Hi friends. It’s with mixed feelings I’m announcing that, after seven years, this is my final week at Artsy. Saying goodbye is never easy, but it’s time for me to move on. That much time will always be filled with ups and downs, but I wouldn’t have stayed here this long if I didn’t love my job. I joined Artsy to do the best work of my career, and I’ve succeeded. Leaving on a high note, it’s time to move on so I can continue doing my best work.
If you want to stop reading here, that’s totally fine; just know that I have confidence and faith in the team, the company, and its business. Also, I do already have a new job lined up so please don’t contact me about new opportunities.
Okay so where to begin? Oh gosh…
In 2019, I was at the going-away party for a coworker who was leaving the company. We were celebrating their accomplishments and having a good time when all of a sudden I realized something: my time at Artsy was almost certainly over halfway complete. It kind of hit me hard, to be honest. I knew my time wasn’t over yet, but that I was closer in time to the end than the beginning.
From that moment onward, this realization shaped how I approached my job. I worked, quietly and diligently, to remove myself as a single-point-of-failure across Artsy’s Engineering team. Infrastructure, code, and culture. I shored them all up against the impact of my inevitable departure. I suspected that the end of my time at Artsy would sneak up on me and, indeed, that’s what has happened.
Recently, I had cause to re-evaluate my own career goals. I mean, 2020 was a year of a lot of change for me, so this wasn’t totally unexpected. I realized that there was a gap between what I wanted to do at my job and what I was doing. I spoke with my manager and we came up with ways to get me doing the kind of work that I enjoyed. A little more coding, a little less coordinating. A little more deep technical work and a little less shallow in-between-meetings tasks. What I realized, though, is that the gap wasn’t just between what I was doing at Artsy and what I wanted to be doing; rather, the gap was between what I wanted to be doing and what I could actually do at Artsy.
Startups are amazing. They pull you in so many directions that sometimes you think you’re going to snap! But you learn a lot in the process. I started at Artsy in 2014 as an iOS Engineer writing Objective-C (!) but it wasn’t long before I was learning Ruby to make contributions we needed to CocoaPods, learning Scala to power our new realtime auction bidding engine, learning team dynamics to align people around common goals, and more. This breadth of experience is the best reason to join a startup: you begin with a deep technical skill (in my case, Objective-C) and you broaden all the places where you can use that skill. Artsy calls this a “T-shaped engineer”, someone with deep technical knowledge that can be applied across broad areas of business needs.
If you’re not careful though, and I certainly wasn’t, then you can get lost in letting the startup’s needs define your career progression. Sometimes this is okay – for me, it’s been mostly great! – but at a certain point it is important to check in on your own needs and desires. And it’s important to assert them.
I have become overstretched. Breadth has been great, but I miss having really deep technical expertise. I can still tell you obscure bits of Objective-C runtime minutiae, but Artsy doesn’t really need that from me anymore. I know Swift okay still, and I know React Native pretty well, but I never reached the depths of familiarity that I had with Objective-C. In this stage in its growth, Artsy needs me to keep pursuing breadth, but breadth doesn’t hold the appeal for me that it once did.
I’ve gotten really good at solving problems the way that Artsy solves problems, but there are other perspectives and I want to learn from them. I’ve gotten really good at solving the kinds of problems that Artsy has, but there are other kinds of problems and I want to learn how to solve them, too. I’ve learned to think in an Artsy-shaped box, and it feels a bit like I’ve lost the ability to easily think outside of that box.
My next role will let me focus on growing my deep technical expertise, in React Native. I’ll still be applying my skills across a broad set of business needs, but I’ll get the space to think about really tricky technical challenges. Don’t get me wrong! I’ll still be doing quite a bit of “people” work, too, but it won’t be my primary focus, the way that it has been for the past few years.
It took me two days to tell as many people as I could in-person (over Zoom). I made a list and started DM’ing people, asking for “a quick chat.” Even after two days and 26 Zoom calls, I didn’t finish my list.
It’s very rare to get to join a company at 40 employees and help grow it to over 200 people, and I’ll always treasure this experience. More than that, I’ll treasure the friendships I’ve formed with the people whose time at Artsy overlapped with my own.
My biggest contribution at Artsy has been to install a culture where every person feels empowered, entitled, and encouraged to take ownership of that culture. To shape it, to grow it, to protect it. And in that sense, I’m not really leaving Artsy. I won’t work there anymore, but my contributions will ripple forward through time as long as Artsy exists. I couldn’t be more proud of this team. To Artsy and everyone there: I will miss you.
I start my new job in February. After seven years of working at Artsy – of associating and being associated with the company – I’m looking forward to some time where I’m just Ash. Not Ash, engineer at such-and-such company. Just Ash.