My big personal news in February was undoubtedly that I was leaving National Instruments to join a startup, SnapEDA. So it must be equally big news to announce in August that I’m leaving SnapEDA. How did I come to these series of decisions, and what’s next?
The second part, what’s next, is the easiest to answer. For the immediate future, the answer is writing. I’m lucky enough that I can take a couple months off work and spend the time simply sharing my experience and what I learned from it, and you’ll see that here on this blog. For now, I’m not looking for work. The more interesting part of the question is first part: how did I come to make these decisions?
Although my time away from SnapEDA can still be measured in mere hours, I think I am clear in this answer. I left NI because joining SnapEDA seemed like an opportunity to learn and grow that I would have regretted passing up on. That isn’t to say there wasn’t opportunity at NI. There most definitely was. I was on the verge of embarking on a new role at NI - one that I proposed a year earlier and that as far as I know, had never existed before at the company. It was only possible because of the company’s growing emphasis on design and it was a role that would have stretched me both technically and personally: the type of challenge that I love.
At the same time, an opportunity came up for me to join SnapEDA as co-founder and CTO. Interestingly enough, it was very similar to an idea I had pitched 3-4 years earlier, but ultimately decided to not pursue. The SnapEDA job too had all the hallmarks of the types of challenges I love. It would stretch me both technically and personally, so I would have the opportunity to grow. It also came with risks and I felt that as I had spent most of my career with NI, it would be interesting to experience and grow something truly new. I promised myself that whatever happened, if I learned a lot, I would judge the experience as successful.
So I left. I packed my bags with a plan to return to Shanghai in September.
The 5 months from when I joined to when I left were a wild ride. There were grants, customer feedback sessions, hiring and on-boarding 3 interns, managing another 3 people working remotely, moving to California, all the while driving the platform forward as the primary software engineer. Eventually, I found myself working 16 hours a day, 7 days a week trying to keep up and yet I was still falling behind. Even if I wasn’t at a computer writing code, responding to email, or any of the multitude of other things I was juggling, I would be thinking about work. My conversations “outside of work” became consumed with work topics. i quite literally dropped everything else that was happening in life.
This sounds like a recipe for one thing: burnout.
I’m no stranger to working hard. This website and all the software on it were written in my spare time out of personal interest. I have volunteered my technical skills for causes I care about. I must be one of very few people who have worked full-time for a company, and then took on an additional temporary full-time contract with the same company (at the company’s request)!
When I hit that burnout moment (or moments) at SnapEDA, it was clear that something needed to change and needed to change quite dramatically. It was more than working more efficiently and it was more than a case of hiring. Thus, here I am without any regrets, taking the next couple of months writing about the experience, improving my Chinese, and taking my first 100% work-free day day off since in 6 months.