Kyle Shevlin

Software Engineer
January 07, 2022
0 strokes bestowed

Job History


Before we start, I'm writing this for me. You may get zero value out of it. I probably shouldn't post this, and I'm going to archive it soon.

I have not had the career I wanted or expected. Frankly, it's gone relatively poorly since leaving my first job. I don't want to spend the next 30 years like this. The American work culture places all the blame for a failed work relationship on the employee, not the employer, and thus, I frequently have to spin what happened at this or that company to try and portray myself as a viable candidate. I hate every moment of it. I hate lying. I hate spinning. I hate manipulations (more on that later). So I'm just going to lay it out in a way a resume can't. Fuck it, let's go.

In late 2013, I started my dev career at FINE, a design-centric agency that used Ruby on Rails. My time there was great. I worked with some really cool people, got to work on over 100 different projects, and just learned a lot. It was a good spot for a junior dev. By the end, I had earned the opportunity to build out small-to-medium sized projects entirely by myself, which I was very proud of.

All was going well, but I was growing bored. This was the time that JavaScript frameworks had started to take off and I was keen on joining that movement. FINE wasn't going to be getting off the Rails bandwagon any time soon, so I left FINE on good terms without a job lined up. Figured I'd take a month or two to find a new one.

My search didn't go quite as smoothly as I hoped. Turns out, it's hard to land a JavaScript job when you don't have a ton of JavaScript experience up to that point. Eventually, I found a job at another small Portland shop, Second Story. And here is where my story started taking bad turns.

I'm not the best interviewee/interviewer. I lack whatever intuition people have to help them notice really subtle red flags. One flag I did not catch in my interview process with them was that fact that I would be the only web developer. I interviewed with several "engineers", but my brain did not compute that this was the entire team. I just assumed there were more not in the meeting. Major facepalm moment.

Being the only web developer at a company was not what I wanted. I wanted some mentorship. I wanted to grow. It wasn't going to happen there. It was during this time I got more involved on Twitter and Reactiflux because I had no where else to turn to have community or learn from others.

On top of it, I didn't recognize I was joining an entire team of workaholics. The shop had undergone an ownership change, being bought by a company just before I was hired. The previous owners apparently insisted that people work until around 7pm at night. Not my cup of tea.

My first day there, where I had very little to do, 5pm rolled around and not one person had even started to leave. This was not what I experienced at my first job. I hung around a bit longer just to see if anyone got up. No one did. When I packed my things and left at 5:30pm, I was literally stared at as I left. I knew within 2 days that it wasn't the right job for me.

Eight months after starting with Second Story, I was recruited by Fastly. Honest to goodness, looking back, I have absolutely no idea why they recruited me.

At this point, I was heavily into the React community, and Fastly used Ember. Should have been a red flag for me. I went through the process anyways because it was one of the first Bay Area companies to show interest in me and it felt like a new chapter was coming in my career. To my surprise, not only did I pass the interview, but they made me a salary offer that was an 86% raise with a senior title. How could I say no?

Seriously, how could I say no?

Half a dozen things went wrong at Fastly almost immediately. I'm just going to list the things that didn't go well in no particular order.

First, gobs of money won't magically make me like a tech I don't enjoy working with. Ember just isn't my jam. No more details necessary.

Second, the manager that I was hired under asked me to come in and "stir the pot". No. Don't ask this of someone new to a senior role. That's not how you build trust. It's a recipe for disaster. I learned that the hard way.

Third, I probably wasn't quite ready for a senior role. I had a good amount of technical skill. I had absolutely none of the non-technical skills I needed. Consensus driving, knowing who the stakeholders are, thinking about the business, etc. These were lessons I didn't learn fast enough.

Fourth, my original manager was moved off my team and replaced with someone newly promoted to manager. It wasn't a good fit and I was already struggling. It didn't make it any better.

Fifth, I was tasked with trying to convince the team to use Prettier. I failed so badly. There was one dev in particular who just railroaded the entire thing. I had no arrows in my quiver, no skills in my repertoire for how to convince him to try it. It has not been the only time something like this happened.

Sixth, I don't know. I'm sure there was a sixth, but I'm done with this list.

Things went really poorly in this environment. I think I was destined to fail. I was put on a PIP and then fired a month later. Didn't matter what I did, the end was coming.

