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Goodbye, Digital Reasoning

This is my farewell to my fantastic teammates at Digital Reasoning. It's been a wonderful two years - some of the best in my professional life. I was introduced to so many amazing people, new technologies, services and development ideas that it would be impossible to name them all. Here's some of the big hits, though:

  1. Developing on purely OSS... on a Mac. Was Windows/Linux only before DR.
  2. Cloud computing. That was just a buzz word to me before I joined the team. Now it's an integral skill that I can't imagine not using.
  3. Learning something new, almost every day.
  4. Teammates that set aside ego to get the job done. Every single one.
  5. Creative destruction. I've never worked for a team that was willing to destroy months, perhaps years, of proven work when something faster/more efficient/more scalable comes along.

Working on a such a rich NLP processing platform has truly shown me the power of being able to make sense out of large data sets (i.e. Big Data). Also, working with such a hard working, creative and open minded team really showed me how amazing things can be built when those three things are applied consistently.

I leave as a friend, and a believer in the fact that you will achieve great things, and with no regrets. In fact, I will wholeheartedly refer people to you whenever given the chance.

Hello, Lonely Planet

The challenges at Lonely Planet are myriad as the company dedicates itself to reimagine the entire brand for the digital world. The hope is that I can bring all my experiences, failures, and successes and help achieve that goal. Also, my most recent experiences at Digital Reasoning that showed me how powerful natural language processing can be when trying to make sense of enormous amounts of human data can hopefully be leveraged as we try to become the #1 location on the Web for valuable travel content.

I couldn't help but be impressed with a team that was shooting for the top, and had a real chance at it.

As I was talking with the management team, we were discussing how the end goal would be that anyone who had an idea to travel somewhere, the first thought wouldn't be to Google it, but to go to http://www.lonelyplanet.com/destination. It would contain human curated content from trusted writers, machine curated content gathered from the Lonely Planet communities, government generated content, and partner content, and allow you to book all your travel assets in one place. Truly a one stop shop that helps you get to where you want to go, and then maximize your enjoyment once you get there.

The team is growing fast, and there's lots of low hanging fruit that is ripe for the picking.

My journey to find a new team

In the past year, or so, I talked with six different companies about joining their team in a variety of different roles. These ranged from Director level positions, down to pure development. Many of them knew they needed someone to fill in a gap in how they are utilizing technology in their company, but not all of them had a clear idea on how to go about doing it.

It's been a very interesting journey and I've met some very cool, and some crazy, characters along the way.

What I cared most about was the goal and the culture. How do you view your position in the market, and what are your plans on dominating it? How do you treat your team members? Do you offer competitive work/life balance perks such as open PTO or work from home support, or at least open to discussing the option?

During these kinds of conversations, I heard some great ideas and some huge, red flags. At one meeting, a senior executive actually said, in response to how work is defined, "This isn't a democracy." That kind of old school, Industrial Age management thinking is what I wanted to avoid like the plague.

So I kept meeting with people who reached out to me, and kept rejecting their overly-generous offers because it was never the right fit, or they just couldn't offer me all the benefits that I enjoyed at Digital Reasoning. I needed a place where I felt it was a mutually beneficial partnership, where I could continue being personally challenged in different areas.

One thing that I decided rather early on in the process is that I likely wouldn't take any managerial positions unless it provided the perfect opportunity to mix mentoring, developing, and community involvement.

Being a manager doesn't mean you're a leader

It means you're responsible for managing something. That's it. A title does not a leader make.

In fact, I've often had the thought that the reason managers are paid more, is because no one in their right mind would ever agree to perform such a job, so companies have to lure them with higher compensation.

When I finally made a decision to take on a new opportunity at Lonely Planet, it came down staying true to what I'm passionate about. Many people, from friends to family members, kept asking me when I'd finally move on to a leadership position, which in their minds means having a title like "Director of Software Development" or "Vice President of Engineering". I think this is an antiquated idea of what it means to be a leader. I firmly believe that even a junior level teammate can be in a leadership position.

Leaders lead, regardless of their position in a team.

A person's actions and attitudes makes them a leader. If a person takes their ideas, champions them, and draws like minded people to them to help in their actuation, and then ensures that the team is empowered to achieve their goal, that is a leader.

I am passionate about creating software products. I love every aspect of the process, from helping customers define and refine needs, to evaluating technologies and architectures, bringing together a team that can get the job done, and then writing the code needed to build the product. At this point in my life, I have three main professional passions:

  1. Learning new things and then teaching others about what I've learned.
  2. Writing code for products that make the world a better place.
  3. Community involvement.

In some of the positions that I was considering that were more traditional "leadership" in style, I wouldn't have the opportunity to do those things because I would have to shift my focus more to business development, budgets, personnel management, and other areas. This is usually not a leadership type of position, even though that's how it's billed in our current world.

So I remain a crafter, and love what I do when I go to work.

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Steve Brownlee

Head Coach at Nashville Software School. Evolving software development education.


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