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More "Year in Review" (2007-2009)

Hmm, more than a year has gone by, with nary a post here. Not good. I'll have to try harder. To bring you up to speed, here's another “year in review”:

The job at Opsware “went south” on me. Technologically speaking, it was a cool gig, especially at first. I was to be Tier II support, helping sysadmins use our product, and to fix problems. The game plan as it was pitched to me was was that I'd get to delve into the inner workings of the product to solve difficult problems, and help find and fix bugs. I was told that I would never have to answer phones, rather, I would be initiating any phone/remote-desktop interactions that might be necessary. However, all too soon (August 2007) the Tier I group was dissolved to merge with the Tier II group. We were told that the support heirarchy was being re-organised temporarily so that we could better train the Tier I group and to create a “Tier 0” call center, and that us Tier II folks would only have to man the phones for a month or two. But we found ourselves becoming the typical support droids, responsible for answering phones, opening tickets, handling first contact with angry customers, etc. It was not only demoralizing, it became extremely difficult to work the Tier II problems. The constant interruption of answering the phones and having to make “ticket status update” calls, along with handling numerous Tier I issues made it almost impossible to give the Tier II problems proper attention, so our case load kept increasing. My job turned into a mind-numbing, ticket juggling, customer appeasement, socio-political nightmare rather than the technical investigation, research and analysis that I had signed on for.

When Opsware was bought by HP in November of 2007, we were told by management that by January of 2008 all calls would be handled by a new HP call center being put together elsewhere. But at the end of January we were told that although there were delays, it was just around the bend. We complained about the workload, and were told that HP wasn't allowing any new positions for our product support team, things would turn out alright if we could just hold out a little longer. February passed and the story was the same, “just keep holding the fort for a little while more”. By the end of April, the team was burnt out. Most of us were merely showing up for work, spending any time not on the phones with customers staring off into space in a depressed fugue. A number of us were on medication to deal with various stress symptoms. Finally, the team lead jumped some management levels and spoke frankly with mid-level HP management (our old top-level Opsware managment) to let them know that our team was on the verge of imploding. I think this was in May, but my last months there were such a depressing and mind-numbing blur that I can't be sure. I think it was in June that a meeting was scheduled and we were told to prepare details about what we thought the problem was, along with possible solutions. We put together a manifesto that not only explained the details, but the magnitude and implications of the problem. My personal statement in that meeting was that, “for the first time in my career I was admitting defeat. Due to insane stress levels and burn out, I was too tired to care any more whether or not the product succeeded, or to feel pride in my work. If things didn't change, I'd be lucky to last another month. And regardless of whether or not changes came, I was done. It was no longer a question of if I'd be leaving, it was now a matter of when. Once I finally hit the wall, I'd be resigning on the spot.”

They had hired some new team-members that were based in Brasil, so I was trying to hang on until September, so that I could work to get them trained somewhat before leaving, but I wasn't sure whether I'd last. Fortunately, during this time, a friend of mine (Scott Brady – going way back to the founding of SyrLUG) was working for iContact, who was looking for sysadmins. He kept hounding me to send them a copy of my resume. I was too burnt out to even care, so to appease him, I told him to download it and give it to them himself. He did so, and they pulled me in for some interviews. Because they were looking for someone right away, and I had given them September as my available date so that I could recoup from burnout, the process sort of went dormant after the initial interviews. By the end of June though, every minute of every hour of every day at HP was a herculean struggle to not quit, so I decided to tell them that I was available immediately. That was apparently the news they were waiting to hear, because they brought me in for a final interview with the CEO, after which they offered me a position. I gave a two weeks notice to HP, making Friday the 11th of July my last day, and arranged with iContact to show up for my first day on Monday the 14th of July.

I could say quite a bit more about the many problems with my time at Opsware/HP, but the fact of the matter is, it's over. I've learned quite a bit about myself and start-up company evolution though, I can say that for sure. Although I'm really enjoying working for iContact, to be completely honest, I think I'm finally just about fully recovered from burnout. I know it has affected my productivity this past year, but I told them going in that I was pretty burnt out, and they still hired me. We'll have to see how well I can pick up the pace and get back into high gear.

I also should say that my home/social life has been really low key during this past year and a half too. Other than a trip to the Hiddenite Gem Mines in western North Carolina and a trip to Central New York to pick up the last of our belongings in storage there, 2007 was rather uneventful. In 2008 we managed a trip to North Carolina's Outer Banks and spent Christmas in Puerto Rico. This year, we spent Memorial Day weekend in Washington D.C. visiting my brother, and a week this summer near Chicago to visit my sister-in-law and her family.

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