so big I will not attempt to describe it.

What happened was that my raise was stopped and cut to half by the company’s CEO. I heard number of reasons, some of them including terms like “too young” or “ambitious” and caught a glimpse of a report from my previous manager that described me as in the “peak of my engineer salary”. I could not believe that the results I’ve achieved were no match for prejudice, impressions or whatever it was that had influenced such a decision.

Disappointed and angry, I’ve updated my CV and contacted a bunch of companies that were hiring professionals in that particular moment. Every single one of them contacted me in the next 24 hours and I ended up doing one or several 2-hour interviews every single day for two weeks. I was open about my intentions of leaving the company with my manager and he understood my position. When I had a total of seven stable job offers, I visited our HR Manager and notified her about my case. We started a discussion about deadlines and the time frame I’m legally entitled to for changing my job. I got a promise that my previous salary expectations would be met if I decide to stay and that I should postpone my decision. The day after was the day I presented my formal resignation.

The decision

The truth was I didn’t want to leave PSTech. I was in love with this big company with a lot of positive energy and style, I’ve made friends and even won over prejudice. But there were some crucial points that could not be ignored:

  • My minimum working conditions were not met. I’ve asked for what I considered to be a minimum and would be pure hypocrisy if I accepted anything less. Besides that, I feel that the company didn’t reward my extra effort in a number of situations.
  • Five out of seven companies I got an offer from offered a bigger paycheck. Not only that, but three of them offered at least 50% more money on monthly basis. So now I was in a situation to negotiate with my company for the minimum salary that we already agreed upon earlier while I was offered a significantly larger amount of money elsewhere.
  • My current company offered a good career path, but a slow oneNeedless to say that it would take years to ensure a paycheck as big as I was offered by other companies for jobs that were also creative and promised a good career.

This is just the tip of the iceberg but enough for most people to decide to leave. But I was ready to ignore it all. I know I could go far with this company because I’ve shown what I can do and respected the people in charge. It was never about the money anyways. But another chance presented itself.

A friend of mine who owns a small company asked me several times to join his efforts to build innovative software solutions. I had the pleasure of working with him on several occasions and really enjoyed every single project. I called him and we quickly agreed on the minimum conditions – the same minimum conditions I was expecting from my previous company. Now, I am working as a Software Solutions Architect in a small team, enjoying every second.

What helped me make the final step was the fact that now I had the chance to make an impact, working on completely new software solutions in a team where ideas are welcomed and actually influence decisions  The team is small and very flexible. We intend to pop out several software products in a very small time frame and we are keeping it a secret. I don’t have to worry about rewards for my extra effort anymore since I will most certainly ”get my cut” if  any of the products start making money.

For the record – I am not killing myself with too much work. A lot of people imagine software engineers in startups working 12 hours a day. My work day lasts a standard 8 hours and I really enjoy designing software solutions while using a lot of different cutting-edge technologies.

A new begining

Changing jobs is not easy. You cannot imagine the stress generated by frequent job interviews, uncertainty, disappointment and everything else that followed my decision. However, I do believe I made the right choice. The feeling is empowered by the fact I drive to work with a smile and spend the  day with great people on a variety of tasks. We do business and use technology and I consider my work day a pleasure and a privilege.

What’s important is that people I care about and respect welcomed my decision  Even failure doesn’t sound that bad. Why? Well, I’ve done a good job developing my skills and competences and promoting them. I see no trouble in finding a new job if the startup fails. In other words, I am in a position to “sacrifice” a year or two without losing anything. That time will be well spent in learning new technologies and the nature of different approaches to software development, marketing and sales.

In the end, I am happy to inform you we’ve developed our first MVP in less than 3 months. Feel free to visit streamin.io to learn more. This is just the beginning, so wish me luck!

One thought on “From a big company to a small startup

  1. As someone who had the pleasure of working with you, and had a little but enough(unfortunately time we worked together was not as long as i would hope) insight of the quality of work you presented on every task given to you and the bright mind you posess, I understood the situation and the position you were in in your previous company. But I am very pleased to read that you’re doing great, and most importantly that you are content!
    I wish you all the best, and the prosperity of your future projects.
    And hope, when I myself gain a certain level of expertise and knowledge in this amazing world of programming, that our ninja paths would colide in the future in a sense of mutual work efforts or maybe even an idea exchange discussions.
    Until then and beyond, good luck! :-D

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Copyright: Miloš Đekić