Leaving CODAworx

by Danny Zawacki

The CODAworx beginning

After two and a half years at CODAworx, I put in my two weeks notice. It did not end up being or feeling like I had imagined. I expected feelings of regret and nervousness to kick in, but for many reasons, those feelings hardly came through.

CODAworx was a job I took as a stepping stone. I wasn’t happy being a project manager for ICD Translation. It was dull work and it wasn’t being run well. I took the job at ICD as a stepping stone out of Peace Corps. Money was my biggest concern when I got stateside. I took the job at CODAworx, originally as a writer/magazine editor, to get closer to Ellie. She was living and working in Madison and I was still stuck on Waukesha. I needed to move closer to her as well as wanting to leave the translation hustle.

The beginning of my time at CODAworx was not an experience I ever imagined having. In that first year, we worked out of the boss’ condo, with a spectacular two-story view of Lake Monona. Before I understood how things worked and operated, I was certain the company was a joke. It just didn’t seem like a legit operation. But it was. Eventually, we moved out of the condo and into a real office space. At some point before the move, I was given a title change to Systems Administrator along with some new duties. Over time, that duty list grew. In the end, I was overseeing website development and managing internal requests and prioritizing tasks for the team of external developers.

A fun note about my duties at the end. They were given to me as a result of talking to a former manager about leaving CODAworx last November. He was still in regular contact with the boss and they discussed how to set things up better for me to succeed at CODAworx. The plan, as laid out to me, was to transition me to a Product Manager role over the course of the January – June this year. My former manager would come in weekly to consult and guide me towards developing all the skills I needed to fully embrace the role. Great, I thought, this might be the change I needed. All of the things I did for CODAworx shifted to have a focus on Product Development. At the end of that time, my boss told me, I would be officially promoted to Product Manager and given “a considerable raise”. Great, I said, let’s get started.


Why am I here?

Let me jump back to the beginning because this is very important for my account of the story. The job offer was $10,000/year less than I was making at the translation company (though it was the same amount I started with at the translation company). I brought this up to the boss, explaining that it’d be a big pay cut for me and I asked if there was any more they could offer. She said no, but she would revisit it after three months of employment. Since I wanted to live closer to Ellie, I took the job despite the low pay. At the three-month mark, I was given a small raise. A few months after that, I was given 10,000 phantom shares of the company. I later found out these were a glorified pseudo-bonus. The only way they paid out was if someone bought the company or if the company bought back the shares (I lost the shares upon termination of my employment). Things seemed to be going well. Sometime between the raise and the phantom shares, they hired a marketing manager. The boss circulated the job description for if we knew anyone who would be a good fit for the job. I saw the salary range and was instantly hurt and enraged. It was $10-15k more than my salary at the time. After being told there was no more money available than my new hire offer, seeing that number made me feel cheated. Let me get something straight, if you haven’t picked up on this yet, a job is about the money. You can try to sell me on an idea and a mission (like making more great art commissions happen), but if the money is not there, then the job isn’t what I am looking for. I don’t work because I love it, I work because I need to.

Fast forward to a few months after moving into the office. The number of staff grew from three to close to ten. I’m managing one person but management really means I’m sitting next to her every time she does something remotely complicated because she’s afraid of making a mistake. During a normal workday, I spent half of my time with her questions and coping for her inability to do her job on her own. I wasn’t supposed to manage her, it only happened because she couldn’t manage herself. The boss talks to her about becoming independent of me. This prompts her to quit. As a result of her quitting, the staff finds out how overpaid she was. Since she left, that money was going unused and I had also taken on her duties full-time, so I asked for a raise. I felt justified asking for a modest raise. I brought it up to my manager and the boss got back to me a week later. She took me to lunch to say no. Basically, she said there’s a lot I don’t know about running a business and the money she paid the woman who left was negligible compared to what I made because she was part-time and I was a salaried employee. True or not, I don’t know but my gut still says it was half full of bull. Additionally, she told me that my salary is the market value for my job title in Madison. She does that for all positions, she claims. I checked Glassdoor and more recently used LinkedIn’s salary search tool, and she was wrong on both accounts. I earned $20,000 less than market value but she used it as an excuse anyway to shut down my request.


The next big thing

So, jump back to more recent times at CODAworx. June came and went and there was no talk whatsoever about the promotion to Product Manager nor was there any talk of the promised raise. I let it be though. I waited for June to end and then through July. Maybe the plan was to give me the raise at any point in July and since the boss had been very busy all summer with trying to raise investor money, she must have just forgotten. My feathers were ruffled, but I was going to wait until August had come to bring it up.

In early July, I received a message from a recruiter on LinkedIn. I’ve received these from time to time and I either entertain the prospect of a new job or I see the job description and realize I’m vastly underqualified for the position and the recruiter is bad at their job. Anyway, Jolene reached out and said she had a job that would fit my skill set and wanted to know if we could set up a call to discuss. I agreed. My lack of raise annoyed me (and some other things I’ll get to later). I had a short conversation with Jolene about the job and the company and she described the aspects of it and with each new aspect I was internally shouting, “YES!” It seemed like the kind of job I had searched for but I didn’t know it. Bonus points because instead of me finding it, Jolene came and found me. Towards the end of the conversation, we talked about compensation. She was going to represent me for this job and she needed to know what I was looking for. She asked what my salary at CODAworx looked like as well as bonuses and indirect compensation. I told her. While the number wasn’t as high as I would like, I still felt proud of it because I had earned a decent amount raises in my time. She then asked how much money I would like to make. I told her a number about $15k/year more than I was making. I said, if the duties of the job are similar to what CODAworx had me doing, then I thought that would be a fair amount. She said that sounded good. It was the first honest conversation I ever got to have about money. I wasn’t being told what I would get but being asked what I would like and it gave me a good feeling going into the interviews.

