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Changing Companies to Reconnect with Tech

Career Path
Changing company

8 October, 2019

Christian Jennewein, CEO at TopScore, explains how, after having mulled over several options, a company change was the best bet for him to gain back his technical confidence.

Problem

Being an engineer, both at heart and by trade, I stayed very hands-on before switching sides in 2011 from an engineer to a technical project manager. After that, I stopped coding during the day but kept a side project that was very personal to me. In 2013, I took on a position at BlaBlaCar as a manager. I remained without the opportunity to code and ended up handing over my side project later that year. This is really where the problem started. I wasn't able to feel it back then, but it is where I started to disconnect from being technical. In 2015, I started to feel like I was missing something. I loved my job as an engineering manager, and still do, but I truly missed the fact that I am most myself when building or taking part in something. A year later, this feeling became even more prominent and was no longer just impacting me, but my day to day job as well. I began to feel less interested and less legitimate in regards to my team. I do not think it was a problem for the team and it didn't directly impact my work, but rather my mental state and confidence. I felt increasingly less at the right place to make calls that I was comfortably making before. Overall, these things had started to noticeably degrade the confidence I had in my daily position.

Actions taken

I thought a lot about how I could get myself out of this dilemma. Initially, I thought a new side project would alleviate these feelings. I had made small attempts at that, but it didn't end up working out time-wise. Starting to code again after so many years in the company wasn't a viable option either. The last available option I saw was to change companies in order to start a new endeavor and reconnect with the need I had to take part in building something new while gaining confidence again. That is what I did. I became CEO of Topscore, the company with whom I had previously merged my side project. Even though CEO sounds like a big deal, it was still a small enough company where I would spend most of my time coding and being an engineer. I chose to join this team and take on this role because I knew I could contribute a lot and really become a developer. I knew it was going to be a big challenge, but I was never really afraid of this because I was pretty close to the product already due to the merger of my side project.

Lessons learned

  • The pressure I began to feel like the technical side of my work decreased were the extra hours of the day I had where I tried rushing to get things done. This is not how engineering works. It works by spending a lot of time on a problem to eventually come up with a solution. That pressure didn't help me reconnect to being technical. At Topscore however, I was afforded that time to really become a developer and I enjoyed learning all the new tools. I spent a lot of time coding during my two and a half years there and a good 50-60% of my time as an engineer on the team that I ran as the CEO. Having that responsibility for running the team, and at the same time, being a contributor to the team was very interesting and nurturing. Having been inserted back into this loop again was a big change for me. In those two and a half years I became more confident in all the technical skills, not that I had lost them, but because I had the opportunity to put them to use again.
  • I think I am better at leading product engineer teams rather than being an individual contributor because I am a better manager than a developer. Building my own things again while leading the company was very insightful. I pursued the opportunity knowing it wasn't something I was going to spend my life on, but as a means to reconnect to technology and embody the life of a developer for the sake of my confidence.
  • For two months now, I have been back in a director of engineering role, basically doing the same thing I was doing at BlaBlaCar, but bringing all of my confidence that I had lost over the years.
  • This is probably a hard thing for people to replicate because it includes making a huge career move. I do not think I would do the same thing again, knowing now that it's just a matter of remaining confident in yourself. My hopes are to be able to feed off of this confidence boost for at least four years. I am not sure what will happen in the next five to ten years, but if anything were to occur, it would probably run my own company and partake in more of the technical side. I know that I can easily do it with confidence now.
  • Your battle with confidence is only in your mind. If you were a good engineer before, chances are you will always remain one. You may lose some habits along the way, but I like to compare it to cycling. Once you manage to not fall over, you can quit riding a bike for 10 years and pick up the skill again within minutes. Going back to engineering might be rough for the first couple of weeks, but it's not a skill that you lose.

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