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[A word of caution! This is a long post. I posted it on the day I quite my job to remember why! It is a story full of heartfelt moments. Do me a favor and stop reading if you hate long blog posts!]
And now, the tale of three interviews that led me to quit my job ...
Until September 30th, 2016 I spent all of my professional life in the corporate world. To be a bit more exact, I lived and breathed corporate life for 13 years; net of the 2 years of my MBA program when I counted every minute until I went back to my corporate life. For the majority of those years, I was a member of an employee segment that I'd like to call "Brilliant Miserable". This particular segment of the employee population, as their name suggests, are extremely talented. That sharp, fast-growing analyst who everybody wants to have on their team. That mid-level manager that 1 out of 2 strategic meetings happening in the company, either she is in the meeting, or is the one who built the deck for it. These creatures are naturally talented, readily assume leadership, work long hours, and most of the time are the ones who get things done no matter what! They are of course brilliant, but they also have a dark side. They are miserable in their corporate lives. They listen to Steve Job's famous graduation speech three times a week. They wake up every morning knowing if that day was their last day on earth, they would not have done what they were about to do. Login to their outlook, and get cracking at solving the corporate problems they have become numb to and build the deck, do the analysis, and go to the meetings they do not care for. And yet still, they show up brilliantly and perform magnificently. Year after year, they get just enough recognition, just enough promotion, and just enough retention packages that they still stay with their brilliant miserable lives of corporate. For the past 13 years, I was a miserable yet brilliant corporate soul! Why miserable, is a story for another post. The cause varies by the context but the root cause is always the same. The brilliant miserable employees want to be just brilliant and not miserable.
Like all my comrades, my brilliance didn't stop at my work. I did an outstanding job at staying current with the job market. Built a network of well-connected people across two countries (or three), stayed connected with my school's alumni network, maintained a masterpiece of a resume, supported other people's careers (karma), went to conferences, presented as a speaker, connected people for their own good, checked my worth in the job market frequently (a.k.a interviewing for the right opportunities when they presented themselves), and never stopped believing that any minute now the white-knight of a company will emerge at the horizon of the next interview and finally I could retire the "miserable" portion of my self-proclaimed title, and just "keep" the brilliant part. Albeit, the knight never arrived. In search of that ultimate company, while keeping my job, I interviewed with many companies, of which three made a long-lasting impression on me, and ultimately forced me to let go of the fairy tale of finding the company where brilliant people can just go to work and not be miserable. I quite my job and started on my own.
The three interviews that made me do the deed and quit, were particularly heartbreaking, nail-biting, and inspiring. Each one nudged me a bit more toward quitting my job. Each one thought me one core principal about happiness in corporate life and maybe even in life.
Amazon - Story of Amazon is the heartbreaking part. It taught me not everything in life can be achieved through hard-work and passion.
You can write a case study for MBA students about how to get your dream job based on my Amazon interview story. That's how perfect it was, except that I did not get the job (Anti-climax soundtrack). For those who know me, they know how I feel about Amazon. It is a company I adore and admire. From its CEO (helloooo Jeff Bezos!) to its Prime customer experience, everything about Amazon makes me smile. At the time of the interview, I had no other desire in my life rather than working for Amazon. I was in corporate-love! The interview had started more than a year before there was even a job posting. I reached out to the head of a division of Amazon where I had a good level of experience in the field. This division was in a field where you wouldn't normally find many people with industry expertise and as such, I was particularly sure that my experience would give me a head-start. We exchanged emails on Linkedin, and I stayed in touch. Sent frequent but not too frequent email check-ins with interesting articles and reports. One year passed and my phone finally rang. It was him with a job posting. To say I was happy does not do justice to how I felt. I was like an athlete who practiced for the Olympics for four years, and now was standing at the entrance to the Olympic opening ceremony. I was happy, nervous, joyful, and anxious at the same time. We spoke on the phone, I also talked to another team member. The recruiter called and told me they were flying me to Seattle. The Olympic ceremony night went well, the matches were about to start! Days before the interview I read everything there was to read about Amazon's notorious interview days. I answered any and every question there was on Glassdoor. I spoke with two people I knew working at Amazon about their interview experiences. I made note cards, practiced my pitch, looked-up the interviewers background, imagined working at Amazon, tried out several outfits and chose the one that made me look powerful and confident, Packed my bags and flew to Seattle. More interview question practice during the flight. Landed and walked around Amazon campus, fantasized about living in Seattle. The day of the interview got my hair done professionally (not too fancy, just brushing, didn't want to scare them off as the girl who looked like a bride at the interview). Walked in with confidence, smiled, spoke friendly, drew charts on the board, showed off my knowledge, asked questions, socialized and not just interviewed, ate launch, and left exhausted but feeling accomplished. What was left was the judges score on my gold-worthy performance. I returned back home with a promise for a 3-day turnaround time by the nice recruiter. And the heart-breaking wait started! Three days turned to seven before I lost my patience and reached out to the recruiter. All days at work, I read more about Seattle and Amazon. I prepared my plan of action for the first 30 days working at Amazon while checking my email every 5 minutes for another seven days. On the seventh day the recruited finally got back to me saying that the interviewers haven't had a chance to meet and discuss my interview yet. I was so confused! How could the best company on earth fail on the promise of 3-day turnaround time! But I stayed hopeful. Seven days became 2 weeks and a weekend phone call with the recruiter brought me the doom! The team loved me but felt I was not data-driven enough. Although when asked about KPIs, I had the answers, but I did not start my sentences with data. My first reaction was "do not cry! you will live!". My second thought was how could I be not data-driven. I have a sign on my desk given to me by my current manager reading "I dig data". I measure everything in my life, from calories I eat, to minutes I sleep, to dollars I spend. The heart was broken, not only my professional heart but also I was hurt at a perosnal level. Looking back at that experience, I learned that hard-work and passion is not enough to achieve what you desire.
