A couple months ago after dozens of flights back and forth to the Valley, and meetings, and due diligence, and meetings, and due diligence, and meetings (did I say meetings?), we got acquired by Qualcomm. We were all super excited. I think a lot of the excitement came from the recognition that someone else thought we were making something awesome in the education space. Someone wanted what we were cooking. After writing education based software for a long time it was gratifying to know that your work was deemed acquirable. I remember being so lazer focused on my current work that I never really stepped back and saw all that we accomplished on a macro level. The acquisition actually forced me to step back and look at the forest not just the trees. We then assimilated into Qualcomm.
Entering the Matrix
Once we moved all over our stuff into Qualcomm we became part of “the Matrix”. This isn’t me being coy. They actually call it the Matrix.
After the initial shock of settling in waned. I got what I can only describe as Postpartum Acquisition Depression. I had birthed a code baby and had to give it up. Well, not for adoption or anything but I had given it up for some sort of nuevo foster care system where I carried it full term then brought in an Au Pair to help me nurture and raise it. In many ways working with the new team created many cultural hurdles that you typically don’t have in a startup. Our parenting style may not mesh with theirs and vice versa. We were going to have to come up with our system and quickly at that. Cross team pollenation and communication would be vital to our success.
Communication is crucial
The biggest change by far is the frequency and volume of meetings and email. I was a poor email responder before. I would typically challenge people that invited me to unnecessary meetings when we were a small team. In a large organization you simply can’t do that. Because of collocation many times video conferencing and email updates are the only way to keep people in sync. This typically isn’t an issue with engineers since we use Github commits and CI Build logs to see what people are working on but management and business development people need to tap into different communication streams to stay in sync. This isn’t a bad thing but I do find myself spending more time double checking my tone and syntax of emails so that I don’t convey the wrong information.
Upper Management Are Now Your Investors
So you had an active Board of Directors before with investors you had to answer to and you think you’re in the clear now? Wrong! Upper management is now your Board. They approved the acquisition and the finance department cut the check. Don’t be intimidated though. They WANT you to succeed. If you’re an engineer now more than ever you have a voice. Many Senior VPs and executives have open door policies and they’re willing to chat and offer their expertise. Take advantage of that!
If you feel like you aren’t writing as much code as you used to; keep those knives sharpened. Many companies offer tuition assistance and subsidized (or free) memberships to e-Learning resources. I can’t encourage you to take advantage of those enough. I have full access to Lynda.com and Safari Books Online and have set a goal to reading a book a week. Full disclosure, I read one fictional book then alternate with one technical book so I don’t get burned out. We had a tight budget as a startup so to find out we had access to stuff like this was a huge win in my book. I also plan on getting my Masters in Comp Sci next year.
In many ways I feel like we were a band of pirates before. Sailing the open seas, looking for treasure and adventure. We had our captain and sailed a loose ship. Some people went overboard but those that stay racked up loot and stories. But then the Queen’s Navy swooped us up and enlisted us into the Navy. Now we’re part of the “Rank and File” bound by new regulations and processes.
That may sound a bit harsher than it actually is. The newfound constraints have actually made me more productive. And I’m encouraged many times to be myself and work the way that I feel most comfortable. We’ve traded the kegerator for an awesome cafeteria and we still play board games but now we have a slew of new guys that also want to play. We have a lab! A kick-ass lab with soldering irons, oscilloscopes, and a bunch of robotics stuff to play with.
I still rock flip flops to work. I’ve seen a wide swath of people here. The diversity is actually pretty amazing. I haven’t felt like I need to wear a leather cell phone holster or rock the 360 degree shirt tuck to fit in with a corporate culture.
Do What You’re Good At
I guess what I’m leading up to is to not be intimidated by working in a large company. Coming from a startup I thought it would feel a lot different but at the end of the day it still feels like working at a startup. The main difference is that we have more resources, more clout, and more people around that share my passion and interests. The one itch I still needed to scratch was the entreprenuerial one. Recently though I’ve been working with a team onsite that helps vet new ideas. I’ve pitched some stuff to them and we’re running with one of them now. So, in closing, stay hungry, stay frosty, make cool stuff, change the world. Easy enough.