Transition to a big tech company. Part 1 (Why)

“Hey, Sergey, we have some news for you. Let’s meet and discuss over a cup of coffee later today?” – that was the text I received from my recruiter Lauren after going through three rounds of interviews with HBO. Not going to lie at that point I was anxious to hear the final verdict.

To be completely honest I didn’t actively look for new positions but at the same time, deep down I knew that it was time for me to move on…

It wasn’t an easy decision by any means, especially after working for FastCompany for over eight years (crazy to think about!), earning myself a solid reputation along with extra perks like the freedom to work independently and on my own schedule.

The biggest turning point for me was the realization that after years of rising through the ranks and working on my own side projects I still didn’t make any significant progress.

Sure, my salary more than doubled since the time I started, but it was still somewhat below the market. It was enough to cover the mortgage and monthly expenses, but not much else.

For a long time, I told myself not to worry about the salary component as I had plenty of time to work on my own stuff, especially knowing that a regular fulltime job won’t ever make me rich.

There were months where I barely touched “work” and instead focussed all of my efforts on building my next big thing. The only problem was that my “next big thing” wasn’t a “thing” but a collection of random projects all over the spectrum ranging from SEO PBN networks to crypto mining operation, plus things like performance consulting, websites flipping and WordPress plugins development in the middle.

When I hit 32 I suddenly realized I was still nowhere close to being able to finance my life from my side projects… That was the point when I started to have doubts as to whether I’m ever going to make it on my own…

Not going to lie it wrecked me emotionally to the point that I could barely survive in the office till 5pm. In the past, it was not uncommon for me to avoid hour-long lunches to save some valuable time, but now I couldn’t bring myself to do anything useful.

That’s where I was emotionally when I received an email with the new SRE opening at HBO. Mind you, it was far from the only new job opportunity that ended up in my inbox. Just like most engineers out there, I was bombarded by similar emails (and phone calls) on the daily basis but I never replied.

Until I did.

Not because I was a fan of HBO (didn’t even watch Game of Thornes at that point) or the email was so different from the rest. No. I did reply for one simple reason – to shake my boredom and test my current skills against the market.

Ok, so why HBO?

Maybe because of the old boxing matches with HBO logo in the corner (pirate of course) that I remember watching back in my childhood. Maybe I thought it would be kind of cool to work for a big company (a status thing), get unlimited access to premium boxing (or better – the front-row tickets to then upcoming Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko match), meet famous people and other perks like that.

In reality, I didn’t really care, as long as I could get an honest and brutal feedback and I felt like HBO was serious enough company with a strong engineering culture to give me just that.

On top of that, I had hopes that a new job might be the answer to my professional crisis, that it might help re-ignite my tech passion. Later on I’ll tell you whether my assumptions turned out to be true or not, but for now, let’s just get going.

Anyway, I downloaded PDF version of my LinkedIn profile and sent it over to the recruiter. It was enough to get me a phone screen.

Here is the interesting observation, when you go through multiple interview rounds, including a day of intense on-site tech grilling, it becomes personal. You end up wanting this validation and acceptance, even though you didn’t really plan to change jobs just yet.

I didn’t hear anything for a few days after my last on-site interview which made me feel sad and relieved at the same time. Sad because I wasn’t as smart/good enough as I thought I was. Relieved because I could retreat back into my familiar and safe shell and avoid making any tough decisions.

Then boom – a new text from my recruiter Lauren saying that she had some news and wanted to personally meet with me for lunch to discuss. She also refused to give out any details over the phone.

A bit strange, right?

We met around 1pm and sat down on the bench not far from my building and after some brief small talk, she cut to the chase:

“Sergey, the reason I wanted to meet with you personally is that I have great news. Folks at HBO liked you a lot and decided to make you an offer, but before I tell you what it is, I’d like to make sure you really want to join them.”

Then she added:

“And there is another small detail, they want you to join the data team responsible for all of the HBO datastores ( oh, noooo… ), but trust me it’s the same thing you wanted but better!” ( yeah, right… )

“If you are ok with it, I’d like to schedule a call with the direct manager of that team so he could talk to you some more.”

“Oh, and one more thing, if everything checks out, they want you there ASAP to get you up-to-speed for the upcoming Game of Thrones season. What do you say, Sergey?!”

Judging by the look on my face she added:

“It doesn’t seem like you a very excited about the proposition. Are you crazy?! ( here comes the sales pitch… ) Think about the future for a second, you’ll be able to send kids to any college you like. I’ve heard they have super fast promotions, awesome benefits package and on top of that, you will meet a lot of famous people. Come on, it’s a lifetime opportunity!”

So there I was, sitting on the bench with Lauren, thinking through all of the stuff she just unloaded on me… It was clear that she had very little idea of how it’s like to work in engineering, that it has nothing to do with meeting famous people, or even regular people for that matter, but I have to admit, it was fun to dream for a second. I suddenly saw myself wearing an expensive suit and walking on the Red Carpet with my wife, saying hi to Brad Pitt and Emily Blunt. Who knows, maybe I’ll even star in a new HBO show!


I’m sure you all want to know how everything played out and whether I was able to make in the show business or not, but the article is getting out of control, so I had to split it into multiple parts.

HERE IS THE PART 2 by the way!

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