I started a new job as Software Developer at Zillow in October 2019. This would have been hard to imagine when I left Zillow in August 2018, so I wrote a few blog posts detailing my experience:
- Believing it (this post)
- Lessons from interviews
When I left Zillow to go on a sabbatical in August 2018 I was confident that I would be back in a year doing a similar job to the one I left – managing an engineering team and setting product strategy. Turns out I was wrong.
Ever since I graduated from the University of Illinois and started working as a product manager I always had side projects. Every year or two I would come up with a problem that I wanted to tackle and then try solving it by building something. Nothing major came of these efforts, but it always scratched an itch. So it’s not surprising that while traveling with more free time I found myself in the middle of a new project – TorresApp.
After a couple of months of working on it in my free time it started to dawn on me that there was something more to this ‘hobby’. I was getting a lot of personal satisfaction out of making software, so I decided to go for it and pursue a career in software development when I returned to Seattle.
As trite as it sounds, the most important part of this transition was believing that I could do it. To believe, I had to change how I thought about myself and I needed the support of my family and friends.
My last two years in college I decided I was going to purse the business side of technology and went for product management after dabbling in strategy consulting. The thing I told myself, probably half jokingly at the time, was that programming is really hard and I’ll never be the best at it so I should go do something else. That stuck, I’ve looked at myself as I’m not good enough to be a programmer ever since. Fast forward to our year traveling. Serendipitously, around the same time I was working on TorresApp I was also reading Mindset. Carol Dweck’s message about the importance of a growth mindset, believing that you could grow to do something, and the importance of deliberate practice to get there was a strong counter to the lie I told about myself in my head.
Something else changed while I was traveling. Up until then I was a strong believer in climbing the career ladder, I thought up was the only way and I placed a lot of my self worth in my ability to be successful and move up. This isn’t to say I didn’t like my jobs, I loved them and sincerely enjoyed figuring out how to build things customers wanted first as an IC and then later leading a team through it. However, it took some distance from work to realize that I wouldn’t be any less of a person by taking a lateral or downward move on the ladder. I decided what’s most important is how excited I am about the work, not the title or the compensation.
I didn’t do this alone. Hayley’s support was equally important. My wife was 100% supportive of this from the moment the idea crossed my mind. She saw the spark in my eye whenever I talked about it with her and made sure I stopped calling it a “crazy idea” when I shared it with others, because in her eyes it wasn’t crazy. She didn’t even complain when I spent hours every day in Buenos Aires working through algorithms problems in coffee shops, she took up running instead.
I was also fortunate to have many friends working in software development who explained to me what I needed to show in interviews to have a credible chance and how to get there. I’ll detail what I did in a separate blog post, but it was really nice to have plan.
A final source of inspiration was Rebekah Bastian, my former manager at Zillow. She pivoted her career from being a VP of Product to a VP of Community & Culture and seeing her take the risk and then succeed and thrive in the new position gave me confidence that I could do the same.
Hello Sergei, I am in the same boat as you were. I love creating apps and I am exploring the path you took as well. Did you get offers at a similar salary level as you were drawing easier as a product manager? Thanks, M
From my limited experience for a developer and PM the salary at the same level is a bit higher for a developer, but I came back a Software Developer so it was a pay cut from when I was a Principal PM.