Sunday, May 31, 2015

Potential paths.

[Note: this one is backlogged as well. Wrote it during my job search, I still find it interesting some I'm sharing it here.]

The end of this week will mark one of the more significant and difficult decisions in my life: where to work.

I've been so fortunate to have an unexpectedly successful job hunt. More details on that to come, because I find them interesting, but first I want to reflect upon the more pressing question: which company do I join? There are many to choose from, and each have their own strengths and represent a unique path in my life and career.

While there are several different roads to follow, I think there's one obvious division: whether to go with a co-located job or a 100% remote job.

I managed to find a completely distributed team, a small engineering team working together from around the world, that would give me the flexibility on geography and hours that I've always dreamed about. When I say "always dreamed about," I mean that this hypothetical situation was a big inspiration to take programming more seriously as a potential career path; it's hard to find engineering careers copacetic with a wanderer's lifestyle.

Now that it's in my grasp, I find myself questioning the validity of that dream. Will I actually succeed in such a self-driven environment? Will I find myself lacking human contact? Will I be able to juggle the responsibilities of work with the challenges of being on the road? These are large questions to which I have no answers. When I'm feeling down, my responses are far more pessimistic.

I waffle back and forth in my confidence about the suitability for remote work in the next stage of my life. Whether I want to keep living the way I am now, out of a suitcase, or whether I need to take a break and set down some roots. Living nomadically presents unique challenges, the most pressing of which is that the consequences can be much worse when you get swamped or overloaded. I've managed to generally avoid it (happily), but it's critical to be on top of where I am staying next. When on the road, I have to keep swimming hard to keep afloat, and I'm concerned that the new career will be enough that I lose my endurance.

I suppose it would be possible to work remotely and still be based somewhere. That could make sense, although at that point I question if I'm better off just picking a location and sticking with it. I have lots of big dreams about being able to tour around the US and Europe. I could go to various cities and train with teaching partners, no longer limited by where I'm getting dance gigs. I could attend events around the country for the fun of it, to network and compete and train, without worrying about not working a dance event that weekend. It could be a new era of focusing on training and building my presence in the US. And of course, the flexibility to visit Europe is massively appealing as well. Given my objectives in dance, anything short of working 50% remote would not allow for enough time and flexibility.

When I'm in a good mood, the choice seems clear: go with the remote gig. When I'm tired or underfed or under-cuddled or who knows what else, that certainty waivers. My mind is highly opinionated about whether I can handle it, and neither side seems to have won the debate.

Aside from fears that I can't cut the tech-dancer-nomad life, there are two other considerations that draw me toward the other path.

First, large brand-name corporations -- the kind that can gold-plate your resume -- don't accommodate remote work, so if I wanted a classic route through software engineering then I'll have to give up my hopes of traveling for some time. This consideration may not be a big deal; my achievements will speak for themselves, regardless of the company they are for. There may be some benefit to brand recognition, but it is not crucial to succeeding in the tech industry.

The second consideration is that the sustainability startups that I've spoken with all are co-located and want to keep it that way. (Which is reasonable: hybrid teams are tough.) While the remote team has an excellent social mission to improve the world, it is not specifically in the domain of sustainability, something that has been my passion for eight years. When I started my job search, I hoped to find a company that would explore the intersection of software and sustainability. I have found a handful of said companies, all of which are fantastic, but suddenly I have reservations of joining on account of the remote work consideration. If I step away from the sustainability industry right now, will I ever be able to return to it? Will the increasingly divergent "story of my life" become too unwieldy to convince potential employers that I'm big on the sector? I recognize the mentality of lack here, but it's a tough one to shake.

Every single opportunity is wonderful in its own right, so now I'm left struggling to choose between fantastic options. It may seem hard to believe that so much emotional angst could be generated from such a choice, but there you have it. This is not the first time I've experienced significant turmoil when choosing between two appealing paths. It probably won't be the last. These represent pivot points in my life, the kind of points that clearly indicate when my life became one thing and not another. I am in a world of constantly shifting ideas, balancing qualities, and huge uncertainties. Every hour brings a new consideration, a new conviction of what path to take. These life moments are very difficult for me to navigate.