Near the end of my time at Fastly, I was looking around for somewhere to go quickly. Ken Wheeler hooked me up with an opportunity to interview at Formidable. I thought perhaps going back to agency work would be better for me and, honestly, I was just trying to keep paychecks coming in. I took a sizable pay cut to join Formidable (~$20k), but it was a job.

Coincidentally, Ken left Formidable within a month of me joining. We never did work together. Oh well.

Things were going alright at Formidable. I was working on React projects again. Not a particularly interesting one, but hey, it wasn't Ember. I thought things were alright until one fateful day.

For some context, by this time, I had made my first egghead course, I was actively running my podcast and giving conference talks. I was gaining recognition in Tech Twitter and building up my community.

Some random day on Twitter, I do not recall which particular day, I don't even recall the exact tweet, but I was having an exchange with Ryan Florence about online education and workshops (Ryan was doing React Training at the time). It was nothing serious, just a conversation between friends. I literally cannot remember the content of the discussion, but I'll never forget the next day at work.

The next day, I was called into meeting with the head of engineering and lambasted for, I shit you not, "discussing work with the competition" for my Twitter exchange. At this point, Formidable had done a handful of trainings and I mean a handful. It was not a core revenue generator of the business. My conversation with someone who did trainings for a living was deemed a violation of my working agreement somehow. Further still, my handshake agreement to make egghead courses was revoked. I was not allowed to make more egghead courses without receiving express permission from Formidable or they would own my content.

Let me tell you, this did not engender trust.

This was devastating to me. I was attacked for having online friends. It was clear that my Twitter usage was being monitored vigilantly. And worse, now I couldn't do one of the things that I expressly made clear I would continue to do when I joined (make egghead courses). What a disaster.

I learned a lesson that day, and it's one I pass on to you: never join a company founded by a lawyer. Litigators are going to litigate. Get everything in writing, in a legally binding contract if you're in that scenario because words don't mean shit.

I became very depressed after that episode. Very depressed. Like, "why should I care about my work at this company that clearly hates me?" levels of depressed. Maybe a month later, I was let go. It was a pretty low point.

I was so hurt and burned by those two back to back jobs that I needed quite a bit of time to try and heal. I was very wary of finding the wrong job again. I interviewed at a few places here and there, but it wasn't until 7 months later, I landed the job at Webflow.

Let me tell you, things at Webflow were very good for my first 18 months or so. I had good teammates, I enjoyed the work enough, company and perks were great. It was a good job. Not perfect, but good.

During my second year there (and our first in the pandemic), I was put on a project to revamp the Asset Manager. This came right after doing a grueling 6 month project to enable multiple filters for collection lists. A task that required writing code to support two completely different logic paths while keeping the app running in prod, leading up to being able to switch all Webflow sites over to the new features. It was demanding. I learned a lot, but it was tiring.

The Asset Manager was a task I accepted with the understanding that I would get an engineer or two to work with me so I could practice technical leadership. Creating and delegating work, that sort of thing. That happened for about all of 1 month.

It went well, the other engineer and I were cranking out work, but they were pulled on to something else and I was left to work on the project by myself for the next 9 months. It was not an ideal environment for me. Especially in a pandemic where my extroverted needs simply can't be met. To just sit in a corner and write code for month after month was not ideal. I was starting to really burn out on it.

Then, as I was wrapping it up, I was told I would be put on a new team in 2021: the Growth team. You should know something about me, I cannot stand manipulation of any sort. I don't believe in it, it makes me feel gross and icky. I find it repugnant.

I adamantly did not want to join this team. I explained clearly to my manager that I should not be put on this team. It's not the work I want to do, it does not align with my principles or goals, and there is other work at Webflow that does. I do not want to put Growth work on my resume. I don't want recruiters reaching out to me to try and boost their sales 5% or to move this or that needle. It's not for me.

They said there was nothing they could do.

I went to other managers. I went to other teams. I did everything in my power to get moved to a different team because I knew what was coming. I knew working on the tasks they had planned would make me depressed. I knew I was burning out. I knew my productivity would tank. I knew the work would make me feel like absolute shit.

Sure enough, it did.

