Suspension Bridge Over a River In a Gulch

Work Hard and Don’t Burn Bridges

June 9, 2021

On a cold December day in 2014 I got a random call from a contact that had lay dormant in my phone for 12 years. It was Ryan, the owner of Element Fusion – a company that I had worked for in the summers of 2004 and 2005 while I was in college. NetSuite had recently acquired Element Fusion (EF) and they were looking to hire JavaScript developers to help build a custom Content Management System into NetSuite’s Ecommerce platform. It was good timing for me. It was big and ambitious – full of challenges and unknowns. We talked for a bit on the phone about the opportunity and what was needed. I went in for an interview, and took the job. Things went well – really well. After about a year of hard work leading and implementing the new CMS architecture, I was promoted to Principal Software Engineer and JavaScript Team Lead. I stayed there almost 4 more years before moving on – completing all the code changes I wanted to make, coordinating with the Uruguay office (and their half of our product), building the product and leading the team.

The somewhat insignificant 6 months of work over 2 summers during an internship lead to an opportunity that transformed my career. I had always written a lot of JavaScript, but never full-time before NetSuite, and never exclusively on the front-end – I had always been a full-stack developer in every previous job, and even in the freelance consulting I did as well. My time at NetSuite enabled me to re-shape my career into an expert front-end/React developer and a effective team leader that was able to get some pretty hard things done and change the trajectory of the product we were building to a much better one than the course it was on before I got there.

Thinking back to my internship at EF, I did some good work while I was there. learned a lot, and made a good impression. At the end of my internship in 2004, I was invited to return as an intern again the next summer (2005). At the end of my internship in 2005, EF wanted to hire me full-time, even while I was still in college. They were confident they could make everything work around my schedule. I thought about it for a while, but ultimately turned it down. I didn’t want to have a full-time work commitment while trying to focus on my studies in college and getting my degree. EF was also deep into the Microsoft development stack with ASP and .NET, which was interesting to learn, but I did not want to work in the Microsoft tech stack full time back then. I preferred open source tech stacks like JavaScript, PHP, and MySQL and wanted to advance further with those. I was direct and upfront with Ryan about all of this, and left on amicable terms. Though our parting in 2005 was friendly, I never expected to work there ever again.

Fast-forward 11 years later, and I was working for Ryan again after a single phone call. I got a handsome salary and RSU package – just because (1) he remembered my strong skill set and good work ethic, and (2) now that NetSuite had acquired them, they had to develop a new product and integration with an open source tech stack and needed deep JavaScript expertise, which I now had by focusing on it for over a decade. But (3) most importantly, I didn’t burn a bridge when I left, and I left a good impression when I was there. This was even though I didn’t like Element Fusion’s tech stack and was pretty sure in 2005 that I would never work there again because of that.

If at all possible, don’t burn bridges. You never know where they might lead in the future, or if you will ever need to cross them again. Always do your best work, even if it seems futile. Even if the work itself doesn’t ultimately matter, people around you will notice and remember. People move jobs, companies get bought, and things change. It could lead to an amazing opportunity in your future, even when you least expect it.

Comments and discussion are on Hacker News.

Bridge photo by Danika Perkinson on Unsplash

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