The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

November 7, 2010

Caught Between a Golden Rock and a Diamond Hard Place

Filed under: Personal Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 8:56 pm

I don’t even know where to begin with this post really.  Quite frankly, I don’t even really expect anyone to read it, except perhaps my future wife many years down the road (yes, I do still sort of believe I might actually end up with one of those someday) who, while in the process of telling the grandkids various stories of the old days, needs something to explain the whole “Did you know Grandpa was out of his flippin’ mind?” bit.  To make a long story really short, I am going to be starting a new job on Monday, one that finally allows me to get away from a decade of dead-end contracting and into a position where I have room to grow, actual responsibility for non-trivial things and a lot nicer benefits than I’ve had… well, ever.  That’s the ridiculously oversimplified version of it anyway.  The long version is a whole heck of a lot more complicated than that.  Let’s just say that if there’s one thing that I have learned out of the whole ordeal that I am now finally emerging from, it’s that oftentimes the unexpected onset of good fortune (especially in large quantities) can be just as nerve-wracking as dealing with a major (but probably not life-threatening, now that I think about it a little bit more) crisis.

As you might know if you’ve been reading the Blog, roughly a month ago I was in the process of trying to find a new job after my previous contract at Teleca came to an unexpected end back around the middle of August (although unlike quite a few of the contracts I’ve been on, they had the courtesy to provide a reasonable amount of advance notice before this happened.)  Given the years I spent in contracting I’ve really got a lot more experience with job searching than I’d like to have, although that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m any good at it.  Even so, for the most part things were going well, with a number of good contacts and several interviews (plus the usual mess of half a zillion different contract agencies offering the same few Microsoft contracts and seemingly competing to see who can lowball on the pay rates the most, but that’s a rant I should probably just leave unwritten.)  In particular, one phone interview for a QA testing position in came up that really sounded like it would be a good prospect.  This was with Motricity, a mobile services company located in downtown Bellevue, which given my current residence would reduce my daily commute to a couple of blocks worth of walking.  Apparently they liked the results of the phone interview as well, as I was informed shortly afterward that they requested an in-person interview a couple of days later.  Just a couple of hours before I was set to head over for this interview, I got a call informing me that the interview was cancelled, as the position I was applying for had been lost in the shuffle of a reorganization.  This was a disappointment, as I thought it looked like it would be a really good fit for my skills and my long-term career goals.

The next week or two of job searching after this provided mostly lukewarm results, but a couple of weeks later I got a call informing me that the position at Motricity had opened back up (albeit in slightly modified form from what had been discussed originally) and that they were once again interested in bringing me in for an interview.  This time around, the interview did actually happen, and in fact seemed to go quite well.  The thing about technical interviewing (another area which, in spite of plenty of experience, I’m not so sure I’m all that good at it) is that if you’re interviewing for a contract position, you’ll usually be talking to one or two people over the course of an hour or two, maybe three people if they really want to grill the candidates.  Once you start getting into interviews for full-time positions they really start to put you through the proverbial gauntlet.  This is quite understandable;  After all, hiring someone into a full-time position is a pretty significant commitment (especially in this day and age) and you really want to be sure you’re getting the right person.  This interview loop was definitely one of these through-the-wringer ones, as I spent most of an afternoon talking to a variety of different people in various positions, going through all the usual test questions, programming questions and even a logic problem or two.  All in all I thought it went reasonably well, but once you’ve had enough experience with interviewing you’ll always think of things that could be done better, especially on the big technical questions.  Interestingly enough, I’ve noticed a phenomenon in these types of interviews.  There are some of these where you know 20 minutes into the thing that you’ve completely and totally bombed the whole thing, and others that you feel like you’ve completely nailed it.  While it’s usually pretty obvious what the results of the former end up being most of the time, I find that it’s the ones I’ve “nailed” (in my own mind, at least) almost never produce the desired results.  Almost counterintuitively, I’ve found the most results in my interviews have come from the ones that seemed to go reasonably well, but with room for improvement.  I could probably find some job-hunting guru out there who could either explain the whole thing and/or provide fifteen different pieces of evidence refuting this theory, but it almost seems as if there’s some sort of “sweet spot” somewhere in the middle (well OK, maybe a bit to the higher end)  that seems to produce the best results.  But I digress…

