Why I Returned to My Previous Employer
After being away for 2 years, I went back to my previous employer. What a crazy thing to do! (Not really.) Before going back, I rightfully had plenty of reservations ranging from my wants/needs, company changes, and even the effect it would have on my reputation.
Several years ago, I began my software development career with DriveTime, but eventually had the 7 year itch. I needed to try something else so I started at another company, hung out there for a couple years, and then took a hiatus from work.
After the hiatus, I applied to several places. Some didn't want me, some did want me, and others just never responded. That's just how the job market is! So you might ask: with all this opportunity, why would I go back to a company I left? In short, they changed, but so did I.
I realized how good I had it! For one, I realized that many of the things that upset me were just normal things that happen when working for a small to mid size software company. There are biz and tech arguments, architectural blunders, legacy software, and occasional conflicts with coworkers. It sounds silly to point this out, but I left DriveTime with an expectation that everything should be perfect to be good. This is just completely unrealistic! Besides, the arguments, conflicts, and failures are what help us grow and learn. With people from all walks of life, education levels, and disciplines, we can build better products and people.
I also learned how important strong leadership is. Previously, I just assumed leadership didn't really do a whole lot (how naïve), but that was because DriveTime leadership rarely got in our way! Instead they led, motivated, and unblocked us without us even knowing. At my previous company, I discovered (the hard way) how critical good leadership is. Seeing strong developers and managers curtailed was incredibly disheartening. I missed what I used to have.
When I left DriveTime, the company was undergoing a major transition from exploring exciting new ventures to focusing on the fundamentals. As a young engineer, this was less fun for me. Projects weren't as cool, there was a heavy focus on things I cared less for, and I didn't feel empowered. We had also lost the fearless CEO that I so thoroughly believed in for a more traditional, but incredibly experienced CEO. While he focused on tightening the core of the company to get it under control, I started to feel less in control. In the years since I left, that CEO transformed the company, giving it solid legs to stand on. Honestly, I wish I hung out to see how he did this. It's an incredibly impressive business and cultural shift he accomplished with his team.
With this in mind, I applied to DriveTime again (especially since my buddy had been relentlessly recruiting me). I felt secure knowing that the company was in a strong place! Ironically, DriveTime had also just announced some CEO changes. One of the people I considered a mentor for me (way back when) was just promoted to CEO. So here I am, trying to go back to my old place and find out that someone I considered a mentor is now the CEO? Of course, I'm even more interested!
IT also changed. While I left with the title of an architect, I was more of a hybrid architect/senior engineer focused on a particular side of business. Now I would be coming back as an architect again, but this time it was more centralized, influenced the entire company, and was more (but not entirely) strategy focused. This is where I love to be! Solving the high level problems, getting people prepared and unstuck, and guiding people/projects to their long term goals. These are the most ambiguous and most interesting puzzles (in my opinion)!
Things that didn't change, but I'm glad they didn't
Some things didn't change, but stayed good. DriveTime still has great leadership that is only getting better, in both the software and business sides. I have faith in the owner and board of the company as well, especially with the previous CEO sitting on it.
It also doesn't hurt that I have some really great friends there who I can learn from and who support me. Interviewing with them was interesting; especially because so much of the interview was dedicated to explaining what's different, what was the same, and trying help me gauge if it made sense to come back. It was less of them interviewing me than it was me interviewing them.
Not to mention, this is a fairly comfortable role too. It fits my life and long term goals. I'm not overly obsessed with pushing to be in big tech and am happy being in a position where I can enact change. (Honestly, there's no way I would have such an influential position in a big tech company, and that is okay with me.).
As a side note, I was certainly concerned about how my reputation would be damaged by returning to a company I had been at before. Some people might see me as a failure who gave up (I had other opportunities), a liar who went back to a company he was displeased with (no, see above), or just someone who was lazy (I explored a ton of options, even outside of tech). There is still the concern that future employers will look at my resume and think "oh man, this guy primarily has experience with only one place, maybe we should pass". That said, it's worth the risk. I know I have so much I can learn at DriveTime and am sure I will be able to convince others about how much I will have grown! Besides, I'm hoping to hang out here for a long time anyway.