It’s the second time in my life I’ve been scared as all hell, yet excited for the future when it came to my career. The first time was in late October 2009. I was working at Primus Telecom where I was totally kicking butt in their tech support department. On one overcast late September evening I met an old colleague [Jessica] for a drink to “catch up”. As our second drink came to the table, as too did a man that looked as if he’d be a shoe-in for a role as “nightclub security”, only instead of “SECURITY” on his shirt, it read “RUN BGP”. Truthfully, it could have also read “RTFM ID10T” as both would have been predictable should you know Scott Silzer.
Jessica introduced Scott as her colleague, as he sat down and said “So Paul, do you like your job?”… “uhh, ya, why?”… “Well, you see.. would you like to talk about a new job?”… “umm.. not really”. Scott gets up and talks to Purdy (the _best_ bartender in the world, I’ll add) “get him another one”. A fresh beer arrives. “Paul, now that you have another beer, let’s talk about your new job”. This wasn’t a question, it was a demand. From an intimidating man. The kind of man you just hand your ID to without question. “Ok, what about it?”. This started something…..
Well, not because of Scott; although he’s _absolutely_ made a respectable sized support group of tech support monkeys beg for their mother, I’m sure. I know I make him out to be this intimidating person, but I can assure you that he’s one of the most lovable, kind hearted, generous, genuine, and real people you could meet. And, if you know anything about systems & network engineers, that’s basically saying he’s Mr. Rogers, just with a “SECURITY” shirt on.
I had been ambushed. Now convinced I should take an interview with this company, I nervously accepted. I was actually late by an hour to my interview the following week due to a schedule change I’d forgotten to update in my calendar, leading me to ditching my plans of ironing a shirt & pants into suddenly tossing on whatever looked best before I ran out the door [I didn’t realize I had a stain on my shirt]. Walking out of the interview, I really felt I’d nailed it and walked away confident. An offer letter arrived a few days later and I remember the incredible anxiety as I signed the paperwork on a Friday morning. I was signing my ticket to the future, while on my way to say goodbye to my present.
While I worked with about 6 others in Primus’ Toronto office, there were 30+ in the Ottawa center. It was on the way to Union Station that I’d signed my offer at the ACI offices, moments later boarding a train to Ottawa. I wanted to meet guys I’d been colleagues with for the past 3 years just once, while also tendering my letter of resignation in person to my amazing director, who I’d also actually met face-to-face once before. Granted, my girlfriend at the time also lived in Ottawa, so… it wasn’t all for the work thing, don’t let me fool you.
After going for drinks & shooting pool with a good portion of the team, I found myself alone with my director Tom Bell, standing on the sidewalk as we all returned to the office. I began to try and tell him I was resigning, when he interrupted me… “you came here to tell me you’re leaving, right? You wanted to actually meet the team before you left, right? I know you. You’re going to do good”. I literally fucking cried. I’m almost crying thinking about it as I write this. I thanked him for everything he’d done for me, being a great director, and wished him and his team much success moving forward.
I had pulled a bunch of pranks in the Toronto office over the years much to the laughter of my manager Kris, which had become a bit of folklore for the Ottawa boys. So, once I’d wiped away the few tears saying goodbye, I vowed to pull one on the Ottawa management. With the help of a few comrades, 25+ wheelie chairs had been stacked into their cubicles, with an timed email to the entire team (Toronto included) sent at exactly 7:00am on Monday morning saying “Team, please claim your chairs from my office, it’s a little too cozy for my liking. Thanks! Tom, Director of Tech Support”. Only, it was sent from my e-mail address and a photo of the madness was attached. It was received in great spirits by all.
When I finally left, a colleague sent me a photo of my old cubicle. There was a printed out sign that said “Yes, Paul is gone”. They’d cut out a promo photo of me from a flyer for a rave I was playing at and taped it to my monitor. Apparently more than a handful of people had been coming around and asking about this rumor they’d heard that I’d left and didn’t actually believe it. Looking back, it really warms my heart that I had such an impact.
And so it went.. I joined ACI and it was like a springboard into this new and wild chapter of my life. I had recently moved into the city from the suburbs, I had a promising new job, and my relationship was going excellent (albeit, still long distance). Summing up 9 years at an organization like this is impossible with anything less than a thesis paper. Coles notes? If more companies operated in the manner ACI did, the world would be a FAR better place.
