OmniTI: What I’ve learned

(This is long. Summary: OmniTI is the best technology company around, and they do a lot of things right.)

Today is my last day at OmniTI, after just over two years. Yesterday I had my exit interview, and I want to record some of my thoughts from that before they get away. Andi asked me a few questions, and I talked a lot.

OmniTI has been a great place to work. I have (almost) no complaints. It’s a fantastic company, with fantastic coworkers.

Several things stand out.

First – OmniTI has a way of telling the customer the truth without being discourteous. The customer is always right, except when they’re not. Many technology people have a way of telling the customer they’re wrong in an arrogant or condescending way. I’ve never seen that at OmniTI.

Sometimes customers come with a problem they want solved. Other times they come with a solution they want implemented. In this latter case, you have the choice of blindly doing what they ask, or helping them evaluate the options, and possibly steering them towards better solutions. Doing this without an “I know everything better than you” attitude is a skill that takes practice, and doesn’t generally come naturally to those of us who are computer guys. I’ve watched Theo and Clinton do this over the last two years, and have been continually impressed with their professionalism.

Second, I’ve been impressed with the intentional, dedicated way which people at OmniTI strive to better themselves – to learn, improve, and expand their skill set. I have been particularly impressed with my manager, Clinton, and his effort to become a better manager. Managing geeks isn’t easy. We are an unmanageable bunch. We are always right, and don’t like to be told otherwise.

I was put on Clinton’s team when he was a new manager, and watched him work really hard at becoming a better manager. He asked us how he was doing, and he took our comments seriously, and acted on them. He admitted when he’d realized he’d done something wrong, and he celebrated when we did things right, while still being very forthright with us when we did things wrong. He knows when to ask our opinion about decisions, and when to stop the discussion and make the decision.

And he demands excellence — which I’ll talk about more in my third point in a moment.

On the whole, Clinton has turned into one of the better managers I’ve ever had.

My third point is about demanding excellence. I have worked a lot of code monkey jobs. You get vague requirements, and you slam out some code that does what you interpret them to mean, and you move on, hoping nobody ever looks at the code.

Not at OmniTI.

At OmniTI, software is a craft. It’s really the first time that I’ve taken the term Software Engineering seriously, or, rather, seen it done really seriously. I’ve had glimpses of it before, mostly with people like Schwern, and others in the Perl community in the late 90s and early 00’s. But at OmniTI, I had excellence demanded of me as never before. It has caused me to look at software development in a new way, and look back a little sheepishly at some of my earlier efforts.

Fourth, OmniTI has a philosophy of “everyone knows everything.” It’s not sufficient to be a Perl coder. You must also know JavaScript and CSS and HTML and a little Python, PHP, C, and Java, because that gives you a whole-picture view that informs your Perl code. That’s not to say that we don’t have experts. We do. We have some of the most amazing UI experts I’ve ever worked with. But they can read Perl code and debug PHP and can homebrew as well.

I have learned more Javascript, CSS, and Python in the last two years than in the previous 15.

And it’s more than just crosstraining so that the project can keep on if someone leaves. OmniTI really cares about the professional development of its employees. I’ve only worked one other place (Hi, Paul!) where I felt that the professional development of employees was this important.

One final thing – Openness. Several times, Andi asked “How could OmniTI do X better”, and each time, I had to answer, well, I had some suggestions to that end, and I talked with someone about them, and things got better. Every time.

I had some complaints with Clinton when I started working for him, as my Beloved will affirm. I talked with him. Things got better. This is not to say that I was right and he was wrong. Rather, we had several good conversations in which we understood one another better. This happened in manager/employee issues as well as technical issues. None of them were big deals, but I can see that other managers might have made them big deals by refusing to be open about things, or insisting that they were right in all things.

I’ve never had any patience with finding out things in an annual review. If you have a complaint about me, I want to hear about it when it happens, not months later. People at OmniTI consistently told me as soon as a problem came to light so that it could be addressed before it became a big deal. There should never be a surprise in an annual review.

So, there’s the gist of my exit interview. I expect I said other wise and insightful things. You could ask Andi to fill you in.

So, with all of these glowing things to say about OmniTI, why am I leaving? Well, I’ve been working in Open Source since about 1998. It’s my passion. My day job has always been something that I did to pay for the parts of my life that matter, but Open Source has always been relegated to the spare change of my time, when I’m tired and have other things to think about as well. If I don’t close those last 29 open documentation bugs on the Apache http server, nobody will think less of me. But it’s my passion.

Several weeks ago, Steve Jobs died. I’ve never been the Apple fanboy, nor have I been a resident of the Reality Distortion Field. But on the day Steve died, I watched his Stanford commencement address, and one thing struck me. Find your passion. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle for a job that you’re not passionate about.

When the position at Sourceforge opened up, it was immediately obvious to me that this was an opportunity that I couldn’t let slip by, even if it meant taking a huge risk. So here we are.

(If you haven’t watched that commencement address, you really should. It’s short, and it’s worth your time.)