Getting Fired & Taking a Sabbatical … and How it Changed Things for Me

By on 12/27/2016.

Hello, merry gang of technologists and professionals!  Remember me?  Yea. It’s been a while, I know.  But that’s what we’re going to talk about today.  This post will rival the lengths of a Chad Sakac post, and has been a couple of months in the making.  

Strap in and enjoy the ride!

I’ve sat idle and silent for too long, enough time has passed, and there are some big things that I need to explain. I owe you, my loyal readers, followers, and friends that much.  And hopefully in doing so, I can shed some light on some unanswered questions, and perhaps help you make some decisions of your own about your personal and professional life.  So, without further adieu, let’s get down to it.

*cracks knuckles*

In June of 2016, I was terminated from Cohesity by a very weak leader less than two weeks after alerting me that there was any sort of issue in the first place, with little-to-no explanation, other than “this isn’t working out and let’s just call it what it is and move on.” I’m sure you all know that we parted ways, but you’re likely unsure as to why.

But to really explain how this event led to committing to a sabbatical, we’ve got to go back a bit further, so let’s come back to this.

TME Life at NetApp

When I first joined NetApp in 2011, I honestly had no idea what to expect. Professionals that I had looked up to and admired (Vaughn Stewart, Chris Gebhardt, Peter Learmonth, and more…) and had used the technical content they created to build virtual datacenters, now actively lobbied to have me, a lowly datacenter engineer, on their team at one of the biggest companies in the world. And to think that I would now be one of the people building that content and participating socially as as a member of that team….I was honored.  Truly humbling.  Really let that sink-in for a second.  Born out of that was my passion for that company, that team, and especially a true appreciation for things I never truly appreciated before.  A particular brand of loyalty that isn’t found on any job description. Morally bound to see the company, the products, and your team succeed. You can’t “hire” for that.

What also happened that I didn’t expect was the true brotherhood that emerged within that small group of men, almost as if it were a platoon that all had each others’ backs.  We lunched together all week every week, they welcomed me to their houses, and there was a void that was filled in my personal life as well.

Still, to this very day, it is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, both personally and professionally.  This entire website was born from those feelings I described above. The honest and passionate desire to share information.  Not for likes and clicks that is the clickbaity world we live in, but to empower the masses with information they wouldn’t have otherwise, and open up some channels of transparency to the customer base and channel partner community to both let them know what we had coming, as well as channel feedback from the customer base into product management.

As we all know, the reputation of NetApp in the industry was taking a bit of a downturn as they transitioned to Cluster-Mode, and this roughly started in the 2013 timeframe.  As we went through these turns, several RIFs (reduction-in-force) started happening on an annual basis, but as virtualization was so popular, and we had piles of work that we were never going to get to, we all were honestly never too concerned about our jobs.  We were arguably the most visible team with some of the highest-rated and most-read content from the entire company.

The blog got popular and won some awards, I started the NetApp Communities Podcast in Oct 2012 with Gabe Lowe, having no idea what I was doing, and turned it into something that was listened to by thousands of people every week.  Yet, the irony of this was that it was all done on the side; never anything that was included or “graded” when it came to my weekly accomplishments.  “Wrote 10 blogs posts” or “published 12 podcast episodes” is not something you put on a performance review when it came to accomplished tasks or contributions.  But, I will give credit where credit is due… our manager recognized the value, fought for additional funding, and allowed me a day or two during each week to produce, record, and post-produce each episode.  Unfortunately, the higher-ups didn’t know that much about it, and honestly probably couldn’t have cared less (at the time).

I distinctly remember meeting with the entire web and digital marketing team as recently as Dec 2014 and had to describe to them what a podcast was and why it mattered.  Ahh, good times.  So it wasn’t surprising when nothing ever came of it.

Six months later, I received a phone call at 9AM on a Tuesday morning from my manager letting me know that … and I quote … “Your job has been affected by the current RIF.”

Yea but what about the podcast?
Yea but what about the HOL and VMworld?
Yea but what about those products and papers?

Even in that very moment of being laid-off, the only thing I could literally think about was “how was all the work going to get done that I currently had in motion?”  Even when they were trying to get rid of me, I cared more about the impact it was going to have on everyone else on the team and how they were going to have to absorb the workload.

To NetApp’s credit, they did take very good care of those employees displaced by the RIF. I cannot go into details but I did not struggle to eat or live.