I climbed the proverbial ladder within ACI becoming a technical team lead, senior team lead, and ultimately ended up as a Sales Engineer. Daaaaaaamn, we were KILLING it in the market as this amazing company, doing amazing things. Customers were ecstatic with what we did, we offered an excellent service at a proper price, and had a team that was incredibly passionate. We were looking to push towards a hyper-growth phase and were looking for outside investment.
That’s when this all came crashing down in March 2018. GTT Communications wasn’t looking to invest, they flat-out purchased ACI in what looked to be a completely logical acquisition. A multi-national telecom expanding their footprint into Canada with the most respected “indie” carrier. I remember the announcement where the CEO of the company that just acquired us walked into the room, a CEO of a $3.2 Billion dollar company, standing in the front lobby of our building, in a suit that was 4 sizes too large for him. They passed out fridge magnets with the company mission statement on it. Rick Calder stood there and said “This is an exciting time, blah blah, don’t worry, you’re going to be safe”.
The reality? They laid off half the company 45 days later. I was part of those lay-offs.
When GTT acquired ACI on March 12, 2018 their stock price was about $65 USD a share, their highest price ever on record. Last year their stock was delisted from the exchange, and today they are quite literally fighting to be even hold the classification of a penny stock. One could surmise the purchase of ACI was the catalyst that rocketed them to the bottom, but the reality was they’d just bought another $3 billion dollar company at the same time. Through gross mismanagement, and cutting corners for the all-mighty shareholder returns through layoffs, they saw unprecedented loss of clients upon acquisition. It’s a tragic story, one where I got to witness the real face behind ACI, it’s President, Michael Garbe, sit in a boardroom on the day of the layoffs, fighting back tears as he watched the team he’d meticulously assembled get absolutely decimated to corporate greed and off-shored indifference towards clients.
The team Michael built believed in that company so much that we actually, willingly, collectively, behind Michael’s back, commissioned a company culture video. I’ll concede that it’s pretty cheesy, but there’s truly no lies. If you actually watch the video I’m the fat kid with a hairline I’m battling to keep alive. While I’m still waiting my casting call from Hollywood, Lanny Barcelos’ quote of “an oasis tucked away in the financial district” was no more.
I walked home in shock the day I was laid off. I hadn’t been without a job in nearly 20 years at this point and the wealth of emotions, questions, and worry began to sink in. I knew my skills were in demand, and I knew I was excellent at what I did, but that lingering feeling remained. I quickly got offered a few positions which I turned down for various reasons. I had a healthy severance agreement which allowed me time to find something I really wanted to do as opposed to taking whatever I could get to put some cash in the bank.
It was nearly 3 months later I got a call from an old client out of the blue “Hey bud! What’s going on? Have you found something new yet?”… “Still looking for the right fit, turned down a few things, currently sitting in my underwear, you?”, “Well, we’re moving a bunch of our stuff to this new company, and they need someone like you”, “give them my number”. 30 minutes later the president of this new organization called me and we proceeded to chat for nearly 3 hours. I started at Gazelle Communications about 2 weeks later, bright eyed, bushy tailed, and ready to take on the world.
Walking in the door on my first day was inspiring. I saw a company trying to do the things I was familiar with yet struggling a bit, and a bunch I hadn’t been exposed to, yet they were kicking butt in those areas. I knew I could help, and I was excited. Immediately I setup relationships with new vendors, bolstered a few already in place, and we launched a handful of new services within 2 months. This was going just awesome. The team grew quickly and there was a lot of promise on the horizon.
A year or so into this employment I found myself in a bit of a rut on a personal level. While my professional life was ticking away just wonderfully I’d recently exited a (short) relationship that that gave me a great perspective on “the bigger picture” that I wasn’t seeing in my life which got me thinking about some of the regrets I’ve had over the years. Two days later I booked my first solo international trip to Germany. I’ve had some regrets in life, and this is certainly not one of them. It was life changing.
A few months after my return COVID came along and changed everything. The business exploded as we took on a near impossible task to transition tens of thousands of users into remote work environments. What we pulled off is still a feat that anyone would be proud of. But with most people, it came with a considerable mental shift as many of us began to become more introspective.
As the pandemic wore on, that rut I’d felt a year earlier was becoming more prevalent. It was a feeling when you know something bigger needs to happen, but you can’t quite figure out what? I struggled with it for a while, never quite being able to put my finger on things. With the world more-or-less being locked down, I felt now wasn’t exactly the time to make any big moves, let alone the fact I didn’t have a clue what that move would entail. Time wore on and things became a bit more clear to me.
