"Falling in love with a company will only lead to heart ache for you!"

A wise SWM said in October of 2016. I said this to a group of students for a talk I gave at a NIGMA meetup.

Previously I gave a talk at the first NIDevConf entitled "How to keep your skills sharp in an ever changing industry". I was asked by someone from NIGMA to do it again but this time aimed at students.

Basically my talk is just every mistake I made during my career and how I got de-skilled without even really knowing. I don't have the copy I gave to NIGMA but it was re-wrote slightly to be from a students perspective.

One of the talking points was advice on not falling in love with a company. A company, especially a start-up will change direction very quickly to survive and it wont stop for a second to consider your feelings. A company will change for several reasons:

  1. Market conditions force it to pivot. Forcing it to abandon some or all of its core issues.
  2. Leadership changes and the makeup of the company changes.
  3. Peers move on to other roles in the company or leave the company all together.
  4. The company you joined 'x' years ago has matured and you find yourself not as valuable as you once were.

I know this because I fell in love with the first ever company I worked for. It was called BlackStar and was based down the Ravenhill Road, and for a time was Europe's biggest e-commerce store. I remember everything about it.

I remember walking in as a young 20 year old and asking them to take me on as a trainee programmer for a four figure salary for three months and then re-evaluate.

I remember the ping pong table, the long hours. The learning of VIM and mod_perl. I remember the office above the builders yard being dusty and loving every second of it.

This was the era before Platform as a Service, Devops and AWS. Basically you had to write stuff from the ground up in order to survive. It was a brilliant time!

Cut to ten months later and I was fired. I remember everything about that too. I can remember being the last junior fired at 11:40am that Friday.

I can remember my boss coming over and her saying "Stephen, I need to talk to you."

I can remember the number of steps it was from my desk to the big conference table on the top floor (96).

I can remember the CEO who didn't bother to remember or even look up my name before I came into the meeting room and therefore had to glance down on a sheet of paper to get to it.

I can remember everything that was said in that meeting and ten minutes later I was outside in the street with a box of my desk "stuff". I then walked across the street to the Dublin Road Cinema and watched What Lies Beneath. Straight after that I got the bus home (I was so young I was scared to drive my car into Belfast). I was gutted.

I went back to BlackStar to work in April 2002 and it was a completely different company. The maverick days were over and I was ok with that. I learnt early in my career not to fall in love with a company, you'll just end up getting hurt.

By contrast the company I work for today, ShopKeep is easily the best company I have ever worked for. They pay more than I have ever been paid, send me to conferences, give me trips to NY (their head office) and never mind the free snacks, lunches and countless other things they spoil me with. By right they treat me way better than my first job ever did... However I refuse to fall in love with the company. One day my interests will diverge from the company or its interets will diverge from mine and that is fine. That's growth.

Wishing for a company to stay the same it was 'x' amount of years ago is a fools game and it will only end up hurting you. You can't recreate the past you can only shape the future and having your eyes stuck back 'x' years ago isn't going to end in anyway nice.