How Losing My Job Helped Me Find My Way Back
My Transition from Public Relations Manager to Software Engineer at Artsy
Staying agile and adaptable has never been more critical to surviving — and especially thriving — in the chaos that has been 2020.
I spent the last year in a career pivot: transforming from a public relations manager to an entry-level software engineer. The journey was a roller coaster of challenges, failures, fatigue, and successes. Before we had even heard the word “coronavirus” and shaking hands with strangers was a normal thing we did, I was laid off from my dream job at Artsy — my first job out of college, the place where I built my community and my career. Starting 2020 unemployed felt like a giant boulder had been tossed into the river I had been cruising down, waves splintering my neatly assembled raft into a thousand pieces. Everything was in disarray.
We all have our COVID stories, and I know I am immensely privileged to be safe and secure when so many people have lost everything. My 2020 started with flying on an empty airplane from New York City to California to say final words to my grandfather in March, to the love of my life staging an epic surprise marriage proposal in May, to spontaneously moving across the country in August, to accepting my first full-time job as a software engineer at Artsy in November. The same Artsy where I started my career five years ago.
How did we get here?
On the Brink
As so many have experienced this year, getting laid off is deeply challenging. We tie so much of our identities in our work. When my job was suddenly gone one day, it felt like a part of me was taken along with it.
After a few months of feeling lost, I ultimately realized that, in reality, it was time.
It was time for me, and it was time for Artsy. A couple of months prior, Artsy had transitioned to new leadership under Mike Steib, a seasoned CEO with a track record of scaling startups to strong and stable businesses. Mike took over for Carter Cleveland, the visionary who founded Artsy in his 20s and held the CEO post for ten years.
Throughout that year, I started thinking about my long-term career goals. Slowly, I began to realize that communications and public relations were not a part of that vision.
Someone once said to me that at all companies, there are people who build the thing, sell the thing, and people who support the people building and selling the thing. I was in a role to sell, but I really wanted to build.
The Ever-Changing River
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said thousands of years ago, “You cannot step into the same river twice.” The river I had been floating down? It felt easy, almost effortless. When I realized that I wanted to build instead of sell, I was slow to take action. Artsy is an incredible company with a supportive and fun culture. Years before I worked there, Artsy inspired me to create my own major in college called “Art and Technology” — Artsy in a nutshell.
At a company that so fully embodied my passions, it was easy to feel content and comfortable. A few paddles upstream every couple of months gave me a taste of how hard it would be to change. Why rock the boat? If I had not been laid off, who knows how long it would have taken me to pursue something new.
When I got laid off, I was jolted awake, and someone was screaming in my ear: “Anna, it’s time to make this change now.” I had no choice. After a couple of months of meeting with anyone in my network who would talk to me and a few freelance gigs, I decided to enroll in a full-time software engineering boot camp. It was the most direct, albeit abrupt, way to go after the dream of becoming a builder.
What Darwin Really Meant by Survival of the Fittest
I recently read a book that discussed Darwin’s theory of evolution and the advantage created by chaos and change. When a species evolves new mutations, such as a giraffe’s awkward neck or a seal’s heavy blubber, they are more likely to adapt to the chaotic world around them. The messiness of the living world is what Darwin believed to be the key to survival. In other words, the chaos makes us strong.
In business, too, adaptability equals success. Companies like Netflix are okay with blowing up their business models to stay ahead of the curve. (Remember when we mailed in DVDs?)
Workers, too, must be open to changing paths. COVID’s stay-at-home orders have taken down entire industries. I know there are thousands, if not millions, of people out there feeling like they were thrown off of their rafts.
Finding My Why
Lifting my head up and jumping back into the workforce was not easy, particularly when the world shifted from coffee meetings to Zoom hangouts and unemployment was the highest in history. On my journey, I often felt imposter syndrome, especially in a field where I am in the minority as a woman. Writing code was also so different from my communications work — talking to journalists and writing press releases. Programming activated a new part of my brain. Sometimes it was euphoric. Unlocking new understanding of a concept or getting a small feature to work. But mostly, it was really uncomfortable.
There were so many moments when I thought I might lose my way. During the hours (or sometimes days) I spent heads down on a coding problem I just could not crack. Or opening yet another rejection email from a job.
Without a north star, I would not have been able to get through these difficult moments. I always had in the back of my head: “I want to build something I care about with people I care about.” My “Why” fueled me through the failures and pushed me over the finish line.
The Finish Line
What excites me most about a career as a software engineer is that learning new skills is baked into the job description at all experience levels. Because paradigms are always changing and new technologies are released at such a rapid clip, developers must thrive in the discomfort of being a beginner. We must constantly evolve to stay ahead.
Evolving both my skill set and fundamental outlook on personal evolution — that rapid and dramatic change is not just helpful but necessary — I feel equipped to tackle any challenge that comes my way.
The transition taught me so much about chaos, how to build resilience, and the inevitable truth that everything is changing and therefore, we must also always be changing — a crucial discovery to bring into 2021, which, so far, shows no signs of calming down.