Not only did I not have a choice in the team. I didn't have a choice in the tasks I was to work on. Everything was already decided. I had no input on my work. I was just a set of hands and a brain that could write code. It did not matter whatsoever how I felt or that my mental health was in freefall.

I told Webflow every day for 4 months what was happening and no one listened and no one cared. The best job I had had in my career turned sour and I was powerless to fix it. It's been one year since this happened and I am still angry and depressed about it.

There is no doubt in my mind I'd still be there today if they had just listened to me and put me on a different team I was more aligned with.

Spiraling into depression quickly, with no autonomy or power to change my situation within the company, I sought help from some friends. I didn't want to look for a work, but I didn't have much of a choice. With my health tanking and no one listening, I was in survival mode.

Two of my good friends had joined a startup they were raving about, and some conversations with them convinced me to give it a shot. A single 30-minute conversation with the founder and I had a new job offer on the spot. A good raise, some responsibility changes, all sorts of good things. So I went for it.

In truth, I should have taken several months off before starting. Webflow destroyed me. I was not in a place to work. To be healthy. But American healthcare being what it is, I joined immediately because you have to keep that coverage going.

I was burnt to a crisp, but hadn't really internalized this fact yet. The endorphins from doing something new kept me going for the first few weeks, but hitting the first hurdle, I smacked right into it. I didn't have the "legs" to jump it.

Early on, I ran into some technical challenges I just couldn't figure out how to solve. It derailed what was remaining of my confidence. I was stressed as hell, not sleeping well. I started having some night terrors, scaring my wife half to death screaming in my sleep.

The culmination of my stress happened one morning when I heard a slam outside my house. I was absolutely convinced that someone was breaking into the house and they had cut the power. I leapt the entire width of our bed and sprinted towards the intruder, ready to do whatever necessary to stop them. My heart rate had gone from 60 to 140. I could feel the adrenaline.

The sound came from near our garage. I assumed they had broken the window to the garage, flipped the breakers at the electrical panel. I rushed outside to flank them, come at them from a different angle. I get to the garage, throw the door open, ready for anything.

Nothing. There was no intruder. Every last thing was just fine and in its place. The neighbor had just slammed a trash can at 4:30 in the morning.

As you can tell, I was stressed out of my gourd. Combining this fact with some other work frictions, I decided it was just not the right time for me to be at such an early stage startup. I wasn't helping the team, they deserved someone healthier. So I left.

I took the next few months to do nothing. To see if it would help me get better. In truth, I got worse. This past summer, I was about as depressed as I've ever been. Not quite to the depths of my high school despair where I didn't want to keep living, but not far from it either. It's very hard to heal when your head is garbage.

In September, I started looking for contract work. I needed to do my part to help pay our bills and alleviate pressures on my wife to support us. I feel very fortunate that I was able to find that kind of work easily. Big shoutouts to Dr. Jean Yang and Akita Software, and Chris Ball and Echobind. For the most part, this has gone well, but it's not exactly what I want. I'm not really built to do contract work. I'm better suited for working on problems that interest me (which is a problem to solve in and of itself).

So here we are today. It's early 2022. I'm trying to find full time work. Mostly for the benefits. Struggling a bit because I really don't want to repeat the mistakes of the past. But I lack the occupational clout and personal demeanor to just go anywhere or work on anything. I feel the need to be cautious and it's not easy to make decisions when you feel that way.

Truth be told, I'm not certain what the right thing for me to do is. There aren't really any domains I'm particularly interested in working in (like healthcare or finance), but I know I can't just work on anything. I've been trying to focus on roles that have high autonomy and preferably have a product that I could dogfood. My hope is that caring more about the product will help me get through tough times in the future.

My career hasn't gone how I hoped or expected. It's been tumultuous, and I think people kind of get me all wrong because I've found ways to be successful despite these difficulties. The truth is, I'm still looking for those chances that help me grow and get my career going in a positive direction again.

I have felt alone throughout much of my career. I've frequently been in situations where I'm working alone. I've never had a mentor. I've had managers that were good people, but never one that actually came up with plans to help me improve or level up. I need help. I don't have all the answers. I don't have all the lessons. If you have ideas how I can get this turned around, or know a tech career coach that does, let me know.

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Kyle Shevlin is a software engineer who specializes in JavaScript, React and front end web development.

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