23 and unemployed

I feel like, as bloggers, it’s on some level our duty to write about going through life like dreamy-eyed teenagers, We write about the the bright and the exciting (“ooh look at all the Ayis I saw around the West Lake in Hangzhou!”), but at the same time, that’s not always how things go in real life. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been having a really hard time forming coherent thoughts and I think the only way to process them is by writing them down and putting them out here, no matter how vulnerable I think it makes me seem, because after all, failure is also a part of life, right?

And so here goes: after eight months, I am leaving my start-up, thus entering my first month of funemployment which comes coupled with a trip back home (scheduled far in advance of when this nonsense went down).

First the big news. This Friday, I am going to Seattle-San Francisco-Wisconsin-Chicago  for 10 days with D to visit his family and see new parts of the U.S. It will be our first time flying home like this together, because let’s face it, the first time didn’t really count (unless you count falling asleep at 7pm during a dinner spending time together. I did a lot of that). On the grand scale of things, D and I haven’t been together for that long, but something about this just feels.. right? Is that the mot juste? I’m not sure what the proper timeline for moving in together, meeting each others’ parents, sharing socks (okay, we haven’t actually done that, because that would be weird) is, but you know what? I don’t really care, because for once, it feels like this is the way things should be. I’ll come back this again, when D finds out that on airplanes, I get up to pee approximately 2.54 times every hour. That’ll make for an interesting Trans-Pacific flight.

But yes, moving on to more important things. I’ve been working as a web-developer full-time for about eight month, at a company I helped found in Shanghai. But now, after two weeks of constant agony, we have parted ways and I am no longer working there. At the moment, I’m in talks with potentially joining another team, but I don’t have anything definitely lined up. Under the circumstances and given our next push, it just made sense that this was the right time to leave. Working within a start-up, in an environment like Shanghai, is exhausting for many reasons:

  1. Speed is prized over efficiency, especially over doing things correctly. We had to re-code our app from scratch three times because the first time it was outsourced to an outside team and the third time it was programmed in Javascript.
  2. People seem to be set in their own ways, which makes them unwilling to correct mistakes before they turn into huge errors. I may be wrong on this, but I don’t think any app with social functions should be programmed without a SQL database, because having relational tables makes searching so much easier without doubling records.
  3. There was simply no business model. We fought to figure out ways to make money because the upper management told us to focus on the outreach first. And yes, having a product is essential, but it is also essential to talk to service providers with concrete figures and profit margins
  4. Having a fancy office doesn’t make your office legitimate in China.
  5. There is a distinct lack of transparency in the business culture here, which really eliminates the typical pathways of start-up culture. I had never done a project before without using SCRUM or Agile methodologies, and without a program manager, I often had to roll out features in days rather than weeks.

So yes, on some levels, I do think we failed. But if there’s anything I’ve learned the past two years is that I should not only embrace, but welcome failure. Because I think in the end it makes us better people.

But also, I feel like, after five years, I have finally started thinking like a programmer. I used to get upset at Casey’s desire to ‘optimize everything’, but now I think I understand where he is coming from. I’m not the best coder. Really, I’m not. But I think there’s something to optimizing a process through automatization that is not embraced here.

In China, it’s so easy to pay minions a salary that barely flies over the human-rights-violation radar to do mindless data-mining. But that is not a sustainable business models. Websites change, standards change, but minions keep minioning. What I mean by that, is that a lot of places are not prepared to adapt to the change. But change is inherent in a tech company, or even in China. Either way the answer is somewhere in between.

But here I am: 23, unemployed, and finally free.

5 thoughts on “23 and unemployed”

  • Good post. I think the willingness to express vulnerability like that is both very difficult but also very important and useful.

    Overall I don’t think you need to cast leaving your job as a failure. At the end of the day, you’re just making a decision about what is best for you at this point. In fact, I think the decision to leave a stable job without something else lined up is pretty courageous and not a step that many people would take, because of inertia, risk aversion, fear of failure, etc. So I think the willingness to push yourself out of an intolerable environment is a big and important thing.

    Now with all of that said it may be the case that you made the decision to TAKE this job in the first place badly. What I would be focusing on at this point is how you ended up where you are. Based on the information that was realistically available to you at the time, do you think you made the best decision possible? Maybe you did and this was just one of the many good bets you will take in life that will happen not to pay off. Or maybe it wasn’t, and you can learn something important and useful for the future from it. In the end, all you are doing is going through life and learning. Life is an evolutionary experience: some things will work out, and others won’t, but I think the key thing is to learn something from it so that you can keep making things better through time.

    Keep your head up!!

    • Thank you for the words of encouragement! I’ve honestly felt like everything has been going up in flames around me for the last couple of weeks. One thing that I realized — and i think i knew all of this before — is that startups are more about just a great idea, but it’s execution.

      In January, we had a way to fund the operation and we had the idea itself, and the team I was on was responsible for the execution. But somewhere along the way, things broke down communication wise and in regards to packaging what we were doing to a chinese audience.

      The other frustrating thing was how quickly we changed direction after a ‘failure’ and how quickly we went from 0 to 60 to abandoning an idea, but that may just be China.

      I’m in talks with joining a company with a large corporate feel, while developing something on my own on the side and I largely don’t know how i feel about that

      • Yeah, ideas without the right tools (people, resources, etc.) to execute them aren’t worth much. If a company isn’t well-managed, it isn’t going to go anywhere.

        Regarding what you’re looking at and how to feel about it… let’s talk soon.

Leave a Reply