Looking Back, Around, & Forward

I’ve recently said farewell to O’Reilly Media. I don’t think I can sum up how I’m feeling, but my goodbye email to the company, repurposed below, comes close.

Here’s the TL;DR version

Almost 8 years after I bagan this ride, I’m moving on from O’Reilly Media. My last day will be this Friday. I sincerely wish you all the best, and I’m grateful for all the professional & personal growth. You can reach me at [ my email address ]. I think extraordinary people work here. Please act like it. (This means you!)

Want another ~1,100 words of my history & future?

in 2004, I set sights on the West Coast, the smartest thing I ever did after spending the first 24 years of my like in New York. I didn’t have many requirements.

  1. Work in Media.
  2. Work on The Web.
  3. Work with teams that inspire me.
  4. Deliver content & services that I’d want to use myself.
  5. Serve a broad audience.

That’s it, my options were open. I wasn’t all that picky on specific location; I scanned up & down California for professional opportunities where I saw a strong fit, where I believed I’d thrive. Serendipitously, I found an exciting opportunity with the publisher I had counted on to get my job done (as a Web Developer in the Digital Television/Convergent Media space). Even better, this special company was 10mins down the road from my older brother, a Sebastopol resident with whom I had accrued many years many of catching up to do. He and his (my) family were how I’d transition through the culture shock of moving from Manhattan to this strange town that I love and own in today. It was my brother’s birthday when I had my in-person interviews.

That day (5/7/04), Dale happened to be visiting reception when I arrived. He greeted me by name(!) without blinking. (It didn’t matter to me if he had learned my name 60secs prior, I already had a good feeling about this place.) Terrie Schweitzer and her boss, Nancy Abila, interviewed me thoroughly. They told me what the job was, what the job wasn’t, and (in response to my questions of career trajectory), that one typically forges on their own path. After the professional/technical interview came a social one. I was taken to lunch by a group that included Nancy, Terrie, Greg Dickerson, Tony Stubblebine, and other people I still admire today.

That good feeling I had was soon confirmed. I bought my first car (I was 24) to drive to across the country to Sebastopol, where I’d embark upon a journey with the publisher of my most trusted technical information. I had a bit of a bias towards O’Reilly before I came to work here. Looking back, I had become accustomed to distrusting other publishers simply because there weren’t O’Reilly. A bit overconfident in my abilities and underestimating a business in sleepy Sebastopol, I remember thinking that I’d “run circles about these people.” Dead wrong. It wasn’t long before I’d be doing some of the hardest work of my short career.

I started as a Web Producer in a (you’ll never guess) centralized Online Group, primarily in support of the O’Reilly Network, a division with amazing web content and (evidently) an unsustainable revenue model. I was too green to notice this issue at the time. It was my job to produce (and inevitably absorb) web content that I was truly interested in. Some of it even made me better at my job. How cool was that?

Incrementally I became more of an allocated resource to the Conferences Division, lead by someone whose leadership I’d grow a lot under, Gina Blaber. I worked with a cross-functional team of hard-working professionals, and we did a lot, fairly autonomously. The exact numbers depend on how one counts, but I’ve contributed to over 80 conferences for over 20 segments of the O’Reilly audience. Willing to take chances, we tried some events that didn’t succeed (e.g. we almost did a Conferences on Energy Innovation), and others that produced over $3M in revenue and thousands of in-person (10’s of thousands of virtual) satisfied attendees. O’Reilly went from producing 4 in-person events/year in 2004 to 15 events in 2008. Our online presence got more beautiful and usable too over time, largely thanks to people like George Humphreys and Matthew Woordruff. The Conferences team grew but at a slower rate, which forced us to streamline efforts. I found myself in a management role. Frankly, I knew little about management, but Gina’s inclusive style was one with which I’d thrive. Plus, starting off with a single direct report, the talented & dependable Craig Palmer, helped ease me into it.

The business needs of the Conferences team were outgrowing the constraints and growth cycles of CS. After evaluating a suite of other options, an colleague from the OPG days, Edd Dumbill, coincidentally surfaced to reveal what he had been working on in stealth mode. It was Expectnation, an Event Management System that served the needs of conference attendees and all the various roles within conference-organizing teams. An unprecedented offering, it may have easily been the most sophisticated Ruby on Rails application out there. It was a dream for me. I had the honor of working with Edd on this platform, continuously improving it based on O’Reilly’s business needs. I began to appreciate what Software Product Management was about, and I loved it. Today EN is an O’Reilly SSO client, and I’m very proud to have played a role in the integration that will help O’Reilly’s business intelligence, ability to cross-market, and the user experience. Eventually Edd moved on to launch Strata and lead OSCON among other things. Before doing so, he helped us find one of our best hires to date, Marcel Cary, someone from whom I’ve learned tremendously.

You still there? Oh, good!

I share all these details to underscore how ever-changing of an environment this company is. I’ve concluded that I’m ready for external change, but my story is clearly one of change, opportunity, and growth from the inside. In pursuit of my next chapter, I’m doing what I’ve learned most from O’Reilly: watch the disruptors.

My next chapter takes me to Enphase Energy, an intelligently managed, mature startup that’s changing the game in Solar Power and Big Data. Its leadership includes pioneers from the Telecom Sector, and they’re growing more than organically. There’s a corporate vision to empower businesses and individuals to have a zero-carbon footprint. (I think this is the type of business Tim envisioned when he saw potential for our Energy Innovation Conference that almost happened.) They value Product Management and Media as much as I do. A bit of a professional pivot for me, it’s nether Publishing nor Events, and that’s ok (and partly why it’s so exciting!). It’s working on stuff that matters, and I’m grateful to know what that means.

Thanks, Tim. Thanks, all of you.

Given that I identify as part of our audience and I’ve made some life-long friends here (you know who you are!), I trust we’ll cross paths again.