#65: Into the unknown

#65: Into the unknown

As 2021 concludes, so too does a major chapter in my career. This week I share about my journey of the last seven years and what is coming next.

These weekly updates share life with OCD as part of my Mental Work Health project to reduce stigma around mental health, especially at work.

At the end of 2014, our fifth child was almost a year old. We were renting a house in Provo, Utah, and I was thrilled to be working remotely for Balsamiq. I had just finished the 12-week iOS coding bootcamp course at DevMountain, shipping my first app Pointedly, and was about to start teaching the same course. And I was blissfully unaware of the world of mental health. Although, now that I can look back with more insight and perspective, I was suffering from severe OCD without realizing it.

Over the next six months, my professional journey took a sharp turn. In April 2015, I traveled to Cupertino with my friend Joshua Howland, to participate in the secretive Apple WatchKit Labs. Apple offered some developers the chance to test new Apple Watch apps with actual hardware before the watch was released. After spending two full days working and hearing about Joshua’s experience as a developer, I decided that was what I wanted to do next. His clandestine recruitment trip had succeeded.

Because of where I was at in my career, and needing to support a family with five kids, I couldn’t start as a junior developer somewhere. I had been working in software for seven years or so, but had learned iOS development less than a year before, and had essentially no professional experience. O.C. Tanner was willing to take a chance on me, partly because of my user experience design background, and partly because of Joshua’s recommendation, and I was hired as a senior developer. I became the only iOS engineer on a new project.

After a year and a half, I reluctantly became an engineering manager. We grew our team from two to eight engineers, and I grappled with conflicting desires to be a leader and an individual contributor. In the summer of 2018, Mel Tingey, soon to become my boss and one of my dearest friends, took me to lunch. I had been planning on asking him to move me into a role where I could experiment and innovate in our mobile apps and try out cool things. Instead, he asked me to become the manager of the mobile team. I recognized an opportunity to preserve our culture and shape the mobile team and apps into something that excited me more, and I accepted.

I made a presentation to give to Mel and his boss explaining how I saw the mobile team operating, and laying out some of my requests, and they agreed to all of it. We soon had a dedicated product manager, Ashley Roberts, and designer, Jason Parry. The three of us became the best leadership team I have ever been part of in my career. We dreamed and researched and argued and compromised and learned and built and tested and iterated and with an amazing team created a brand-new app for O.C. Tanner, Culture Cloud. The app included all of the key experiences from all of our software offerings. It was a magical time.

Amidst all of that, I experienced “The Great Breakdown of 2018.” As a mobile team, we had gone together to Peers Conference, and someone there had suggested to me that I consider getting counseling, which had never occurred to me before. I went to a chiropractor for back pain, started having panic attacks, and saw a therapist for the first time, which did not go well. I found a therapist who was a perfect fit, and learned that I had severe OCD. I went to a psychiatrist and began the chemical experimentation that is psychiatric medication, and finally found some relief that calmed my body enough that I could start doing some of the mental work needed.

Early in 2019, Mindi Cox, our amazing people leader, and my boss, Mel Tingey, encouraged me to take an extended break from work. I moved out of my house for a few months, and started an intensive outpatient program at The OCD & Anxiety Treatment Center. That treatment was life changing. Soon I was able to return home again with my wife and now seven children. I started working again, and found that being a manager was exactly what I wanted.

As I shared my story about mental health, I found that it resonated with people. So many of us are struggling, and often feel alone and isolated. Finding my voice about mental health in the workplace was invigorating and empowering.

While I continued to have my own personal struggles, my career felt ideal. When I had started at O.C. Tanner, my plan was to get professional experience, and then be an iOS developer at a company that focused more on mobile. But along the way, I came to embrace people leadership and care deeply about O.C. Tanner and its mission to help people thrive at work. I was fulfilled and engaged, and saw myself staying for years to come.

And then a wrench was thrown in my plans. Over the summer, I spent some time with my friend Caleb Hicks, with whom I had taught at DevMountain seven years ago. He was just leaving Lambda School, now BloomTech, and thinking about what he wanted to do next. At a couples game night, he told my wife and me about some of his ideas, and when we went back a month later, they had firmed into plans. He wanted to start something to help high schoolers get exposure and experience to figure out what they want to be and do in the world. We helped him decide on the name Factor, and discussed what it could become. When we drove away that night, I commented to my wife with some trepidation that I was intrigued and excited by what he had planned and wanted to explore it more.

Caleb and I talked more over the next few weeks, and my desires firmed up to be part of it. I was nervous about the idea of joining an early startup—it is something I have never done before, and seemed a poor fit for someone wrestling with mental health struggles. But I came back to the vision over and over. It is something that I want to exist in the world for my kids. Right now. And I feel I have a lot to offer to make it happen.

My career started at Waterford Institute, working to use technology to improve education for children in PreK to 2nd grade. I helped launch the Waterford Upstart program in Utah, and my oldest daughter was literally the poster child. Now that same daughter is almost seventeen, and exactly the target audience for what we want to build. There is beautiful harmony and symmetry in that for me. While I had no interest or desire to leave O.C. Tanner, and am not interested in doing a similar job somewhere else, this move feels right.

And so I am making another major career shift. From support, then training, then product management at Waterford Institute, to user experience design and front-end development at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and then Balsamiq, to iOS development, engineering leadership, and product management at O.C. Tanner, I now move into the unknown at Factor.

I’ll be doing product and technical work, but since we don’t quite know what our solution will be yet, I also don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing. Right now, we have a great team, money and support from investors, and a compelling problem to solve. The uncertainty is scary and also feels familiar. If there’s one thing I’ve worked on in my treatment and recovery with OCD, it is sitting with uncertainty. I feel anxious about my ability to contribute and my lack of experience. And I am also excited and confident that we can make something to truly improve lives.

Changing life chapters is always fraught with emotion. I can’t wait to see what this one brings.

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