Finding something to get behind

I just started a new job with Braintree as a Product Manager.

Thanks for reading!

Well, actually that is not all I wanted to say.  I have been mulling over what my work-life motivations were ever since deciding to look for a Product Manager job.  In my previous role I was a Project Manager / Business Analyst / QA / Engagement Manager for a small tech consultancy.  Basically I was the only non-dev on a project, and managed everything from client relationships and expectations, contracts and billing, through grasping and defining the requirements, testing and shipping the finished product.  It was a hands-on position that  really I enjoyed, and I learned a helluva lot.

As I approached the 2 year mark however, I felt an ever-growing need to pair the ownership and responsibility for projects I already had, with a broader sense of purpose and drive about why I was doing it.  I wanted to feel like I was contributing to more than a bottom-line of billable hours-per-client, which is what it always seemed to boil down to in consulting.  It’s not that we didn’t care about what we built for our clients, and when we were building them, they were our babies, but the hand-off at the end often resulted in a sadness for me, because I saw that as really only the beginning.  I wanted to dig in to analytics of usage, talk to users, and work to improve what we had built.  But often you were either not given the chance, or if you were, you may not agree with the direction being dictated by the client, you were just happy if you won the contract.

I decided to move to the product side, to find that broader purpose.  I wanted to find somewhere that would give me the responsibility and ownership I already had at the project level, and also give me a seat at the table for the broader, long-term strategic plan for the product or service as it evolves.  I wanted to join a team that was passionate, and cared about more than fulfilling hours obligations and satisfying the client, but instead constantly improving the product and delighting users or customers.  The difference between satisfying and delighting is crucial. However I had to tread carefully, and not walk from a great job in to a bad situation.

So I scouted out the Chicago landscape, and kept a close watch on the burgeoning start-up and tech scene.  The Built In Chicago site was a particular focus, but I also continued to attend the Agile Project Managers and Ruby meetups when I could, keeping my ear to the ground of who was doing good work, who was happy and who was not, and which products or services were making a splash.  Slowly, I constructed my list of target companies.  Looking back on which companies made that list, the one key component they all had was personality.  The characters of the people who worked there shone through on their website, or blog, or in job descriptions, and that was as, if not more, important than the product itself.  It indicated to me that the company saw the people who worked their as the primary asset, and my guess is that the people who worked there would in turn reciprocate this focus by caring about the product too which they were devoting their working life.

Braintree made the list early on.  Their team page was a good start, but they were active in the open source and Chicago tech community and the Founder, Bryan Johnson, was vocal about wanting to build a company that would be the best place he ever worked, as well as the best product in it’s sector. Fortunately I made the cut when they posted a Product Manager job, and I am just finishing week 3.  It is a wonderfully liberating place to work, that encourages freedom of expression, hard work and play, and passion for the cause.  Somehow, the payment gateway service doesn’t seem like a dry area of business at all, and to someone who is almost allergic to the word “finance”, that is a high compliment indeed.

I know I am in my honeymoon period, so feel free to take this 3 week assessment of my new awesome job with a pinch of salt.  But I think what is important, and something I took away from my last job and the whole process of deciding what to do next, is that I wanted to find something to get behind.  I don’t necessarily want strong leadership or management (however that obviously plays a part), but instead I want a clear purpose, a sense of personal control and freedom within boundaries, and the feeling of belonging to a cause.  Braintree is delivering so far, and long may it continue.  But regardless, I feel I have made an important personal decision about how I want to shape my working life, whether it be working for a company or running my own.

Some outside influences should be mentioned that helped me define this vision of my working life, so here is the list in case your interested:

Starting fresh

I feel the need to start a new blog. Something that will allow me to write down the thoughts and interests that I have which span across a few differing areas. Currently I run a Business Analyst blog (buddingba.wordpress.com) and a Tumblr effort aimed at capturing my experiences learning Ruby on Rails (learningrubyonrails.tumblr.com) which by my own admission has been sparsely updated. These very narrow focused blogs have been effective in their own way, however I feel they have stymied my expression. I find myself searching for topics that will fit the parameters of the blogs focus, particularly with the Business Analyst blog, and that is restrictive, and counter-productive in my eyes.

Over the past 3-4 years, I feel like I have finally discovered an area of interest around which I can build a career, and that area is the Web. When I say the Web, I do mean that in it’s broadest and wonderfully diverse sense. I am fascinated by design, both the aesthetics of websites of course, but more so the interaction design, the crafting of user experiences in a virtual space, encapsulated in a screen, with resolutions ranging from an iPhone up to a big-screen TV. I love the disruptive nature of the Web. The fact that it is still in the process of creation and development, and that it evolves through this process with no one hand guiding it. There are just millions of people contributing to it’s ethereal body, and over time the most successful or innovative contributions rise to the top. What this means to me personally is there is always something new to learn. Always something that grabs my interest and opens a door to a new world of knowledge, and a new community of people with whom I can interact.

Continue reading