Okta - Story of Okta is the nail-biting part. It taught me that I might never find a perfect company. It may not be in my cards!
Awe, Okta! The unicorn of security industry. The beautiful offices in the SoMa. The hip CEO who does Crossfit. The rapid growth beyond control, the long hours, the need for mission-focused team, the sense of community, the passion for success, the desire to go place. The one step left to an IPO... I wanted it and I wanted it all. Okta was my Silicon Valley corporate-crush. Yet again, my brilliance came into effect. I knew what they needed, and I was qualified to help them out. Over the course of 3-4 weeks, I met with them 12 times. From an analyst to the SVP of Sales I had a chat with them all. I say chat, because by the time I was interviewing with Okta, I didn't believe in interviewing anymore. Interview is one sided, questions flowing from the recruiter toward the candidate. The balance of power does not exist and that is usually a bad sign. A chat on the other hand, is a two-sided flow of information. Confident and knowledgeable about what they needed, I made an excellent impression. You know when the interviewer starts selling the company to you at the end of the interview, that's what you want. That's how you want to close any interview and that only comes from a two-way chat. Ten out of twelve chats with the Okta team ended where I wanted. One interviewer asked me at the end of the meeting when are you starting! With that, I was pretty much sure I nailed it. This white-knight of a company will be mine! And so the nail-biting started. Unlike what you would expect they didn't go dark. They kept sending emails and notes saying how they are interested and still working on getting me in for more interviews. Three weeks past, and there was no 13th to the interviews. The nice recruiter delivered the message. They never told me what went wrong, however I have an educated speculation. I concluded that everything in life is a sales campaign. You won't close a deal until all decision makers sign off. And in the case of Okta, someone from the ring of power didn't sign me off. The lesson was, there is a possibility that I might never close the deal with a company where I could just be brilliant and retire the miserable portion of my title.
ThoughtSpot - Story of ThoughtSpot is the inspiring one. It taught me being miserable is not a function of working for a company, it is the result of not believing in what you do.
ThoughtSpot came to me at the time I was living at the center of camp miserable brilliants. I was getting ready to start my own company. I believed it was the time for me to leave the corporate life, take my brilliance with me and leave the miserable part to the corporate life. I was 100% convinced no company will ever excite me and I was only a fool to hang around for as much as I did. And then there it was, another company, with a product that will revolutionize its industry. Just like that, the hope to build something amazing washed away all sadness. I was willing to give up my dream of starting something great on my own, to join a team and an idea that was brilliant. Why I didn't join ThoughtSpot is not as much important as what I learned. In search of happiness, I waited for a perfect company to arrive for a long time, and when it didn't, I gave up hope to find one. I concluded that I could never be just brilliant while I am working for someone else and I was ready to go on with my life and start on my own in order to drop the miserable part of of my self proclaimed title. But then a chance to join ThoughtSpot proved it all wrong. Being miserable is not a function of working for a not-so-perfect company, it is the state of mind that you fall into when what you do itself does not justify staying. Sure people at ThoughtSpot or companies like that, have miserable moments but I think what they do justifies staying.
At the end, I decided to quit and start Invest Groove, but for the right reason. For many years I wanted to quit because I was a miserable brilliant in search of a perfect company and a perfect team. The interviews at Amazon, Okta, and ThoughtSpot proved that belief wrong. Starting a company or working for one doesn't matter as long as you believe and are excited about what you do. Only start a company if you have something you believe in, otherwise no matter where you are and how brilliant you are, you will still feel miserable.
May all miserable brilliants become just brilliant. Here I come Invest Groove, with you I will be just brilliant!