My new job: first impressions

Your mission, should you decide to accept it

The W3C CEO phoned me late January with a job offer I could not refuse. My first reaction was to run away, of course. What, acting Head of Marketing and Communications at W3C? Why me? Who else if not me; I was going to be the only full-time person remaining in this team.

That isn’t the fullest representation. I have been in this team for 10 years and 16 in the Consortium; I have both historical corporate knowledge and a better insight of the job than would a new recruit. Also, I was readily available.

I had twenty hours to think about it, sleep time included, and come up with a yes or no. My mind was already made; I could still run away if it didn’t work. Or not, and simply go back to what I was doing before. So, I was going to do that! (Image below via Andrei Sambra, for April Fools day)

cat meme: deal smells fishy, where do I sign?

Bittersweet February

I thought how big the shoes to fill were; an impossible accomplishment. I focused on what I would bring, and how to leverage past practices that I had witnessed without ever paying great attention. I felt dwarfed by the gigantic responsibilities and tasks ahead. After all, this was a position I never thought about for myself.

I thought with much guilt about immediate commitments such as a family vacation which was going to start almost right after a week of travel and meetings in Tokyo. Basically, that gig was going to start without me. How very atypical to begin a new job by a week to wrap-up as much as possible and prepare for travel and meetings, by a week in near-isolation as meetings and meeting-related work takes place, and by two weeks incommunicado touring Japan. So early February, my predecessor stepped down, and covered for me impeccably till I came back. Fast forward to March 2015.

March was brutal

March was brutal. I returned fully rested from an excellent fortnight of quality time with my loved ones, having appropriately kept my mind off work, while bracing myself for the next big thing.

  1. Loads more e-mail. I unsubscribed from some lists but subscribed to a bigger bunch.
  2. Meetings as a heartbeat. 10 to 15 hours of teleconferences and one-to-one meetings each week.
  3. Time sink. If all goes as planned, this is time well invested. Early start of work days, as usual, but days then dragged into the nights. I chose to give myself a hard stop: midnight every day, through May at most.

What I learned

I realised in the first week that I couldn’t do all I wanted. I had massively underestimated the amount of time I would have (cf. list above), and overestimated my ability to organise myself and the amount I could deliver.

When I told my CEO, this was the quote he laconically reminded me of:

“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” ― Bill Gates

What I realised next, was that the more I wanted to achieve the fastest I was. I have always prided myself for being a keen optimiser of processes, but in this case it was different. It was partly due to setting unreasonably high goals in order to get as many done as possible, but primarily thanks to a sharper understanding of things that had suddenly become mine. The closest analogy is a flip being switched and light shining in a formerly dark room. I take informed decisions quicker, the big picture I see is bigger, this is all quite encouraging.

The amount of required reading is staggering as I move from operations into strategy. I expect this will subside as this is partly necessary as I’m wrapping my head around new things, new expectations, new concepts, etc.

In two months I hired three people part-time, shifted into different and new gears, identified our next priorities and planned for as many as possible, handed over most of my former job duties, and, I have not freaked out too much.

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