I simply wasn’t growing professionally in the way that I knew I needed. I was excellent at what I did, but the feeling of learning something new, expanding my horizons, and taking steps forward just weren’t there. I began to start a lot of projects in the evenings to keep my mind busy. From really putting some effort into my side IT consulting business, to learning advanced level home automation, to building out a very respectable home lab, all of this was great but it wasn’t scratching the itch I needed.
In the end I kept coming back to the same problem; I had nothing left to give. There simply wasn’t anywhere I could move within the company, I certainly wasn’t learning anything new that posed a real challenge, and I’d more or less done everything I could do in the role I had. If there’s one thing I know about myself, it’s that I need structure, I need to be “doing”, and I need to be building something at all times. It’s not unusual for me to have 5-10 unfinished “projects” in my life going at any given time. The thing was, none of these were in my current position. Typically when this type of thing happens I begin to look for things to do and make new jobs for myself in my professional life. That’s what led me in the past to create entire knowledgebases, automate tasks, learn new programming languages, write thousands of line of code, and build absolutely ridiculous integrations.
Although not the most intricate, I still find it to be one of my more hilarious bits of code. Many years ago TELUS had issues with DSLAM ports locking up and kicking users offline. The fix was to simply “reset” the port and they’d come back up. In super broad terms, when you connect to the Internet, you have a modem on both ends of the line. You know what your modem looks like, but on the other end at the telephone company’s switching center, it’s like on gigantic modem that handles hundreds of connections at the same time, with each end user connecting to a “port”. It’d be those “ports” that would lock up. Probably some memory leak or software bug was causing it. Who knows, but it would generally result in a few dozen clients being kicked offline each day. Not a big deal when you think of this among millions of residential users, but when you’re talking about banks, or enterprise retail storefronts, it becomes a lot more serious.
So, I decided to have some fun. I used our NMS (network monitoring server) to report to me every single connection that had been offline for 5 minutes or more. It’d send me a list of ID numbers once a minute. From there, I’d use that ID number to find a username, check that it didn’t have an active session, then retrieve a service number (like a phone number), all from another big database. The program would then fake being a real “user”, and more or less login to Telus’ vendor portal, navigate a bunch of screens, then tell Telus to “reset” the port that was associated with this service number. It’d log everything it did in a database which could then give fun reports like most dropped connections, which circuits look to be a chronic problem, and more-or less be pro-active on repairing things before customers even noticed.
The reason it’s a bit cheeky is that because TELUS refused to give me access to (because they probably didn’t have it to begin with) an API to do all of this (which would have made it SO easy), I instead used cURL and PHP in absolutely barbaric ways that I should probably be shunned for. But it worked, and it sure made me happy to make a crude fix to an annoying problem. I’d built many more complex and interesting things, but this one I always laughed at.
But here was the thing. There were no ports that needed resetting at Gazelle. Nor was there anything else that I could conceivably try and fix. I’d outgrown my role, and with no ability to rise in the company due to it’s small size among some other considerations, I knew I should be looking to move. I had already identified that my passion was weaning for the role, I didn’t feel engaged, and that leads to poor work ethic. That’s not fair to my employer, and it’s definitely not fair to myself. I was rotting away, and before I’d become toxic, I needed a change.
Companies out there are buying up labour, and I’m selling, baby! We’re in the early stages of a massive global resignation and (hopefully) some serious work reform. While this is more localized in the USA, this is absolutely also happening in Canada. People are starting to demand compensation closer to what they’re worth, as opposed to a race to the bottom for wages. I quietly updated my resume, LinkedIn, and began applying to a couple targeted companies in the Telecom space that I’m so good in.
Interviews came quickly, but very little was inspiring. A few recruiters put me on their docket, however everything they offered was uninspiring and mundane. I can safely say all but one of those opportunities ended prematurely with me saying “I’m sorry, this isn’t the right position for me, and we’re wasting each other’s time continuing this interview”. Should I have actually been desperate for a job, I would have worked my way through those interviews and likely accepted a position, but that’s not where my head was at. I didn’t need a job, people needed me – and I wasn’t going to accept anything less than what I was worth.
I got captivated by a position at Alcatel-Lucent, which for those who aren’t aware is more-or-less the company that builds the equipment that is the infrastructure for a good portion of the “last mile” internet. Remember how I was talking about DSLAM ports”, well, they are the ones who make those (but not the ones TELUS uses). I was slated for my third interview when they contacted me to say that another candidate had just completed their 4th and they’d selected them. Bummer, but I understood. They urged me to keep an eye on further openings as they really through I’d be a great addition.
