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Taking a breather to sort out my future

Note: This article was originally published at Planet PHP on 24 July 2012.
Planet PHP

So when you are a programmer life is good. You can kind of work from where ever you want (home/office/nature ..), constantly get to work on new and exciting stuff (well if you want that is) and you can choose from an entire planet offering you jobs that by and large pay pretty well. Personally I have been additionally very lucky in having found Liip. Now this sentence sounds a lot like the beginning of a note on my immediate departure from Liip, where I thank them and then state that I needed a new challenge lala. However this blog post isn't about making a decision to leave Liip public. Its about me trying to figure out what I want to do in the future. I am very certain that there is no other web agency on the planet I would rather work for than Liip.

So what is this all about? At Liip I get all the freedom to work on OSS projects that I want. Actually I have turned down various job offers over the past years that would have allowed me to work on OSS full time, but this isn't what I want. I love working on OSS, but I also love working on real world client needs. Figuring out what kind of challenges they have and identifying the right patterns to put into code. So as much as I am exciting about the potential for reshaping the internet (because the internet for a large part is PHP based CMS's) with PHPCR, I wouldn't want to do it outside of the context of real world client projects.

I have been with Liip now for over 4 years and I was very concerned about our growth in this period going from less than 30 to over 70 in this time frame. To my surprise Liip internally still feels like a place where anyone can affect the internal processes if they want to. This I never thought would be possible in an organization with 30+ people. The goal of this growth was getting larger clients with bigger more high profile projects that allow us to really push what has been done before. Like for example what we have done for a Swiss TV station where we have build a tight integration between a TV channel and social media at an unparalleled level. But we have not yet really figured out how to deal with such clients in a way that retains this attitude of trust and collaboration that I so much appreciated when I first started working for clients in Switzerland. Here it seemed to me like quality is still the focus rather than constant fighting over contract details. The entire rest of Europe/world seems to only focus on price because everybody expects to get screwed on everything anyway.

However, at these larger swiss clients we are actually facing an entirely new challenge: politics. Of course there was some of this before. Actually we have had big clients before, but now we have big clients where we are doing mission critical projects and so suddenly our projects are at the center of attention in the respective organizations. The end result seems to be that instead of working together with the client there are zillions of "back seat product owners" meddling, lots of people seeing an opportunity to climb the latter or just fortifying their position by making sure they line up enough fall guys. At any rate we are not collaborating anymore, we are now mostly just trying to navigate a mine field.

So what does this mean for me? Liip either A) needs to figure out how to deal with this kind of politics or B) we need to move away from taking clients where this happens (which also means being able to identify such clients before we sign contracts). I must note option C) as well which would be to try and fix this politics from happening, but that seems kind of unrealistic. Question for A) is if we want to have people working at Liip that know how to play politics. So maybe the only solution is indeed B) ie. to just ensure we never work with clients where we have to play big corp politics. Of course there is always a bit of politics, I am just seeing a pattern of increasing politics which is what to me is turning awesome projects into nightmares. Well "nightmares" in quotes, as by and large I cannot say that my life as a programmer working at Liip as been sooo horrible. It just feels like it is not going in the right direction currently.

And yes of course there is also another alternative: Leaving Liip to do something else. Like I said, another web agency is out of the question. I do one day want to work on a single product for a longer period of time. However most of the opportunities there either seem to be about fairly boring static products, large mega corps that are mostly about advertisement or at startups. Working at a startup I kind of worry about my tendency to transform into a workaholic. I mean at Liip overtime is paid so it sort of balances out. I of course also spend a good chunk of my spare time on OSS stuff but it doesn't interfere with my frisbee addiction. At a startup I will likely quickly be

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