Joining Cohesity

I joined Cohesity a few months later for many of the reasons you’d imagine one joins a startup.  Opportunity to help lead an organization through its early stages, help teach everyone all of the lessons (from mistakes you’ve made) learned about how to interact with the public and community, and be an early-entry visible spokesperson in a <50-person startup.  The potential gains were huge, and the tech they were building, even in the early pre-GA days in the summer of 2015 was some astounding stuff.  As a technologist first, it genuinely got me excited.  At that point, I had been on interviews with a dozen different companies, but this was the only one that felt like a Goldilocks.  Just right.

As a Tech Evangelist, my role in a nutshell was to construct messaging, slide decks, and diagrams, and communicate with analysts and the greater virtualization and storage community at events, embargo’ed blogger early previews, webinars, and of course author my own content for the company blog. I also jumped in and presented I-don’t-know-how-many sales presentations to new potential customers, and did on-site visits with partners and customers to assist the sales teams. Ultimately, become the point-person publicly and a trusted and recognized authority to represent the company.  I’ll leave it up to all of you as to whether I did that or not.

A lot of you might have asked over the years what a ‘Tech Evangelist’ does…. well, there ya go.

At a certain point, one of the marketing employees parted ways with us, and a void was left in the corporate blog, and all social media accounts.  Now, in a small 50-person startup, when something needs doing, you jump in and do what needs to be done until a time comes that that void can be filled.  So, on top of my normal duties, I stepped in and started running the social media accounts using Buffer, scheduling and editing additional content from multiple authors to the blog, fired up our YouTube channel and started filling it all with content, including all of the voiceovers for all product demo videos.  Between Jan and June of 2016, I also flew 100,000+ air miles while doing all of this.  Oh, and I was sneakily re-org’ed under the aforementioned leader, effectively a demotion.  But I took it in stride as more turning of the tides that happens as startups grow.  We were well in excess of 100 employees at this point.

I was on my way to the Charlotte VMUG in June when I received a message that felt….. wrong.  The “Something something we need to talk” sort of message.  Two weeks later, I was canned.

All I could do was sit there stunned, and I remember laughing.  Yea, initially I laughed, as I expected to receive a call from leadership that a mistake was made, and this couldn’t possibly be the case.  That call never came.

The Emotional Toll

The emotional toll this takes on an individual is something that I, frankly, don’t see get talked about anywhere near enough and is the main reason I wanted to share this story.

The next month, I disappeared.  Into sadness, depression, despair, and watched as people I considered to be my best of friends in the industry basically fell of the face of the Earth as well, so to speak.  Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t hold some responsibility here as well, but when you’re the recipient of this kind of action, it’s understandable that you’re going to go through some shit to readjust and re-orient.

Perspective… imagine this has now happened to you twice in the span of a year.  This also doesn’t take into account stresses on my personal life that all of that selling-out and traveling road-warrior-life had put on my friendships, relationships, and family time.  So, now I had completely left all of them behind, gone off and done my own thing at work, and now that was stripped away as well.

I was …….. Alone.  Social media faux “friendships” will only get you so far.  After spending the better part of a month trying to figure out WTF had just happened and a LOT of time talking to lawyers, something hit me that I just needed to commit to a break. In everything.

Committing to a 6-month Sabbatical

I literally felt sick to my stomach at even the thought of willfully throwing my heart back into the job market.  I don’t know how to explain that any better, unfortunately, but even the idea of having to go on an interview makes your heart ache. I greatly appreciate the dozens of companies and executives that reached out to wish me well, offer their assistance, or even throw a job my way, but I hope you can appreciate that I needed a minute.  What I didn’t realize is how much I needed more than a minute … and honestly, a lot of us do.

There’s a surprising amount of thought and internal debate that goes into something like this.  I spent the better part of the next month just trying to work out the financials to insure I could maintain life.  I planned for 6 months, but budgeted for a full 12 off. Once I figured that part out, I looked in the mirror, took a deep breath, and it was nothing more than a head nod to myself that we were going to do it. Now, I’ll put a big fat asterisk on this and say that I understand that many of you have home-life accountabilities and responsibilities that don’t allow you to take this sort of action, and that’s ok.  You get an immense sense of fulfillment from that.