While I was rejected, I didn’t feel down and out. I know my worth, I know what I’m capable of, and I know I’m an incredible asset to the organizations I’m a part of; especially once I find my stride within them. This was my chance to find something I knew was right for me, something that I’d absolutely love to be a part of, and a place I could contribute in a way that was meaningful.
And that’s when I touched base with a new opportunity at ProntoForms. They were a SaaS company who had an open Sales Engineer position. I applied and was contacted back a few days later. The first interview was a breeze and I got a great impression of what they were doing. A few days later I met with who would be my potential manager for a 1 hour video call. We spent 45 minutes laughing, commiserating about past follies, and talking shop. I think at one point we shared our love for cooking and experimenting with _real_ foods. He was personable, wonderful, and a ton of fun; the kind of guy you could sit on a patio with drinking beer for hours. He knew his stuff, and everything that came from that man’s mouth was praise for his colleagues, his team, and for the vision the company had.
We spent the other 15 minutes with a few formal questions, one of which was me saying “so, we’ve been on this call for 50 minutes, what would you like to know about me in relation to this role”. He answered “it’s obvious you know your stuff, I have no doubt you’ll be a good fit, I’ll send my recommendation, and I suppose you’ll have another interview or two”. I waited, anxiously over the weekend, and on the Monday following I got a call from their HR manger with an offer letter. I signed back a few days later and that’s when the the gears went into motion.
I sent my resignation letter a few days later once again leaving a place of comfort and security for the unknown. Nerves were high, but I was in a place of great hope. I hadn’t felt this alive mentally in quite some time. My final 2 weeks came and went with little more than a whisper as I closed off what I could, provided some knowledge transfer, and wished my customers and colleagues alike the best in the future.
I contemplated many nights about what this new move would look like, but I’d highly underestimated the deja-vu I was about to encounter. Remember that company culture video the staff of ACI commissioned? Well, ProntoForms has a similar one. The parallels are almost uncanny. This wasn’t a fluke.
As I began my first day, I was greeted with a ton of welcome wishes, a new Macbook Pro, iPad, and iPhone for my needs. Their IT department was in constant contact with me to ensure I had all the right adaptors, cables, and drivers to make sure my laptop was going to have all the correct connectivity to my current docking station. Accounts were setup, and I was provided a very complex, yet easy to understand onboarding process. Things were moving along just peachy.
I met my boss and director in person a few days later for lunch as they’d come from Ottawa to Toronto to meet me and another colleague. I spent the majority the following week in Ottawa meeting the rest of the team including the president Alvaro Pombo who’s nothing short of a great inspiration. As I drove home I began to realize this all seemed way too familiar. ProntoForms was just another iteration of ACI. Alvero was basically Michael Garbe, Aly Mawani was Adrian Boros, and Graydon was this wonderful mashup of Chris Piras and Lanny Barcelos. All of the people in my past life that gave me the opportunities, guidance, and support that made me the person I am today were now my colleagues yet again, only with different names. The personality traits are uncanny.
While I suppose I could go on with more details, the point of the matter is simple. For the past few weeks I’ve felt this new flame within myself. I’m inspired, I’m excited, and I’m going to do some really bloody amazing things again. While I work though the remainder of the onboarding training, I’m already coming up with new ideas on how this company and their offerings can grow. It’s such a niche offering, but one that’s so incredibly perfect, and filling a void that simply no other company has managed to fill.
Think of a situation where you call roadside assistance and they fill out paperwork about your flat tire then tow you to the nearest service station. That paperwork is no more. ProntoFoms provides a digital record of the service call, logging your make/model of vehicle, all your information, a photo of any damages (with a cool little feature to draw on the photos!), logs parts used, then interfaces with all of the crazy and complex backend databases for the tow truck company, allows you to sign off on the work order, emails you a copy of your service record, and logs all the stuff in the company’s database. All through an iPad app that’s been custom built for the job. But, that’s only one of about 10,000 different use cases it’s built for.
My mind has been racing. This is something innovative, something exciting, and it’s a whole heap of great minds continually striving to plug holes and come up with innovative solutions to complex problems. Funny, that’s more or less how I perceive myself and what I do with passion. Needless to say, I’m passionate about what’s coming in my professional life. I made the leap into the unknown, and I couldn’t be happier. I feel alive, I feel inspired, and I feel like I’m going to be talking about this for some time to come.