New horizons over at Egemin

After more than 3 years working consultancy at Realdolmen, I spent my last working day there on 31st of December 2016. Realdolmen was a very good employer and gave me great opportunities to learn and grow. Unfortunately, that also means that opportunities present themselves that are just too good to pass up.

Being hired

At the end of July, a recruiter contacted me. As many of you know, this in itself is nothing spectacular. I get them at least once every two weeks and I bet any good developer has to turn away a lot of them over the course of a year. This recruiter was different. Instead of the usual mail

I have a great opportunity, call me.

I got an actual job presentation along the lines of:

A company near Antwerp is looking for a .NET engineer to work on automation projects which requires you to travel. They offer working with high-tech environments such as robotics, automated spaces and self driving vehicles.

Well now we’re talking. Jenthe van Gastel didn’t just give me a vague promise, she gave me a concrete explanation of what the job entitled without giving away the company she represented. This is pretty impressive because that’s not easy to do. If I would guess the company she represented, I could apply directly and cost her the commission. If the description is too vague, I’m not going to bite.

At this point I was intrigued enough to meet the recruiter to see what this job was all about. That evening, I wrote a CV which contained most of my work and school experience. I intentionally left out a couple of details. I didn’t want to make it too easy for them to hire me. After all, Realdolmen is a good employer and I don’t want to jump ship for any offer that is slightly better. They were still interested. (I think the very impressive technical questionnaire I filled out had something to do with that.)

A few phone calls and a meeting with the recruiter later, I was ready to meet what was possibly my next employer. On an evening, I arrived at Egemin Automation where I got the full explanation. Egemin makes fully automated warehouses where robotic arms pick orders, put them on smart conveyor belts who deliver packages ready to ship to self-driving vehicles. The communication between all these machines is done in .NET and that is where I would fit in. For the projects, I would however need to travel abroad to meet with clients so I could fully understand their needs. I would be in direct contact with the end user, something I think is immensely important to deliver good software.

It sounded good, but I wasn’t entirely sure. Was I ready to go abroad? What would the impact be on my wife and my life?

To convince me, they invited me to spend half a day with some project leads and team leads to convince me. During those interviews, I was convinced that this company has an atmosphere and attitude that was very compatible with mine. They innovate frequently enough not to fall behind, but don’t want to be on the bleeding edge either. They promote a good work-life balance. All these indicators and more made me sign.

Important side note: during the negotiations, the question of why I wanted to change employer came up. I answered truthfully that I didn’t want to switch. They were looking for new people, they should convince me to change jobs. Not the other way around.

Leaving my previous job

Now on to the second part of this endeavour: gracefully resigning from my current job. After building up courage for a day or two (I hate being the bringer of bad news), I called my unit manager and told him I wanted to see him urgently. I told him I was going to quit my job so he wouldn’t walk into that meeting completely oblivious. He was taken by surprise when I told him because I had no reason to quit my current job as I was happy in that position. I explained to him that I wanted to have this conversation in person as that always conveys the message more clearly than a telephone conversation.

A few days later we met and had a lengthy talk about why I was handing in my resignation letter. I explained to him that I was happy at Realdolmen, but an opportunity had come my way that I wanted to pursue. He admitted that travelling and working with robotics was not immediately something he could offer me. I gave him multiple reassurances that it wasn’t his or Realdolmens doing that I left.

As I was under contract with one of Realdolmens clients until the end of the year, me and my manager agreed that I would stay until that contract ended. This was within the terms of my notice, so I did not object to that. My new employer expected me at the start of the next year. I would step from one job into the next, which suited me fine.

At this point, the people at Realdolmens client had no idea I just quit my job. My team lead guessed it when I got in the office the next day. A meeting with a manager can only mean so many things and he figured I wasn’t getting a spontaneous raise. On Realdolmens request, I didn’t tell anybody else. That gave them the opportunity to tell the client that they could not prolong my contract and to present alternatives. The client revealed that there wasn’t enough work anymore for the current size of the team and negotiated quite hard to terminate the contract early.

The last month I spent on the bench at Realdolmen where I made myself as useful as I could. I also took the time to learn and catch up on some of the reading I planned. The last weeks I took the last of my vacation days and continued to learn, experiment with code, sport, game and relax in general.

This was a very nice end of my time at Realdolmen. I’m still very grateful for all the opportunities they offered me. I am going to miss all the smart people that taught me a lot about writing code and challenged me to become better. I wouldn’t be in this position if it weren’t for them.

Looking to the future

Which brings me to today, the day that I start my new job at Egemin Automation helping build automated warehouses. I’m curious what I’m going to learn. What I’m going to build. Whether I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew and if I can cope with the stress of travel.

I’m nervous about what is coming. I question if I made the right decision to leave Realdolmen for a job that I know very little about. I know it’s not a major change, but it’s still big enough to make my stomach clench from time to time. I made this decision because it scares me. Robotics, travelling, living up to the expectations I created. At the same time, it feels like positive stress. The kind of stress that drives you to conquer that mountain in front of you.

It is a strange sensation to both fear and look forward to the future. At least in 50 years I won’t have to wonder if I could have done it.

Stay professional

It’s easy to just sit back and do almost nothing in the last weeks, don’t forget that software development and IT in general is a very small world. A lot of people know each other: employers, recruiters and fellow programmers. My name and reputation are therefore very important. How I behave during the last weeks can set the tone for the next encounter. If this move isn’t as successful as I hope, it could very well be that I’m knocking on familiar doors sooner, rather than later. Maybe Egemin will need an extra hand in the future. When my name is mentioned at Realdolmen, I want to have a positive connotation associated with it. So even in those last few weeks, I make an effort to keep everybody happy with my performance. This includes how I communicated to the last Realdolmen client and how I handle transfer of internal projects.

The way I see it, my name is my brand. Whether I’m selling it directly to an employer such as Egemin or indirectly to clients via Realdolmen, I want the image of a responsible, trustworthy professional attached to my name.

About money

I put off writing about my new wage. In the past, I’ve seen money drive wedges between best friends, couples break up over it and greed bring out the worst in people. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth addressing.

During my negotiations, one tactic of seeing whether Egemin was truly interested was asking for a high wage and seeing if they would keep negotiating. This has as benefit that I got a very good wage out of this deal. If you are switching employers, even if it is for an interesting one, never do it for free. Play a little hard to get, but don’t overdo it. I had the opportunity to experiment as I was in a luxury position because I didn’t need to change.

Now don’t get me wrong. Realdolmen payed me a nice salary. But don’t forget that each year, you become more valuable for a company. You know more about their business, your technical skill increases (especially if you actively put effort into it, like I do) and you get more and more involved into the company culture. Don’t be afraid to ask for a pay raise because just as you need to keep your employer happy, so does the company need to keep you happy.

Don’t sell yourself short. I didn’t, but remember that there is a limit to how much money will make you happy. After that, you’ll get most happiness from the satisfaction you get from your job.

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