Wednesday 10 October 2018

Suiting up

I named this blog (and my tech-focused twitter account) GeekInASuit because I had spent a good chunk of my career in the financial industry doing technical architecture, and other technical consulting, and was the person who could talk to the nerds and the suits.  I wore a suit, and so signaled in a way that finance folks would talk to me, but also had earrings, long-hair, and otherwise "signaled" that I wasn't just a suit.   It was a great ride, and it was a lovely role, being the cultural translator, often gleaning important insights that helped clarify project details that could have been miscommunicated.  I relished that part of my career.

Then I took a job at Google, and everything changed. My role was decidedly technical, but all my customers were also technical.  I lost the primary purpose of geekinasuit, and even more, Googler culture really venerates the geek, not so much the suit.  To be honest, I kind of got shamed out of the suit. Lots of social pressure was applied, as well as a nearly endless supply of t-shirts - I swear, 20% of my compensation, by weight, was t-shirt.  So I relented, and spent most of a decade wearing jeans and t-shirts, usually with nerdy slogans or fan-service.  While in one sense, it didn't matter, I had come to like dressing up a bit.  I enjoyed taking a bit of time for self-care and grooming beyond simple standard hygiene.  So I was sadder than I realized, when I finally accepted it, and stopped upgrading my wardrobe as jackets and shoes and pants succumbed to wear and tear (and got a little tight, I admit).  It was with sadness a couple of months ago that I realized that my last suit was actually no longer going to fit me. The lining was worn out, and the wedding I was preparing to fly to would require actually buying a new suit.  I had let things go that far.

That wedding coincided with my departure from Google/YouTube. I left for a variety of reasons, moral, financial, emotional - I left with some sadness and wistfulness, but also with a sense of maybe getting back to myself.  I had gone down a deep hole in Google, lost a lot of professional contacts, reduced to only Google's technology stack. I mitigated it with doing a lot of my work in open-source, but it certainly wasn't a life I had led before, connecting with colleagues at conferences, serving customers more directly, and working with the technologies most of the industry uses.  But also... I stopped appreciating having my identity swallowed by the behemoth that Google had become.  Don't get me wrong - there are lots of good people and ideas and challenges at Google. I did work there that I'm very proud of (the Dagger and Truth frameworks, for example) but it also took me over, in many ways.  So I left, to join Square, and help in their mission of economic empowerment (by helping them scale up their development).

And I suited up.  I decided to restore at least that, even if just as a symbol to myself, to be better, to push myself, to care for myself, as superficial as clothing and appearance are.  So far, I've been suited-up 95% of the days I've been in the office, and it feels really good.  It's a state-change in my brain, segmenting a work mode from other modes, and it oddly helps me stay focused (pretty necessary in the open-office wasteland that characterizes basically every tech company for some reason).

I am, once again, a geek in a suit.  And I love it.

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