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2018 – My Year of Mostly Rejection

It’s been a strange year for my household. My eldest son got rejected from all but one university he applied to. My middle son got rejected from several musical groups that he was more than qualified for. He also failed his drivers license test 3 times in a row. My youngest got in a fight with his entire middle school, which was one of the craziest experiences I’ve ever heard of. And finally, my search for my next adventure was met with one disappointment after another until finally I found a good home at Sitetracker. I’m not even going to get into the whole political shitshow going on. That’s just icing on the cake. The first half of 2018 was the worst my family has ever experienced. I am hoping the 2nd half improves for us all.

For this blog post, I am starting to unravel what happened in all of these interviews. This might be the one and only post or there may be more. Let’s take it once thought at a time.

Individual Contributor or Manager? UX or PM?
People asked the question, pretty universally, “What is your ideal position? What is the role you want?” My answer was not good. I see that now. My answer was basically recounting what happened at Marketo and Engagio. I am both. I can start off without a team and then build a team over time. People, especially in the bigger companies wanted me to be a manager, end of story. The truth is that I love doing both equally. T-shaped people like me are suited to earlier stage startups and I think I targeted the wrong companies.

Targeting the Wrong Companies
I have always been intrigued by Google. I knew they took a long time to hire people so I gave them several months head start. There was a position at Google Cloud that really intrigued me. I had a good recommendation and hit it off with the people I met. I did like 40 hours of work (for free!) to help establish what the position would be. Then came the all day interview and the feedback was that I was neither a product manager, nor a designer in their eyes. I was a hybrid of both and therefore neither.  I feel confident in my abilities, but they didn’t see it my way. That was a blow to my ego for sure. Multiply this experience times 2 dozen. That’s how many times I met with people and found the fit to be wanting. I think the problem was that I was targeting the wrong companies. I talked to a bunch of bigger companies thinking they would be more able to afford me. Unfortunately, I have always been a startup guy. I wear many hats and help in many ways. I grow with the team. If there are already 200-500 or more people, that ability becomes a problem. The thing that makes me good, makes me bad, depending on the context. I should have focused almost exclusively on startups.

Time warp
To someone looking for work, a week is a LONG TIME. To someone hiring, a week is nothing. People would go silent and I would assume they were uninterested, only to hear from them 4 weeks later saying they are excited for next steps. Communication is key. If you are recruiting, keep in frequent touch with the candidates you like. Your interest becomes their interest. Also, for people you don’t like, give them feedback. At minimum, tell them you are not moving forward. It was painful to have a meeting that was great, and they say, “Let’s do an all day interview this week!” and then complete silence forever. It’s more than ineffective, it leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths for a long time.

Radical Candor
There were several places that refused to give feedback before, during, and after the interview process. I think it’s a mistake. It’s helpful to the candidate and it’s good culture hygiene. There were very big companies that did not give feedback and others that did. I don’t believe it’s a legal issue, but it’s not my area of expertise. Maybe I am just being selfish in the sense that I want to grow and learn and it’s hard to do that without data.

Data Driven
Speaking of data, I heard this phrase alot. Data Driven. What does it really mean? Ask a single subject matter expert a question. Is that data?  What if you ask 100 experts the same question? Is it data now?  Isn’t EVERYTHING data? Also, what is the difference between the following phrases?

  1. Data Driven
  2. Informed Decision Making
  3. User Centered
  4. User Driven

I believe Data Driven is a code. It really means, “We will incrementally test everything and not trust individual contributors to be innovative and responsible in their craft.” I think it’s code for Product Managers are sick of UX and don’t really want to empower that team.  Maybe I am being harsh, but when I pressed on the question, all I gathered was that people wanted to test every possible decision. In many companies, you don’t have the traffic to get statistical confidence, nor do you have the resources internally to design and execute every hypothesis. So you end up dumbing down the creative spirit of the design team. You end up turning designers into testers. UX Design turns into UX Research. It’s a very disturbing trend in the industry. I think trade schools like General Assembly and Tradecraft are contributing to this problem. They are not teaching creative design. They are teaching UX Research and limited mobile design.

Several designers that I know are frustrated with their positions. They are not trusted and not allowed to leverage their creative skills to generate value for the company. This was probably the biggest single factor in my horrible half of 2018. I was seeing how people perceived what I do, and it wasn’t pretty.

Money
I didn’t know how much to ask for. People don’t talk about salaries that much. I deeply regret leaving Marketo when I did. One more year would have resulting in a 7 figure windfall. That money is gone. I truly did not appreciate how much money I was making. I made a terrible error in judgement in leaving. Also, I was making very good money at Engagio and left there too. I think I just didn’t understand what was normal and what wasn’t. The first few companies I spoke with, I believe I priced myself out of the position with my salary requirements. Some of those might have been good fits. I will never know.

Optimism is not helpful
Every company I spoke to, I could imagine working there. Each one is a different life I might have led. Different people I may have met. Which one would have yielded the most happiness or money? Who knows‽

All I know is that I would get myself worked up and excited about working at some cool company and then I would get disappointed when it didn’t work out. It would have been better to forget they existed until the next interaction. I am excitable I guess.

Putting it in the Tank
I met many people and enjoyed most of those interactions. However, each rejection is a tiny bruise to my ego. This is what I tell my kids:

Everyone has adversity and rejection.
The question is what you do with it.
Do you put it in the trunk of your car and it weighs you down?
Or do you put it in the tank and it drives you forward?

When I work, I pour myself into the task and try to help the company succeed on a massive level. Success is how I combat adversity and rejection. I try to be my best self and help the company in every way I can.

Note on this post
No one has to be public about their lives. No one has to be transparent about what happens to them. However, during my search, I looked for others who have had similar experiences and tried to learn from them. It’s a cultural thing. I believe people should be more transparent with each other. I hope this post helps someone in their own journey.

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10 Comments

  1. It’s cool to see how transparent you’re being about the process. Glad you’ve found something that works for you!

  2. Michael Brown Michael Brown

    The question I leave with is… are you happy? Did you grow? I love your honesty and candor. Maybe it will plant a seed to inspire more of it in me. Thank you.

    • Glen Lipka Glen Lipka

      I never liked that question. My mom asks me all the time.
      It reminds me of this song.

  3. Loved this post. Bruises suck. Rooting for you and the fam.

  4. Uriah Jacquez Uriah Jacquez

    Great post, Glen! I’m glad you you put it out there. It’s definitely informative and provided me useful information since I too am between jobs. Thank you.

  5. Kim Broadbeck Kim Broadbeck

    I am happy that you found a good place. You deserve it. Thanks for being real about the journey.

  6. Davis Lee Davis Lee

    What up G-money! Great post and hope everything works out. Marketo was the closest unicorn in my book. The leadership and employees back in the early days all cared for each other. Some great times we all had. I’m glad you found the right company size.

  7. Great commentary and reflection, Glen. I’m glad you found the place you need and want to be (as I hope your boys have as well). Agree completely on data driven being a cop out for empower people and having us be responsible for the results we deliver.

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