Tuesday, March 31, 2015


I still remembered early last year, when Secret app was popular (even though I stopped using it *) - I was still at my previous company, stressed about delivering some work on a weekend. Secret app allowed users to post anonymously, and I wrote: "Not sure if this startup life is really what I signed up for." Few hours later, some anonymous user responded: "You always have a choice man." My first reaction was, "Do I?"

It was my first full-time job as a software engineer, at a small mobile app startup. To me, the culture went downhill after non-technical management overrode engineering. Unreasonable expectations started building up and vicious cycle began - two stand-ups a day, more non-technical hires than people who could actually build the product. I would not go too much into the details, but I started feeling at the bottom of decision chain and just given heavy amount of tasks to accomplish everyday like a machine. I wanted to do more than just being assigned JIRA stories, a lot of them paying for technical debt, caused by not enough time to think and code things right in the first place.

"Ehh - not enough time" started becoming an excuse for many things, extending from work to personal life. I felt trapped in a life with the same problems. Stress grew on me, I was hoping things could get better, but sometimes it was easier for me to make a change myself rather than relying on others. If my job made me depressed and stressed out and nothing seemed to change after a few months, maybe I should just leave for somewhere else.

Commute was also a big frustration in life. I moved from Palo Alto to inner Richmond a month after starting my job in the Financial District. Muni line 1 or 38 started taking about 2 hours in total everyday. Waiting for Muni, sitting or standing uncomfortably in the bus, observing people / reading on my Kindle / coding (a few times when the bus was empty) / listening to Podcast or audio books from San Francisco Public Library. It was not a complete waste of time, but the uncertainty of timing and potential long wait was inevitably a stressor.

The idea of changing jobs sounded even more stressful than trying to make some changes at work, but I had to do something. In retrospect, it would probably have been better for me to just take a break looking for jobs. So that I could also spend some quality time leaning things I didn't get to when having a full-time job. Anyhow, I got through the extra intense period of working + interviewing. I wanted to be a happy engineer, and I knew that I had to work on something I truly loved. Quizlet became the top choice because of the impact, great team, potential for growth, a collaborative workplace with strong engineering culture.

A year after the Secret post, I can say that I am a happy engineer now :-) I started working at a company where I can make use of my best skills while learning from coworkers. I moved to Alamo Square where I can bike to the office / Golden Gate Park / actually anywhere in the city, with easy walk to Fillmore / Japan Town / Divisadero. I am glad I had the courage to make these changes, and grateful for the support from people I love.

There are probably no fewer than a hundred decisions I make everyday as a normal working person. What time to wake up and head out for work, what to have for breakfast, whether I should get coffee, the best way to refactor that code, ... making these decisions might be tiring, but I know I always have the power to make a system or set of routines if I want. Being conscious of the choices I have has helped me become more positive. There is no perfect life in which only good things happen - there would be random traffic on a weekend that I had to hurry for an event, bike might have problems when I need to make to a meeting, anything could happen. It is not easy trying to look at these things from a less negative perspective, but it is really up to me.

* I stopped using Secret app - after starting seeing more posts that made me uncomfortable: how someone bragged about messing with someone else with a family, or a bunch of users showing off their salaries anonymously. It was a choice I made to make myself stay more positive. Similar reasons I cut down on the time spent on Facebook.

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