When I was leaving Microsoft, on my last day, I got a lot of questions around why I was leaving. I was a lynch pin of sorts in the team. I was positioned very well to get impactful work. Highly networked. Very happy with my day to day. Reporting to one of the best managers/mentors on the planet.
I was on a career trajectory for Microsoft that was almost unreal. Averaging better than a promotion every 2 years with no slow down just because I was cross bands eventually ending up at the top of the Principal ladder. Compensation was great when compared relatively across other MS employees (will not be discussing this further). Everything seemed to be going amazingly well.
What did I say to everyone? Well, I said there are three areas (these are not my own, but taken from a book on career advice that I found exceptionally relevant) on which you should judge your current career. You should start by looking at your Job. Do you love it? Are you able to make an impact? Are you passionate about what you are doing? All off my answers here would be positive. The first part of my TriForce is complete
Next you look at your Manager. This is the singular individual who has the most control over your happiness and your career path in most companies. Ask yourself questions like, are you aligned with your boss? Does your support you when you are about to fail? Does your boss accentuate your good qualities and help you improve on your bad qualities? Can your boss act as your manager, your friend, a leader and a mentor? Well, #FML, it turns out I just found the second part of my TriForce.
Lastly I said you look at your Team. For me, at my level this meant looking at my immediate team, the entire Edge WPT team and then finally up to the Windows organization as a whole. Those are the scales at which I had impact at Microsoft. When looking at all levels of the team you ask questions like, do I like working with these people? Are the politics manageable or are they over the top? Does the team exercise trust? Does the team exercise transparency? As I worked from my local team up to Windows the third component in my TriForce starts to crack a little bit, maybe it has a little bit less luster.
However, when I consider the most stress I faced while making my decision to change jobs, it came down to the people. I loved the people and I felt like we created an almost extended family like support system for one another. I wasn't concerned about my projects that wouldn't get done if I left. Instead I was worried about the people that I worked with on a daily basis that I could see growing and becoming amazing engineers in their own rights. I was worried there wouldn't be enough people left infusing positive energy into the team on a daily basis to keep the morale up. I was worried that I was failing my team by leaving. That's when you realize, yeah, you have a great team. There may be some scuffs on that TriForce shard, but its still shining just as brightly as the other 2. My TriForce was complete.
Okay, so if I already had the TriForce what kind of answer could I give everyone then? Why was I leaving? This is when I learned something that I had learned earlier in my career, but it took another 11 and a half years to discover it again. Once you've built a TriForce there isn't as much exponential growth in your future and mostly you just end up making incremental improvements. You spend more time doing the things you know, rather than learning new things. Your awesomeness starts to atrophy. You rarely feel the stress of a complicated and new situation. You rarely push your boundaries.
That isn't to say there aren't still moments like that. There certainly are. They just aren't as often and so growth tends to become linear and plateau increasingly frequently.
You also don't know if you have the skills to build another TriForce. I spend a lot of time mentoring and I often reach out for new mentees. My dream is that they too can achieve their TriForce and that I'm an enabler for that. I provide experience and strategies for working with difficult situations and to figure out why some aspect of their career is not shining or working well with the rest. Are my recommendations good? Do I have enough experience to offer the types of career advice that they need? If I put myself in their shoes, with their knowledge, and took on their risk would I be able to replicate my experience?
That is an important question for me. Doing something once can be dumb luck. It doesn't mean you can make it happen. It means it happened and perhaps it has something to do with you. But perhaps you are unaware of the actual forces of nature that brought it into being and it turns out it had nothing to do with you. That is a scary thought. Am I successful because of me? Or am I successful because of a random set of circumstances that I only manipulated superficially.
This led me to my answer to the team, paraphrasing a bit I finally said, "When you make a career change you should look at your job, boss and team. If they are all great then you are probably on the right track. When I look at myself, I have a TriForce in these three areas. Everything is amazing. So I had to use other measures to figure out my future. Specifically to follow my passions in VR and to see if I can build my second TriForce."
Maybe everyone thinks that is bullshit and will point to other factors in my decision making. I had a lot. Compensation, family, location and friends were all additional complications. However, I can say after tons of cross comparison Excel tables, almost everything zero'ed out between Oculus and Microsoft. I was only left with a very real and pressing question, one that Brendan Iribe asked me during my process. Do you want to think about VR all day, every day? That was his pitch to me. An offer to work on a technology that would change the future with all of my insight and passion. And when my answer to that simpler question is, "Fuck Yeah!" you can see how my explanation to my former team was given in honesty.
Passion isn't on the TriForce, but it is part of how you feel about your Job, how you are supported by your Boss (does he let you run with your wacky ideas?) and how your Team adapts to a changing society and marketplace. That makes it is an integral component in all of them. When you are passionate you'll find that you can't sleep because you are still solving problems. You spring out of bed every morning to rush to work. You let everyone know what you are working on and why they should care. You see clearly how what you are doing is going to change the future, improve lives, connect you more closely to your friends/family and make the world a better place for everyone to live.
When I saw the opportunity to lend my passion and devote all of my ability to launching the VR revolution I couldn't pass it up. VR has to potential to change the way that we think about education, jobs and entertainment. It literally allows us to redefine space itself and transform a living room into an anything room. I didn't jump ship to VR in the beginning because my expertise wasn't needed yet. But now is the time to scale and build platforms for VR that extend to millions. This is where I thrive as a developer. This is where the web thrives as a platform for scale and accessibility. This is the time to deeply investment my time and effort and build my second career TriForce. With news like the HTC VR alliance offering 10 billion in VC capital to development of VR content and experiences, I think I'm in good company thinking this way.
My Final Advice
Most people in their careers I find are working on some aspect of building their TriForce, probably for the first time. I know because I mentor some amazing developers and almost always they have some sort of hang-up in one of these areas and they haven't yet figured out how to completely self-diagnose themselves when things are going wrong.
For this reason I think evaluating your job, boss and team is a great way for you to figure out two things. For instance, do you need to improve something in your current career in order to elevate yourself to the next level. You may find that your job sucks for some reason, but it is within your control to make it not suck. You should do that. The easiest thing to change is yourself.
If you evaluate these and find that there are things outside of your control that you don't see are going to change then you can use it as a way to figure out how you are going to change your career. Not everything is within your control and often times your happiness or passion requires an environmental change. Perhaps your current job would get you there, but in a time period that is longer than you would like. I always recommended being open and honest during this period just in case you've misread your situation. If you did, then making your situation apparent to your team can sometimes result in the change that you were going to switch jobs for.
If you are sitting on your TriForce though and you are happy with all three you shouldn't close your eyes off to the opportunities that might present themselves. Maintain your marketability and interview skills. From time to time, reach out and do an interview or two and see what else is available both in terms of unique job roles, but also life changing compensation. When an opportunity comes along and you do have to make the big decision, know that it will be stressful. Then calm down, evaluate everything objectively and if it looks like another opportunity to build your next TriForce then perhaps you should go for it!