Exactly two years ago I was laid off from my job. It was the height of the financial crisis and the sky was falling but I thought I was immune. I just finished glossy home page projects for the likes of Borders and Alltel. I worked on teams that were lauded as rock stars.
I remember that fateful morning Oct. 23. 2008, being called into the president’s office expecting a pat on the back – perhaps even a bonus! The moment I saw his eyes however, I knew what was going down. (Cue the needle stopping on the turntable.) I was shocked and really I should have seen it coming. The numbers just weren’t coming in for the company. I was in denial.
Within hours, I had jobs lined up making pretty charts for banks and insurance companies. It would have been the safe thing to do. Conventional wisdom dictated taking the salary and benefits given the economic uncertainty. To me that’s akin to being in an arranged marriage where being in love is not a requirement.
I decided to pass and threw my hat into the exponentially growing iPhone development gold rush. It wasn’t easy. Learning ObjectiveC was going slower than I liked. As far as finding free lancing gigs, companies at the time weren’t sure what to make of this iPhone app thing and most sat on their marketing dollars and on the fence.
In the ensuing year, I was involved in four separate ventures that went no where for me, had to dig into my savings from my Harmonix stock options, considered selling my car and the worst thing for me really was that writing music had come to a screeching halt. For the first time in a long while, I was in survival mode. I was worried about my mortgage, falling property values and health insurance. Travel plans were all but dashed.
I just couldn’t bring myself to settle for work I wasn’t passionate about. I thought about companies that I thought I’d like to work for. So I spent a month boning up on college computer science text book topics and downloaded every reference document that existed for the iPhone and studied and applied it.
I interviewed at Google. Denied. I interviewed at Apple – twice. Denied. I lost gigs due to interview timing conflicts with said companies. (Salt to wound.) I pitched iPhone app ideas to the Patriots. Not interested. I pitched to Discovery. Fell through. I pitched to Ja Rule’s management. Denied. (Okay, that’s not really a set back).
In spite of all of this, I was happy. Sure it was frustrating at times but I was very happy. I felt lucky because I had control over my situation. I only chose projects that I thought would be useful for a portfolio, even if it meant taking work on for equity (which essentially meant working for free). Being in survival mode forced me to be focused, efficient and more resourceful with less. I had time to study things in depth. I started spending more time with friends and family with my flexible schedule. I started running again and got into Bikram yoga. I was getting into shape and feeling great.
And then something interesting happened. I entered into a couple hacking competitions sponsored by Microsoft and MIT, where I’ve either won or placed. After one year, my iPhone kung fu was strong. I was doing both visual design and software development, which are typically two separate disciplines. This allowed me to really accelerate the process of producing iPhone apps because I was able to wear all hats.
I was experiencing a tipping point: Just as I became fluid in my new found iPhone skills, the demand for iPhone developers was increasing dramatically. Companies wanted to jump on the iPhone app bandwagon. And then I got a call from an old mentor of mine who happened to work for Yahoo! They were looking for a hybrid designer / developer with mobile expereince to be part of an innovation team that conceptualizes and develops the next generation of advertising experiences. What they needed perfectly played into my strengths. They gave me an offer so compelling that after 16 years in Boston, I decided to go for it and relocate to the Bay Area.
18 months after that fateful lay off, the next chapter of my life began. San Francisco is absolutely an amazing city. I’m connecting with new found relatives, making new friends and work right smack in Silicon Valley, the home of not only Yahoo but the likes of Google, Facebook, Apple and HP. Music wise, I am back in the game and am partners with my good friend David Franz who runs a record label in LA. Next month we’re releasing a full length album for Iyeoka that we just had mastered at Universal Studios. And what’s perfect is that I am in LA periodically for my work at Yahoo.
Getting laid off turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me. I am blessed that things turned out the way they did. I did have the luxury of not having to worry about feeding a family. Nevertheless I’m sharing to you my story and how a single event altered the course of my journey. If there’s any take away from my story, it would be the importance of having a plan, being passionate and keeping the faith. It’s indeed cliche but success really is a by product of failures. Keep your head up and keep it moving. Most importantly, be in the moment.