Why I Turned Down My Silicon Valley Dream Offer
2019/02/21 (2427 words)

2018 was not a good year for me.

To clarify that, it was actually the worst year of my life so far.

It started well. I had the opportunity and need to learn the programming language Go which I did and then released scc https://github.com/boyter/scc/ written in it as an attempt to prove I have some ability with it. Sales of searchcode server https://searchcodeserver.com/ were picking up, https://searchcode.com/ was getting more attention and some of my blog posts were getting cycled around resulting in more traffic.

Towards the end of it I did something very difficult. I said no to an offer to work in Silicon Valley despite having worked towards that goal for years.

It seems crazy that after chasing this dream for a while and giving up, that when it eventually happened I said no. I know people in the industry who have done NOTHING but chase working in the valley and as far as I know still are.

The reasons for doing so were mixed in with many personal issues. I am going to be as frank as I can but there are things I am still not willing to share. These are limited to things that involve others. As they do not want to be as open as myself I will honor their wishes.

I will say that it was rather hard to write what follows, hence waiting three months into the new year before publishing it. I should also mention I am not writing this wanting or expecting pity, but more as a way to clear my brain and focus on healing. As with everything on my blog, this is for me first and hopefully others get something from it.

sourcegraph old office

The good parts of the year continued and in early June I received a very interesting email from Dan Adler of sourcegraph inviting me to come and view their office. It would be an opportunity to mix and meet, bounce ideas off each other and “sniff each others butts” to see how compatible we would be. I did ask if it was understood that I live in Sydney and it would not be a cheap flight but was assured this was all fine. I accepted this offer and made plans.

Around this time I called my family letting them know my plans. My mum was of particular note, and she sounded sad and regretful about it. Supportive, but I could hear pain in her voice, worried that if I did move she might not see myself or her grandson again. Her health was already not great. She had wanted to travel to Fiji but no company would offer her insurance for the trip and doctors advised it was a bad idea. A strong woman she was still living independently and you would not have picked this had you meet her. Certainly a trip to the USA from Sydney was going to be beyond her.

I don’t believe in fate and this is just a coincidence but the trip did not start well. The night before heading off I ended up in hospital as my at the time 2 year old son was stricken down with some sort of stomach bug. My normally super happy, active, child was lying on the floor saying his stomach hurt and just wanting to sleep. It is hard to describe to those without children but it was terrifying. Thankfully he recovered at about 3 am (for my 9 am flight) with some medication and lots of care from the excellent doctors and nurses but it was a harrowing experience.

sourcegraph old office

Meeting with the sourcegraph people was amazing. Brilliant, brilliant people. Solving the same problems I have been working on for years. Cool office (the photos are from their old office), nice location, stocked fridges, supplied lunches with all the trimmings. Everything you could want. Everything I had been looking to have a long time ago. Everything most developers want to be part of.

I worked in the office for a while, then at one point demoed searchcode server, answered questions, saw a demo of sourcegraph asked questions about it (my understanding of the product was underwhelming as it turned out) and managed view everyone working during their hackathon and hopefully pass on some useful ideas.

Eventually discussions were had. We talked about what it would take for me to join them. I voiced my opinions, and while hesitant was keen. I only needed to clear things with my wife. Seeing as her family is in Panama it would be a closer for her and something she would like. So I headed home. Thankfully in a first for me on a flight I was seated in an empty row. As such I actually slept the whole flight and was in a good mood when I landed.

A few days later an offer hit my inbox.

The offer was extremely flattering. Excellent salary, great perks, and get to work for a company that as far as I can tell is on the up and has a good name, sourcegraph. It even included options and since I fervently believe that code search is something needed are something I was actually excited about.

Of course, considering the title of this post you can probably tell I turned it down.

Turning down the offer was one of the harder things I have had to do.

I gave a few reasons in my response. The first was that it would have been hard for me to relocate. This was certainly true at the time for reasons what will be explained. One option considered to deal with this was for me to be a remote worker and fly in and out now and then.

I would be a horrible remote worker. While I naturally am an introvert, I realized this in high school and attempted to do something about it by picking a university where I would have to move out of my childhood home and mingle with people. The result was that I now enjoy people around when working. I like the social interaction. So much so that even when given the option of remote work I will head into the office anyway. I like the structure and social support it offers. I could see myself not performing at a level I want from myself and which any employer would expect from me.

This might not actually be the case as I rarely do remote work but it is how I feel. Based on the few times I have worked from home I still consider this the case, but it is possible given time I could adjust.

There were discussions about getting a co-working space, but I feel this would also have just postponed the same problem. I like having familiar people around to discuss things with. I think being remote would be very isolation especially when working on a product which sourcegraph is.

Lastly I don’t think I would have been willing to fly in and out that often. I would miss my wife and son too much. I do enjoy their company and they make me happy.

Responding to Dan with the above over email was horrible.

