W-hired-ess Gentrance

By Ivan Gevirtz

created: Wednesday, April 08, 2009
updated: Monday, April 20, 2009

Off I went, into the wilderness.  This was new territory to me, and I was excited to explore.  I have built a career trailblazing, exploring the frontier, seizing new opportunities everywhere I went.  By that measure, this one would be no exception.  However, this was by no means uncharted territory.  In fact, the land was occupied by a tribe of friendly natives.  I have been led to believe that this local tribe is part of a very healthy ecosystem, and was excited to have me as their neophyte.

I'm comfortable being the new guy.  In fact, I relish the excitement and field of possibilities associated with a fresh start.  I'm sure this is part of the reason I like starting companies.  This fascination with being new started when I was a kid, and had two facets.  The first facet was that, as a kid, I lived in the same exact room from birth until I moved out for college.  I was in the same town, with the same kids and the same problems...  That's right.  Not surprisingly, starting at a very young age, I was a nerd, a geek, and an outcast.  I was also shy and socially awkward, but a showoff nonetheless, and loved the anonymous spotlight.  Shine a light on me, give me attention, and I'll perform.  Interact, no, but perform, yes!  This resulted in my inevitably systematically alienating every potential friend I encountered.  So I always had this thirst for finding new people to, uh, alienate.  And new people were always great opportunities, because they didn't yet know not to like me.  In their eyes, I had a clean slate.  My slate quickly became muddy with each successive "new kid".  I've always wondered what the why ration was -- how much people learned to keep away due to my reputation vs. how often I directly managed to push them away.

By middle school, I had largely figured this cycle out, and learned that being genuinely interested in other people -- and having things in common to talk about -- were key.  Action Plan!  So I executed like mad.  I watched the Super Bowl and Knight Rider to have something to talk about, and learned to ask people questions.  The problem was that the existing people were already playing keep away from Ivan.  Fortunately, I went to summer camp, and learned that in an unbiased crowd, I could make friends.  So I kept at it.  I kept becoming new people's first friend, and eventually managed to keep some of them as friends.  In fact, one beautiful "new kid" eventually became my wife!  And, I started enlarging my circle to meet people at neighboring communities who didn't know any better than to like this older and more personable me.

So, summer camp, neighboring communities, and ultimately college gave me the opportunity to hone my people skills, and learn to navigate social structures with some success.  I was a connector, a part of lots of groups, and someone who would bring them together.  Thus, starting companies and hiring the team worked well for me.

Yesterday, however, I embarked on a new kind of journey.  I joined a mid-sized company in a management role.  Socially, this represented a finite* social ecosystem, but one that I would be able to nurture, and eventually expand.  The company is quite successful, and poised to continue to grow -- in people, revenue, and scope.  Their success represents opportunities that must be appropriately managed.  Everywhere I looked, the company was refactoring their processes to handle this new level of growth and maturity.  The product development had recently changed from a stage-gated process to a SCRUM agile process.  The IT team was also changing its structure in a similar way, to use a Kenban like system.  Ironically (but typically), the success of the company was requiring the company to change and adapt internally.  Very much the stuff Built to Last talks about.

I was excited.  I am passionate about corporate culture, recruiting, and team building.  But I also feel some trepidation.  I am entering an established and successful organization, so I don't want to aggressively assert myself out of the gate.  I need to learn the culture, and the structures, and most importantly, the people.  I do need to be an agent of change, but need to build consensus.  Fortunately, the senior management of the organization are very open to change and embrace my presence.  The whole team seem open and willing to accept me.  I do not sense any hostile territory.  This is great news.  But it also means that I need to be keenly aware of the subtle alliances among my co-workers.

One great thing about my current position, and another new opportunity for me, is that I actually have a peer.  As a developer, I've had plenty of peers, but not as a leader.  The closest was at Coco, where I was the VP of Technology and there was also a CTO.  However, our roles were really very different in practice.  We complemented each other very well, and it was a great structure, but we were functionally very different.  Here, however, it will be different.  About a year ago, they hired this bass guitar playing dude to take some load off of the Executive Director.  And now, I have been hired to continue to split up the work of the ever expanding team.  My co-Director and I seem to be like minded in many key ways.  He founded a network security company in the past, and had a lot of successes with SCRUM-style agile development.  He lead the transformation a few months ago to the current agile process.  And it seems like there has been good buy-in for this change.  I'm sure I can learn a lot from him.


I am the Director of Engineering at Wireless Generation. The opinions expressed here are personal opinions of Ivan Gevirtz, and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Wireless Generation.