Dan was one of my favorite professors in college. I was fortunate enough to be one of his students in his last year teaching. He had been through industry and academia long enough to have seen just about everything. He didn’t have the strongest voice, but he always had a captive audience. He knew how to tell a good story, and he always had good stories to tell. I think it was intentional that Dan’s most indelible lessons were about career development, not software development.
Dan thought his most successful student was an alumni who managed to run an IT shop from the tropics. Unlike most students who evaluate jobs on on the trifecta of base pay, bonus, and equity; this student started from the larger question, “What do I want to do with my life?” He wanted to surf. Really. He decided to create a job where he could work remotely and he could be paid for his specialized knowledge rather than his time at a desk. With a razor sharp focus on his priorities and a waterproof pager, he spends most of his workday on a surfboard. His job isn’t his life, it’s just how he makes a living.
Most of us are not such extreme cases. I want to code; it’s what I love. But I want to be happy with my career. Dan’s advice was simple: there are three things that people need to sustain job satisfaction, and pay is not one of them. People derive job satisfaction from the quality of their coworkers, their work environment, and their project. Most people need to be happy with two of the three to feel fulfilled in their work.
I had only worked at Google for one year when I quit to join Parse. My friends and family thought I was crazy. Many pressed for an explanation how Google could be such a bad company. “It wasn’t,” I reply to a surprised audience, “Google just wasn’t the best fit right now.” My commute was one to two hours each way. I loved the technical challenges of my project, but there was no emotional sense of triumph. We joked in Image Search that our highest calling was to help men find better porn; I needed better. I enjoyed my coworkers, but that was only one of the three necessities for job satisfaction. I needed to find the crazies who really dedicated themselves to something that might change the world. I wanted to join them, and I wanted to spend more of my time on that passion instead of commuting to work.