I had two interviews, and I was nervous for both. They both went well. At the end of the second interview, I asked if they had a timeline for when I might hear back from them. They told me a couple of weeks. My heart dropped because I was so excited for the job that I didn’t know if I could wait that long. By the time I got home, however, I had a voicemail from the recruiter letting me know there was some news to share. I got the job. I asked my new boss about the two weeks thing and she said right after I left the three in the interview with me just looked at each other and said, “Yep, this guy.”

That meant the next step was to put in my two weeks notice. I wanted it to count. I didn’t want to leave maliciously. I didn’t want to offend, but I did want to say my peace. On a Monday afternoon, I asked the boss if I could talk to her about something. I told her that I had accepted an offer at another job, that I hadn’t gone out looking for the job but that it came looking for me. It wasn’t my plan. I also told her it came at a good time and I’d be happy to give her some reasons if she was willing to hear them. She said she was.


Goodbye

When I started, I didn’t really know how what I said would be received. I planned to point out problematic business practices to help other employees stay happy in the work environment. I started with pay. I reminded her that my pay has been a problem since the beginning. I brought up how I felt cheated that a few months after I was told there was no more money for me, a new hire’s salary would be much more than my own. I transitioned this into the conversation about feeling cheated out of a promotion and a raise. Something that I feel I worked hard for, after the guidelines that she had put in front of me. When asked if I was still getting the raise, she said I was but it wouldn’t be for a few more months because it was dependent on investor money coming in (everything at that job ended up being dependent on investor money coming in, by the way). So saying a few more months didn’t really mean it would only be a few more months and, be straightforward with me and tell me the reason I’m not getting the promotion I laid out at the beginning of the year. That still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

After that, I went into the big reason. There’s an employee at CODAworx. He was the one hired with that significant pay increase when there was no money to up my pay. To describe him bluntly, he’s a privileged bro who has little respect for anyone but himself. If you tell him something, he doesn’t believe you until he looks it up for himself (which is particularly annoying when it’s a matter of your expertise). He is a misogynist and I’m told he makes the women in the office uncomfortable. Personally, he makes me uncomfortable. He’s a manspreader. He’s also a tall guy, which is intimidating on its own. In terms of work, he is at fault for many of the reasons why nothing at CODAworx finishes on time. On many occasions, he’s caused late completion of my projects because at the last-minute he looks through them and decides things needs changing. I would always push back stating that his changes do not affect functionality and are fine to revisit after the release. Every time, I assumed that was the end of it. Every time, he would whine to the boss and “convince” her that he needed these changes made. Inevitably, these projects fall behind despite my efforts. These delays affected me more than just being late delivering a project, my bonuses were tied to completing projects on time. So I would lose parts of my bonus because of him. The worst part of that is that even though it’s pointed out to the boss from different employees, and she’s acknowledged it herself, it’s allowed to continue happening.

When I finished my reasons, the conversation continued with the boss. I asked her what my raise would have been, had I waited around for it. She named a number which was only half the difference between what I was making and what the new job had offered. She asked if there was anything they could offer to get me to stay. I said no, considering everything that was possible. She asked if I could give them more time before I leave, I said no. For a while, I had been mentally done with CODAworx and knowing that every hour I worked at CODAworx and not the new job meant I would make much less money was not something that was easy to sacrifice. Then she asked about what they could do to replace me. I was integral to the daily workings of the company because many things about my job I taught myself and no one else was willing to learn the things I knew. She asked if she could hire someone to do one aspect of my job and whether it would be a sufficient replacement. I said no. There were at least three big groupings of tasks that I did and replacing one of them and not the others would just hurt the company. I pointed out to her that replacing me would not come cheap. Finding someone with the right mix of skills and the ability to do things right will likely demand more than she was willing to pay. Then we talked transition plan.

She asked me if I could outline everything I did and write-up notes on everything. I agreed to do so. Some of this I did already, I just needed to group it together. Other things were things I did so often that writing them out would be a simple exercise. I spent the rest of the week documenting everything I did as thoroughly as possible. My last week with CODAworx, I spent my time training staff members to do as many of the things I knew they were capable of learning in a short period. I wanted to do my best to set them up to succeed in my absence. The last two weeks of work at CODAworx were the busiest two weeks working there, and that is saying something.

In the end, I had no regrets about leaving. The timing felt right. There was a night or two where I wondered if moving on was the right choice, but I quickly got over that. I’m happy for all that I got out of the time at CODAworx, but I was just unhappy about the atmosphere. There were a hundred things or more that I learned while working there. Some of those things I learned from others to me but many of them I learned for myself. Now, it’s time to learn new things from someone who is ready to teach. My new job, which I will talk about another time, will surely be an exciting new adventure and I hope it will last for the long haul. Wish me luck.