While it was happening, I was convinced that leaving academia would be the hardest professional decision I would ever make. Breaking away from an academic career, after all, is not simply a matter of profession; it pulls on every facet of one’s identity. Still, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
December 11, 2014, was the two-year anniversary of filing my dissertation. On the first anniversary of filing, I blogged about it and thought about it and wondered for the zillionth time if I had made the right decision. On this most recent anniversary, the second one, I was so busy that I didn’t remember the significance of the date until several days later.
All of this is a long way of saying that my professional life has not stopped evolving since my Week in the Life posts exactly one year ago. In early April 2014, I started at Evernote as their first User Experience Design Writer. I came to this role after nearly three years of consulting and contract work for startups and small software companies. All of them understood that their products had word problems, but none of them were entirely sure how to tackle them.
As the UX writer at Evernote, I design words. My role lives on the product design team. I craft the product narrative, writing everything that goes into our applications or informs their linguistic structure: user interface elements, first launch experiences, dialogs, tooltips, empty states, error messages, pop ups. Writing starts early in the design process. I work with my team to conceptualize a narrative for a flow or feature that we’re building and then hone the words that guide users through it.
I also led the production of our style guide (you can read about that process here) to create and maintain a consistent voice across every product and platform. I’m the language gatekeeper for the product side, and I collaborate with marketing, support, and other teams across Evernote to ensure coherence. I sweat the details that make us sound like us. The decision to leave academia was incredibly difficult, but I’m happier than I could have imagined being when I started formulating a plan B several years ago. My job at Evernote is a rare confluence of things: fulfilling, stimulating, busy, stable. I operate pretty autonomously. I enjoy my skilled, hard-working colleagues and the collaborative work that my team does. I’m challenged and empowered by the tremendous amount that is expected of my role, which is a work in progress that I’ve had a hand in shaping. Evernote’s organizational philosophy is trustworthy, humane, and dignified, and our product is beloved by millions of users.
I don’t really think of myself as “alt-ac” or identify as a lapsed academic anymore—what I do feels solidly like a career path, and I don’t think I would bring the same level of skill to it without my graduate training—but that doesn’t mean the hard choices are over. I’ve realized in the last couple of years that if you’re a person who is attracted to productive chaos and tough challenges, the hard professional choices just keep coming.
And all of that is a long way of saying that after a lot (I can’t underline that phrase enough) of contemplation, I’m leaving Evernote for another job. I wasn’t looking for something new, but something new found me.
It’s a good problem to have, of course, but that didn’t make the decision any less conflicted or difficult. In fact, throughout the decision-making process, all of the fears that I had around leaving academia resurfaced: fear of the unknown, of losing colleagues I care about, of walking away from some semblance of stability, of failure at this new enterprise, of judgment for not staying the course. Plus, I mean, really: Why leave a job that I clearly enjoy at a vibrant organization where I’m empowered to do compelling work and to theorize about it publicly?
Following Reid Hoffman’s line of thinking in The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age, Phil Libin, Evernote’s CEO, often says that he intends for his employees’ next job to be more epic than the one they currently have—and he hopes that job will be at Evernote. It was extraordinarily difficult to decide to leave, but the job that I’m leaving for is an opportunity to do something crazy and idealistic. I’ll be leading narrative UX at a small startup with large ambitions, building what I do from the ground up.
It’s epic, which also means that it scares the hell out of me—I know what a massive challenge I’m taking on. And I start tomorrow.
Start from the beginning – Read Jessica Collier’s “Week in the Life”