Yes, It Was The Right Choice

Five months ago I accepted a new job with Sur La Table. I had spent nine years at Expedia doing a variety of things, and learning a tremendous lot, but it was definitely time to move on and be the “fresh blood” somewhere else. As I gleefully told my family, friends, and professional associates of my move, I got mainly 3 reactions:

1. That’s great… what do they do again?

2. That’s great… wait, you’re moving from Director to Manager?

3. That’s great… are you making more money?

I can sort of see the first reaction, if you’re talking to someone who’s not in one of the 27 states that SLT operates in, and/or you don’t cook. (I am not judging.  Yours truly has a few friends who know an awful lot about food but you shan’t let them in the kitchen). The other two have been reiterated so often that I figured I’d just answer them here, and then point people to it.

1. Sur La Table (www.surlatable.com) is a store, and site, for cook’s tools and entertaining. That’s it. You are not going to find beekeeping outfits, a large selection of scented candles, ironing boards, etc. You are going to find a wide selection of knives and people who can tell you how to use and care for them, because they know. You are going to find a variety of stove top cookware, in a variety of materials and colors, and any one of the people wearing a Sur La Table apron can tell you, depending on YOUR cooking style and YOUR stove what will work for YOU. In more than half of the locations you will find a roster of classes you can take that will teach you everything from how to use your knife properly to how to make homemade pasta to how to do five recipes on one grill for six people.

2. Yes, I moved from a Director to a Manager. Specifically the course was Director of Business Development to Director of Content to Applications Development Manager. And here’s your first clue why “different” does not mean “downward”: I went from what was essentially inflated project management (with a bit of ability to direct the change that instantiated the project) to Operations management to development management. With each step the skill set gets broader, and deeper. Project management is about managing people you don’t technically manage, Operations management is about managing people you manage and managing by proxy.  Development management is all of the above and now you get to speak two languages: business and technology.

I could go on: development offers a chance to actually BUILD THINGS, the reality that a Director at Expedia is not equivalent to a Director at Microsoft is not equivalent to a Director at Sur La Table, in either breadth of responsibility or in terms of compensation. And frankly, I’m mercenary enough to be happily titled the Hobgoblin of Object Oriented Programming if they pay me enough, which leads us to…

3. Yes. I mean, I can offer the logic that benefit packages from Company A to Company B require careful weighing and measuring, and that there are quality of life trade-offs with commuting time, etc.  But any way you slice it, frankly, the answer is yes. Anyone who tells you that “Retail” is this or “Technology” is that is at best over-generalizing and at worst missing opportunities.

None of this answers the question, four (working) months later, of “Are you enjoying it” and the answer is an unqualified YES. Do not get me wrong, there have been seriously frustrating times. Sur La Table has been around since the 70’s but its growth pattern is such that it *feels* like a start-up, with all that that entails. Development has to run quickly and there is enormous demand for my department, which leads to both the wonderful sensation that “we can DO this” combined with “OMG how are we gonna do this??” There’s a bit of “hey let’s go down this path… no wait that path… no let’s go down the first path” that you see in nascent organizations, and for someone who was at a company that went from start-up (well, close to, it was about 4 years in) to Mature Large Company in my tenure, there’s the urge to be much farther along the development path than we are.

Then again, it affords me (us, really) the opportunity to be there to make the changes that need to be made, and build the cool, fun stuff that needs to be built. That, by far, is the best reason.

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