Signs of Triviality

Opinions, mostly my own, on the importance of being and other things.
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Why I left Yahoo!

Missing DirectionAs previously discussed, throughout the year 2011, I had come to the conclusion that I was simply not really happy at Yahoo! anymore. Without having had a single "This is it!" incident, my own reasons for ultimately leaving have really only become more clear to me in the actual process of interviewing with other places. The question "So, why leave Yahoo!?" had to be answered a couple of times, and in a rather therapeutic way I found the answers for myself while responding.

Some people have asked me (or hesitated to do so) for my reasons, and I've always appreciated when people who decided to leave were open about how they came to the conclusion, so for whatever it's worth, here is what led to my decision:

  • I didn't get my 5-year Gumball machine! (Alright, alright, that was not actually a reason. I wouldn't have had space for this thing anyway - remember, I live in NY. Apartment space is precious.)

  • Company Direction -- the obvious reason. Peanut
Butter, spread thinly The company has been stumbling about the internet for a while, trying to figure out just what exactly it is (the latest idea: the Premier Digital Media Company, which I still can't figure out what that actually means). Executive leadership is... missing and/or not translated into actions. The vultures are circling, and it seems entirely possible that the company is bought or bits and pieces are sold off. Remember the Peanut Butter Manifesto? Not a whole lot has changed, really.

  • Talent Exodus -- a lot of people have left Yahoo! recently. A lot of really smart people that I enjoyed working with are no longer with the company. Filling the positions is hard, because due to the previous point and the generally unfavorable impression of the company in the media many smart people do not even apply at Yahoo! and instead go to one of the 5000 other companies in a 10 block radius. (Yes, I'm aware that by leaving I'm exacerbating this problem myself. I regret that.)

  • Personal Direction -- I've been bumbling around Yahoo! for about a year. The team I used to tremendously enjoy working on was dissolved "embedded" into other teams; I felt rather strongly that the team's mission was still needed and could not be fulfilled without commitment by the company to make the team work. That did not happen. After entering the "fatigue and resignation" phase, I then moved on to "trying to make things work", transferring to another team. Unfortunately, the previous point hit that team particularly hard and it was immediately (and is still continuously) "under construction". In the last 12 months I've had 5 different managers, and I have not seen any positive action pointing towards a turnaround in any way.

  • New Team Direction -- the team I joined was, basically, completely reorganized. What could have been a chance to impact great change unfortunately took a direction that I did not happen to agree with. Workflows and (program, people, resource) management changed in a way that did not jell with me. Different priorities, backgrounds and communication methods than I would have preferred were added.

  • Personal Development -- looking back over the last year, I've realized that I have not learned anything new, done anything particularly exciting or interesting or have had a profound impact in any one significant area. I have stagnated in my professional development.

This last reason is the one thing that I could not get past. It is also the one reason that has been the least obvious to me and took active reflecting to discover. I have not felt challenged, nor my skills suitably applied. Instead, I've spent countless hours arguing about this and that, frequently feeling like my own sense of where to take things was at odds with where the company at large or individual teams were going.

A Frog submerged. I've come to realize -- and talking endlessly about yourself as you do in interviews with prospective employers is wonderful therapy in this regard, much like writing a rather verbose blog -- that I am more of a generalist than a specialist. (Oh, look, there's a related summary on this, how convenient.) I'm not particularly gifted in any one area, but I think I'm doing pretty ok in some that require some more contextual oversight and background knowledge, more of a connect-the-dots kind of expertise. But Yahoo! is a company of specialists working largely in silos. Some of that is by necessity -- if you are the size of Yahoo!,then you need specific subject matter experts for every single task (even at the risk of pigeon-holing them). But that is not what I am either particularly good at nor do I enjoy that. Breaking out of the silos and being (en)able(d) to work across domains requires strong management and support, which... see above.

And there you have it. To all the current Yahoos reading this: this is just how I perceived my current situation. I wish you and the company all the best, and if you come to New York some time, let me know -- odds are, we owe each other a few beers, and I'm ever so much more fun to be around in person and in close vicinity of a few cervezas. I might even shut up every now and then.

December 22, 2011

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