tl;dr A short amount of time spent at an extraordinary company changed my life forever
Change of Scenery
In the winter of 2015, I was ready for a break. I had worked for the family company since graduating in 2010, but working with family on a day-to-day basis was starting to affect our relationships outside of work. Deciding to leave was easy; actually leaving was very difficult. There were lots of heated conversations and tears, but it was the right thing to do at the time.
And it all started with a football game…
Green Bay 38 - Chiefs 28
I was on Twitter and just happened to see someone bashing the Chiefs because they were getting blown out by the Packers. Being a life-long Chiefs fan, I was deeply offended by this and had to find out who this person was.
Come to find out that she was a recruiter for a local dev shop in the heart of Omaha called Agape Red. I took a look at the company’s site and lo and behold, they were hiring. A lot of what they talked about stood out to me; love of code, having a passion for learning, tight knit group, etc. I decided to shoot them a message and see if they’d like to chat.
They took a chance on me. A big one. I screwed up my interview super hard, because I had never done a technical interview before. I guess they saw potential in me, or were desperate. Either way, they gave me a job.
“Maybe I can get my old job back…”
The first three days at Agape were a nightmare. I was throw into the deep end and had to learn how to swim. I was no where near ready for the technical side of the job. I had never heard of some of the frameworks, design patterns, or tools used that I had to use. The team, even though they were super nice, were quite intimidating. They had all spent a lot of time together and it was clear they were close. I remember texting my wife sometime during the first day and asking if it was possible to get my old job back. I thought about giving up a lot those first few days.
My manager, Zach, was amazing. Agape did one-on-ones religiously. They scheduled it on the calendar, half hour every week, and stuck to it. Defended them, even. Taking walks with Zach to the Scooter’s down the road was a great experience. I learned a ton from him; about technology, the inner-workings of the company, life. I felt like I truly mattered in that time, which, as a fledging code n00b in over his head, was absolutely needed for my survival.
I remember one day, a few weeks in, I was at a desk just working (read: struggling) with things and the founder, Dave, walked over, knelt by my desk and asked “How are you doing?”. He told me I was doing great and to keep it up. For the founder of the company to give me a pep talk, no matter how small, was huge for my self-esteem. It only took him a couple of seconds, but it meant the world to me.
The loss of a friend
Because Agape was located in the Old Market, I took advantage of their remote work policy. I had “worked from home” on occasion before, but always as the exception and never the rule. In hindsight, I don’t think I was ready for it.
It was a 53 minute drive from my doorstep to the Agape Red office door. I had a small two year old at home, and I hated every minute of that drive. Working from home was awesome, but provided its own challenges. I didn’t have a dedicated office set up, so I had to find alternative work spaces. I bummed a desk from a friend who sold insurance. I worked from Scooter’s Coffeehouse. Tried suffer through the public library’s wifi. Even worked at my parents house a few times (that made for a some awkward interactions).
The co-worker that I was paired up with, Noah, was based in Canada so he didn’t give a hoot where I worked. He was, up until my hiring, (I believe) the only PHP developer in the company. He was a quirky dude, but nice as could be. Always willing to lend a hand. He definitely gave me the right amount of challenge, too. Always putting me just outside my comfort zone and challenging my BS answers to questions. He was a real safety net those first few weeks.
Sadly, he left just 3 months into my time at Agape. I inherited most of his projects, which was an amazing experience but it also meant that I lost my most steady fix of human interaction.
“The slow slide into insanity”
Working remote was tough. As soon as Noah left, I didn’t interact much with folks at work. Being the sole dev on a handful of projects meant that most of my time was slogging through the backlog highlighted by a few client meetings throughout the week. I would make the trek into Omaha on Fridays (Agape put a large emphasis on Friday’s being team day; catered lunch, group updates, investment time to learn new things, etc). Other than Fridays, I felt like I didn’t have any meaningful interactions with my co-workers.
I also started to miss working on a product. My time was split up between 4 or 5 different jobs and each task had to get discussed, estimated, and approved by the client first. Context switching felt frequent. I never got to really know a codebase and take ownership of it. I slowly found out that I am a product guy. I enjoy diving deep on a codebase and learning the ins and outs. Just didn’t realize that back then.
Another thing that bugged me (but really shouldn’t have) was tracking my hours. Because all of my work was client based, they billed the client for the hours I worked. I started a timer for every project and made sure to log all work, research, or meetings that had to do with a task. Makes total sense. I was told early on that 36 billable hours a week was the target. In my entire time there, I think the closet I came to that was 32. Even a super productive day, with minimal distractions, where I was hitting on all cyclindars and cranking out user stories left/right/center, I could only log 5 billable hours. It just seemed no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t fit those hours into 9-5. I was never reprimanded or even talked to about the hours I put in. This was most likely a personal issue. However, it was always in the back of my head and made me feel like I was a failure. That imposter syndrome never gives up and will eat you alive.
Short but impactful
My time at Agape Red was short lived. I was there from November ‘15 to June of ‘16. But in that time, I learned so much about technology, leadership, planning, client interaction, documentation, and business. I still hold that company in the highest regards and tell everyone of my positive experiences there. I was just a blip on their radar- a small town kid they took a chance on who left rather uneventfully, but they had a huge part in making me who am I today. Thanks, Agape Red. <3