Fast-forwarding a bit, I didn’t realize just how long it would legitimately take me to clear my head. It wasn’t until three months later that I finally stopped thinking about work, and allowing my brain to truly exercise.  Sometime in September, I finally filed three patent applications for an idea that I had (those are still pending), fully re-fired up a passion project of mine around entertainment, Orbital Jigsaw, re-launched a podcast called The Concession Stand with one of my best friends.  We’re working on bringing additional writers in, and have plans to launch an additional two to three different shows in 2017.

nick-beach-turks

I was able to take an amazing trip to the Caribbean and see my folks during Thanksgiving.  I’ve been able to spend more time with people that matter to me in my life. Those who suffered the most when I selfishly tunnel-visioned on work and career.

I went to movies, I attended concerts, I ate at restaurants, I got a dog, I started writing a book. I also spent a lot of time doing absolutely nothing.  I lived life.  And ya know what?  It felt amazing.  I’m the kind of person that really doesn’t take time off. Literally my last real vacation was my senior cruise in high school in 1995.  So, going to the Caribbean for a week was a BIG DEAL.  During the entire time I was there, save for one or two check-ins, I literally left my phone on airplane mode in the room.

What’s amazing is that when you clear your head, maroon yourself on an island, and ditch the social media, your mind begins to do amazing things.  It has a natural way of dismissing negativity, and opening up to hope and possibilities.  I can recall at least a dozen “moments” where it was just me looking off into the ocean or the night sky at sunset thinking …

“What am I doing?”
“Am I where I’m supposed to be?”
“Is this really what I want to do with the rest of my life?”

I found my own answers to those questions that, for now, I’ll keep myself, but ultimately I never would have found those answers had I not taken the break. I would have continued to be so pre-occupied with the drive to succeed and continuing to jump in the air for the proverbial brass ring, that I would have missed some of these moments.

OK, Now What?

Well, that remains to be seen. There are a couple of opportunities in the pipe that I am truly excited about.  One is tech, one is not. Today is December 27th, which is right at the 6-month mark. Looking back, what have I learned? What lessons can I pass on to those reading?

  1. You’re a statistic to your employer. Your immediate team and manager may have a stronger relationship, but the executive leadership likely doesn’t know your name or what you contribute. Remember that when you’re deciding whether to stay past 5pm, miss that concert with friends, miss your kid’s activity, or spend time with your spouse because “you have to work.”
  2. Take a break.  It doesn’t have to be six months, but take a couple of weeks off a couple of times per year. The job, company, and the people will all still be there. If they aren’t, they weren’t there in the first place.  Maroon yourself somewhere, whether its an island, in the wilderness, or just somewhere that doesn’t have cell signal with your best friend or a loved one.  Trust me. It is the most rewarding soul-searching you’ll do.
  3. Don’t stress over things you have no control over.  I let the layoff from NetApp really get to me in a deep way because I invested more in a relationship than the other party invested in me.  Actually, don’t invest in anyone that isn’t willing to quid pro quo with you. This won’t even cross your mind or be an issue with people and companies truly worth investing your time and energy into.
  4. “You’ll never make any real money if you don’t change jobs, internally or with different companies, every three to five years.”  Some sage advice from my dad (career sales & mktg exec) many years ago. Only you can look yourself in the mirror and know what you’re worth.  Don’t stagnate.  Don’t sell yourself short.  Demand your worth, but be ready to sell it too because ….
  5. “Assumption is the mother of all f**kups.”  A quote mostly overlooked from the villain in UNDER SIEGE 2, but it’s a mantra I’ve tried to live life by.  Never assume everyone knows everything you’re doing. Never assume everyone understands the value of something.  Never assume.  I get a lot of flack for being too verbose at times, but this is why. I always want everyone to understand my motivations for doing something a certain way, in order to highlight transparency and incite conversation.  Never assume you understand what everyone is doing, and never assume you know what they think about you. Never assume people are your friends over their own self-interests.

I’ll leave you with this video.  While it’s immediate focus is on Millennials, there are some amazing lessons in here about interacting and relationships, social media, life, and how corporate life is in the 21st century exists.  Thanks to Matt Cowger for sharing this with me.  It truly opened my eyes, and nicely tied off this post with some amazing insight into the world we live in today.  I consider this a must-watch 15 minutes.

Thanks for reading, and I hope this answered all of the questions a lot of you had about what I’ve been up to the last 12-18 months.  It remains to be seen where this site will go in the future, but for the time being, I’m going to use it as my own personal pulpit to preach life lessons and spread the good word about exciting technology.

If you like tv & movies, consumer tech, and anything related to being a Geek, come check out The Concession Stand podcast, available on iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher Radio.

Questions? Comments? Feedback? Leave them in the comments below, and let’s have an awesome 2017!

/Nick

RIP Carrie Fisher

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