Anyway, the interview came to a conclusion, and although I thought it went well, I was informed that it would probably be at least a week before I heard an answer back, as there were other candidates being interviewed for the position as well.  It was around this point that things started to get interesting.  Later that day, I received a phone call from an old friend of mine who just happened to be the test manager for the mobile team at Amazon, and he happened to have need of a tester.  Like, right away.  The next day I went in for a relatively brief interview that ultimately ended up being mostly a formality, and was asked if I could start out on a contract basis on Monday.  It did take a few extra days to sort things out, so I wasn’t able to start until that Thursday, but I hadn’t received any feedback on the other position up to that point, so I joined the team at Amazon and got right to work on one of the several projects they have going on there (most of which are subject to NDAs at this time, but the recently released Amazon Windowshop app for iPad is one of the major projects currently being worked on by this team.)  I got off to a not-so-great start by misreading the address when looking for the place I was supposed to report to for my badge and ending up 1.6 miles of walking away from my intended destination, but I barely managed to get settled in at my new desk before getting a call from the recruiter from the Motricity position informing me that I remained one of the front-runners for the position I had interviewed for the previous week, and that an answer should be coming shortly. 

It was on the following Monday that I got the call informing me that I was, in fact, going to be offered the Motricity position, although the terms of the offer were still being sorted out.  Yes, finally after over ten years of jumping around from contract to contract with little besides a plain old paycheck to show for it, I have now made it into a full-time position, albeit in a completely different manner than I had been planning on for so many years (but that’s a topic for another post that I’ll probably never bother writing.)  And the terms of the offer, which I was presented with later in the day, turned out to be even better than I had been expecting them to be.  As I set about the process of accepting the offer and getting the last few bits and pieces in order (complicated by difficulties in contacting several of my intended references) there was the little matter of getting out of the Amazon contract I had just started.  I gave a start date of three weeks from that day to Motricity, and started working on arrangements to attempt to make at least a somewhat graceful exit, which, even though the Amazon job was one of the long line of contracts I’ve been on, is a very difficult thing to do without looking like a total flake, especially only a week into the job.  I figured that there were a couple of responses I could have expected based on my previous contract experiences:  I could have either been  A) thanked for my services and escorted out the door that very moment, or B) congratulated on finding a full-time position and be allowed to complete the remaining two weeks I had before I made my exit.

What I hadn’t figured on was that there might have been an option C: that they’d actually make an effort to keep me there.  I was asked about some of the basics of the offer I had received and if I’d be interested in considering a full-time offer on this position, but I thought nothing more of it until I unexpectedly found myself being scheduled for interviews with several of my co-workers a couple of days later.  I guess this wasnt too much of a surprise following the previous conversation, but it did certainly complicate things a bit.  Nonetheless, I went along with the process since I was, to borrow a gambling term, playing with house money at that point.  There could be no harm in at least taking a look, right?  So I went through the interview loop over the course of a couple of days (with the weekend in between) and it seemed to go quite well. 

Sure enough, the next day after the interviews were completed, my manager informed me that an offer was going to be on the way soon, meaning that after years of dead-end contracts and pretty much taking whatever was offered, I was now going to find myself in the unfamiliar position of having two competing offers on the table.  I knew at this point that it was likely that Amazon was going to beat the other offer (at least in terms of money) but there were a few disadvantages on their side, mostly in terms of having to commute daily to Seattle.  Eventually this team would be moving to the new Amazon South Lake Union complex which is currently under construction, which would probably make the commute even more difficult.  Oh, and around the time that happens they’re also going to start tolling on the 520 bridge in order to pay for a replacement for the current aging bridge.  Nonetheless, I was assured that the offer I received would be sufficient to make up for any transportation issues.  And they weren’t kidding about that either.

When I got the phone call outlining the details of the offer, I had to have them repeat it, because I wasn’t sure I heard it right.  It turned out that their offer was significantly higher than the other one.  And not by a few thousand either.  Apparently the solution to the transportation issues involved going out and buying a new car, because between the extra base salary and the signing bonus (a term I’d only ever heard applied to professional athletes’ contracts before this) I was being offered, I could probably have paid cash for one.  And yet, in spite of the huge (relatively speaking) offer, I just felt that I couldn’t quite bring myself to accept it.  To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know exactly why this was the case though.  After all, I suspect that given those same two offers, nine out of ten people would take the bigger one without giving it a second thought.  I could have easily turned the money into a good down payment on a condo, or even a house.  And to complicate matters even further, my manager over at Amazon is an old friend of mine, who made significant efforts to sell me on staying with this team.  As I said at the beginning of this post, it’s amazing just how much dealing with a large amount of sudden good fortune can feel just like dealing with a large crisis, and this was definitely one of those times.  And on top of all that, I had less than 24 hours to make a decision between the two offers, as it would have been necessary to back out of the Motricity position that I was scheduled to start four days later if I had accepted the Amazon position.  After a significant amount of analysis, study and prayer, I was still having a great deal of difficulty making this decision.  And yet, I somehow felt that the first position offered would be a better fit for me and much closer to the answer to the obligatory “Where do you want to be in five years?” question that comes up in practically every interview.  Ultimately, the question ended up boiling down to two things:

  • How much is an extra hour a day (that isn’t being spent sitting on a bus) worth?
  • Could I really pass up all that extra money? 

I think the first question is, quite frankly, best left to a ravening horde of philosophers, but in the end, I decided that the answer was that I could, in fact, pass up the money, and my final decision was made to decline the Amazon offer and stick with Motricity.  I’m pretty sure my parents think I’m crazy, my sister thinks I’m crazy, several of my colleagues think I’m crazy, and I suspect that even Imola and Minardi think I’m crazy for passing up that much money.  I’m sure I’m going to end up spending far more time than I’d like to analyzing and wondering about this particular what-if scenario for the rest of my life, but this just feels like the right decision at this time.  As such, I will be starting my new job with Motricity tomorrow, and look forward to the new opportunities and challenges which await there.  This isn’t to say that I couldn’t have chosen the Amazon position though.  Under different circumstances I’m sure I could have been happy remaining there too, but almost counterintuitively I think the extremely large counteroffer may have almost worked against them in a way.  Had the offer I received been closer to what I was expecting to be offered (possibly a few thousand more than the Motricity offer, I probably would have been far more objective in evaluating the two positions next to each other, and it’s entirely possible that I could have come to the opposite decision.  But when the offer turned out to be far more money than I was expecting, it changed the subject almost entirely into a simple question of money.  Yes, money is nice to have, but there are a lot more important things in life than money, and I’m still trying to find some of those things.

We all come into our mortal existences knowing that along the way there will be joys and there will be sorrows, and there will quite often be difficult choices to make.  This was one of those choices, and I’m pretty sure that I’ve never expected to have a decision like this to make.  And believe me, the fact that I found myself forced to make a choice between two good things certainly didn’t make the decision any easier.  But nonetheless, a decision had to be made and the consequences of this decision are going to be following me for quite a while.

I sure hope I got it right.


  1. Not that I know much, but I think the “where do you want to be in 5 years?” is everything! Money comes and goes, and it doesn’t buy happiness! If you are making a ton of money at a job you aren’t loving, whats the point? I don’t think you are crazy. I think you are smart for going with what felt right rather than a money. I am excited to see what the future has in store for you! Good luck at your new job today!

    Comment by Heather Lively — November 8, 2010 @ 7:46 am

  2. I think you made the right decision Brian. You followed your promptings and when you do that you can never go wrong. I think it is so exciting that after all these years 2 companys at the same time really wanted you. It’s nice to be so wanted! Revel in that a bit!

    Comment by Emily Lutz — November 8, 2010 @ 8:24 am

  3. You said it in your blog so I don’t feel bad about saying it here. I think you made the wrong decision. I think Amazon would have been a better job for you long term. Either way whats done is done. Hopefully you will prove me wrong. Love you!!!

    Comment by jacki — November 8, 2010 @ 9:51 am

  4. Wow. Just Wow.

    I admire you for following your path. I don’t know if I could pass up on Amazon’s offer.

    But kudos to you!

    Comment by Eddie — November 8, 2010 @ 1:42 pm

  5. Interesting story. I’m a little familiar with both companies, and I’d think that Amazon is the better long term situation, but what is long term in tech anyway? A couple of years? You went with your gut, and perhaps felt more comfortable meeting the expectations of the position and salary offered by Motricity. That matters. If their offer was a good offer, and Amazon’s was a higher one, you haven’t lost anything by taking a good offer. And perhaps you avoided the Amazon turnstyle, where people come and go and stories abound of dysfunction.

    At the end of the say it is nice to be able to make career decisions based on the position, and not on the salary. It may not be smart financially, but if it is good for the soul, that’s worth a little nonetheless. Good luck.

    Comment by Daniel K — November 9, 2010 @ 11:37 pm

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