Sometimes a Safety Net is Really just a Spider’s Web
I quit my job… my job of fourteen years. My job everyone says is an amazing job.
I will always be thankful for HP. It was my introduction to technology, sales, engineering and enterprise business. It was the first place I wrote code, the first place I had a million dollar quota and the first place I ran opperations for a $200M section of business. It was the first place to give me a budget to create a solution and the first place that paid me to travel around the world to solve problems. There is no denying HP has been a positive influence on my life.
I just unloaded my home office that’s seen its fair share of all nighters. I need to turn it all in and then surrender my HP access badge. My boss has already went home because it’s Friday and it’s past 3pm. He is one of five bosses I’ve had over the last year and half. I turn my access badge in at the security desk to a kind, grandmotherly, security guard. She smiles, I smile and I turn around and walk out the door… and I just keep smiling.
This smile, this feeling, it just wont go away. While I am thankful for the past, I am so happy. I’m happy because I’m free. For every good thing at HP it was also a place of great frustration. I will probably never, till the day I die, forgive them for how much they continually underutilized me and how often they underestimated me.
800 Miles, No Job and Felons
A little over 15 years ago I left California for Idaho to work with a friend for no pay (I am not sure what I was thinking at the time). I had a couple hundred dollars to my name so finding gainful employment was a must.
I worked a couple month stint on a night crew, stocking shelves, with a convicted murderer, a tweeker, and a guy I picked up each night at jail due to 5 DUIs. The job was a cash flow but I didn’t really even consider it a job. It was more that thing I did at night while I looked for a real job. I was desperately looking for something with a little better pay and possibly less felons. Nothing against felons, they were great guys to work with.
HP — Where Rich People Worked, Tech Support and Sewing Peddles
My job search was in full swing and a friend said HP would pay me $11 an hour to answer tech support questions if I could pass a “nerdy test”. At that point, I thought $11 an hour was what rich people made so I was ecstatic. I couldn’t type and knew next to nothing about computer hardware but I applied anyway. I failed the hardware test but that was the plan. After I failed, I spent 45 minutes memorizing every question and answer. A week later I aced it. A couple training classes later I was the pimply-faced kid on the other side of the phone when your printer breaks.
My favorite call ever was an old lady that couldn’t get her printer installed. Every time she was asked to do anything it took forever. She said, “These things are hard to use when they’re on the floor like that”. When we asked her to explain we realized she was trying to left click with her toes; she thought the mouse went on the floor! After two years of this they moved tech support offshore and I was told I would be laid off if I didn’t find another job.
Testing, Engineering and Printer Dating
I found an opening doing printer/copier testing. At this point I was building computers for all my friends and dabbling in coding. I applied and got the job. As testers our job was to break copiers, not physically but with regular use. We had to get the machine to lock up and crash with a 49.xxxx error code.
Within a month I was finding more defects/errors than anybody and within 4 months I was running a team of testers. After a year I wrote a proposal for a new type of testing. HP accepted the proposal and gave me a couple people to test it out. In our first week we identified and logged over 60 defects. In the old lab the entire team averaged anywhere from 4 -10 per week.
At one point, one of the guys I worked with seemed to always be in and out of disastrous relationships so I wrote a basic program that made his copier walk him through a whole dating algorithm to find his perfect match. This was long before online dating so it was a big hit in the lab. Everyone was going to the copiers 2x9 inch screen and walking away with their not-so-scinetific match.
Despite my success, despite the fact that I could fix these machine’s and identify the problem areas better than most, I was told I couldn’t be an engineer because I didn’t have a degree. After a couple years the testing method I started was fantastically successful but so was offshoring. Once again it was time to look for another job. This time HP was nice enough to give me a little advance notice and finally an engineering title. I trained the team from India that would take my job and again found myself looking for a new profession.
“You Will Never Be Good At Sales”
The only job I could find at HP that didn’t require a degree was a sales job so I applied. I was sent to an 8 week boot camp to learn how to sell computers, printers, cameras and anything else HP could think of. I remember our trainer was talking about computer hardware. He was not a hardware guy and was messing up. I raised my hand to mention he had it wrong in a pretty bad way. He walked all the way over and in front of the whole class told me I would never be good at sales… he said “techy people never do good at sales”.
I kept my head down from that point and when I hit the floor I just worked hard. After the first month I was number two in sales and I honestly thought it was a fluke. By the end of month two, I was number one by a long shot. I held that position for over a year straight. By the time I finally relinquished the lead I was only selling part time. I was now writing training material, managing a sales team and running pilot projects.
Sales was good for me because it taught me how to talk to people confidently and it taught me you could win by just telling people the truth. If you really sell people what they need you don’t have to sell it.
The First Person To Take a Chance on Me
I am sure this story sounds pretty light hearted and encouraging so far. The truth is at every step of my career I had ideas, lots of ideas. I fought for them but I had few opportunities. I worked for a risk averse company, at the time. HP was 200 billion dollars worth of bureaucracy, fear and stagnation. At this point in my career every single time I was given the slightest latitude I had come through. I had literally never failed them, yet I was still treated like an uneducated child and every new idea was met with the same entrenched and almost institutionalized resistance.