What Dan didn’t know however is that while I was responding quite a few horrible and terrible things happened to me personally. These also impacted my decision. I was not comfortable with sharing it all at the time which probably in hindsight was not the best idea as maybe we could have come to some agreement. The below is written in an order, but the reality was everything hit at roughly the same time in a period of a few weeks, and all them while I wrote that email.

The first thing of note was that I received troubling health news. I had done a blood test and gotten the results back. In short I was informed that my liver was not in a good state. Some of my numbers were all over the place and mentions of failure and cirrhosis were mentioned. My mother also had liver issues so this was an incredibly big deal to me at the time.

I was also diagnosed with a recurrent inguinal hernia. This requires a fairly common surgery to fix. When this is published I will be a week out of a successful surgery. As it was recurrent it meant that I could not have keyhole surgery but had to have a traditional open repair. The last time I had this done I had a very slow and painful recovery. With it being an open repair it is expected that the recovery would take even longer. Thankfully in my case it was much faster, but at the time it was yet another blow and something to worry about. Any surgery under general anesthetic is serious thing, and you should go in with the possibility in your mind that you might not come back out.

It’s a small issue considering the others but it did compound all of the other issues I had. My power company made a mistake and sent me a bill for over $2,000. It was their mistake, but took months to sort out, with lots of what I was told were automated bill collection notices.

I also made a mistake at work and accidentally nuked the production database. Thankfully I was able to restore it after a few days but this was not a great feeling. I know why it happened and it was my mistake. Afterwards I implemented 2 redundant backups and 3 additional fail-safes to ensure it could never happen again without it being intentional. It still was an additional worry on top of everything I had going on at the time, and I didn’t sleep well due to it for several days.

On of the bigger issues was that my mother was admitted to hospital. This was due to vomiting blood which resulted in her getting getting anemia. She was not in a good way. It had been known for a while that her health was not great, with a doctors general description being “You are unwell”. Despite not being a drinker her liver was in a precarious position and was something that needed to be preserved while in care.

There were some other hospital visits mixed in here that I am not willing to discuss. Suffice to say what happened in there was as bad as what follows.

Many hospital visits happened during this time watching my mother become sicker. She did recover enough to be discharged at one point (which I thought was a mistake at the time), but three days later was back in the hospital for the last time. Shortly later she was dead.

As a registered nurse for 30 years she knew what was happening to her. She knew with the way things were unfolding her liver was in a bad state, and once she knew she would not recover asked to be put into palliative care. It was somewhere after the 20th transfusion and the continued bleeds she gave up. She knew her liver was shot at this point. She did not want to live her life in the hospital connected to machines. Those last few days were the worst. Seeing her slip away and admitting that her biggest regret was that she would not get to see her grandson grow up. Her last coherent words were “I love you” to him.

Looking back now, had I taken that offer I would not have been there for my mothers final moments. Certainly her only grandchild would not have been there.

For reasons that don’t need to be made public her last few years can be described as turbulent at best. I hope she is at peace now.

Dealing with the funeral and estate was another strain on both my wife and I and one that thankfully has passed.

In short with everything happening above the last thing I could do was ask my small family to move halfway across the planet. I didn’t look into the medial insurance but its possible I could have been bankrupt while dealing with all the medical issues that came up in such a short time based on my limited understanding how how that works in the USA. This is something that only just occurred to me, and I have not read the policy so I have no idea if this would be the case.

I should also mention I am extremely satisfied with my current employer Kablamo. To date the best place I have worked, with many of the same benefits that sourcegraph were offering. I would have been very sad to leave them.

So I turned the offer down. Possibly a mistake? Yes. Do I regret it? No. With the way things turned out no. I would potentially not gotten to have said goodbye to my mother, and she would not have seen her grandchild. Anyone who has experience flying with small children would understand why that would be the case. I am also getting to the point where I am healthy again. I don’t know if I could have pushed through everything last year in my usual way.

Thankfully 2019 is looking to be a far better year.

My health issues may have been related to stress and everything appears to be back to normal with a good outlook. While my mother will never come back time has made thinking about it less painful. Other parts of my personal life are also looking good. Also excellent news is that searchcode server sales have picked up more so than last year. I even took a much needed break with the family and really had a chance to relax. Work at Kablamo continues to be fun with interesting projects and with great people. I am optimistic about this year. I am also hopeful that 2018 will be the worst year of my life ever. I certainly hope that is the case.

Why publish this now? I noticed in my twitter time-line that Quinn Slack (CEO/cofounder of sourcegraph) is expecting a daughter https://twitter.com/sqs/status/1098640601501876234 I never adequately explained my reasons for turning him down and frankly I felt bad because of it. Not an excuse but I did have a lot going on at the time and needed to do what was best for myself and family. I wish Quinn, Beyang and Dan the best of luck with sourcegraph and am sorry I was not able to be part of it.