After several years I had done everything I could do in sales. I was bored. A job opened up requiring a degree but it was exactly what I wanted to do. It was a campaign and operation management job for a section of business that was roughly $160M. I applied despite being completely unqualified and miraculously got an interview. This taught me if you stay someplace long enough they will forget you don’t have a degree.
In the interview the Director asked me “What would you do to improve our business… what would you do to solve the problem of growing the business quicker”? I told him their go-to-market platform was terrible, it wasn’t dynamic and it was bleeding traffic at every click. I presented a plan to make it dynamic, much more powerful and set it free from the constraints of IT. About a week later he graciously hired me and about a week after that he told me…”you know that thing you talked about in the interview… do it… how much money do you need?” I was excited and freaked out all at the same time. Nobody had ever listened to one of my big project dreams. I was on cloud nine and in way over my head — exactly where I wanted to be. Six months later we were managing more than 10,000 dynamic landing pages in less than 4 hours a week.
To this day HP’s greatest gift to me was that Director. The one that hired me even though I wasn’t qualified, gave me a budget to build a major IT project even though I had never been a project manager and absolutely believed in me every step of the way. He took a chance on me and gave me the grace and time to muddle through and produce something. Together with our team we took a $160M business and turned it into $240M in less than two years. In the process we built the largest dynamic marketing landing page platform to ever exist on the Salesforce.com platform. On Black Friday, HP’s store crashed, overwhelmed by the traffic, but our system stayed live handling over a million page views in less than 2 hours. Together, we also built HP’s highest grossing social media app. It was built entirely on the premise that being honest and selling people only what they need could make more money than selling a lie. We worked hard, usually seventy plus hours a week, but we dreamed big and built amazing tools. We bent the rules of what was possible, we pissed some people off and were true disruptors but nobody could argue with the results. We embraced new technology and then used it in ways and at a scale nobody had anticipated. For this brief couple of years HP almost cut me loose but there was still too short of a leash. We could have done so much more.
Africa, a Printer and 75,000 Kids
In the midst of quarter billion dollar quotas the opportunity came up to volunteer as a project manager in Kenya. It was a joint project with HP and the Clinton Foundation. They asked for multiple volunteers to go to Africa and only myself and a friend volunteered. A few months later I found myself on a plane to Africa. We were trying to find a way to get infants better access to DNA level, HIV testing and in turn get them on life saving drugs. We traveled all over Kenya, up into Uganda and down into Tanzania to try and understand the context of the problem. I spent Easter weekend in Kibera (one of the largest slums in the world) with my driver’s family, enjoying the closeness of family in the developing world. We came back from Africa and helped persuade HP to build a new lineup of products to support this project. The products are now in use in three countries in Africa and are contributing to saving more the 75,000 kids a year. We continued to fight to get HP to reconsider how it approached developing markets but couldn’t get anybody to listen. HP had introduced me to Global Health and I was hooked. Since then I have been all over Africa and Haiti and have either advised pro bono or done consulting contracts with most of the major Global Health agencies.
Sometimes a Safety Net is Just a Spider’s Web:
To round out my career I eventually moved to a business development role where I worked on all sorts of new initiatives almost always tied to creative applications of emerging cloud technologies.
About two years before my exit I had decided to start my own social enterprise. Our goal was to build a business that could ultimately finance key global health, education and economic initiatives. I was working two jobs now and starting a family.
Two weeks ago I found myself in a small conference room getting interrogated like a criminal about my company, a company we had never kept a secret. It was brought to my attention that somebody had decided my company was a competitor of Hewlett Packard. I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or pat myself on the back. I was faced with an ultimatum — Stop my business or leave. The decision was easy, it was still scary — but it was easy. Sometimes a safety net is really just a spider’s web… it was time to make the leap.
After 14 years, a company I had given my time, my heart and many of my best ideas. A company that always told me I couldn’t do it, I wasn’t qualified and my ideas were too big or too “out-of-scope”. A company I worked for since high school and made 10’s of millions of dollars. A company I’ve never been anything other than successful at, was once again telling me I couldn’t do something. My dream was simply not allowed. Except now this dream wasn’t controlled by them and I didn’t need their permission.
Make it Matter… More
I quit my job of 14 years today and as I handed my access badge to the security guard I looked over her shoulder at a huge HP ad on the wall. It had the HP logo and next to it, it had their latest slogan — it says “MAKE IT MATTER”. I smiled even bigger. How ironic that a great company, that has taught me so much yet held me back every step of the way, should give me such appropriate advice as I walk out the door for the last time. I feel I did my best at HP to MAKE IT MATTER. It’s just now that I’m free I intend to MAKE IT MATTER MORE.
To HP — Thanks for an education worth far more than any degree. Thanks for driving me away for a third time and giving me the kickstart I needed to finally be free and have a chance at investing every ounce of myself into something. Something I believe matters. Thank you for underestimating me and underutilizing me just enough to keep me hungry. While I walk away with your motto of “Make it Matter”. I would leave you with one of mine “Never Settle”.
Fast Forward 7 Years
The company I left HP to start made the Inc 5000 in 2019, and is on its way to 200+ employees. I think we have been able to Make it Matter.