Last Day at Synacor

Normally I avoid talking about my employer, but today is a special occasion. Today is my last day at Synacor. Monday morning I will be back in NYC doing what I like to do best: growing startups, contributing to open source, and kayaking in the Hudson. Since I know a few people at Synacor read this, I will preface this with "this post is not a rant naming names". All that it amounts to is an anecdote finally getting published.

I started at Synacor in 2009, after my mother died of a 15yr battle with brain cancer, and I shut down a startup I was self funding for a year. Our primary vendor pulled out a week before soft launch, and our backup lost one of their vendors and couldn't supply us with what we needed. Additionally the housing crisis hit, and the greatest recession since the great depression. My wife's business was still finishing up some patent applications. Her lawyer asked me to consider taking a job at Synacor. His son still works there, and Buffalo being a village of a city, I already knew a number of employees there. His comment of "they really need your help" ended up ringing true.

So I went to go work at a company where I got poached by Jim Brandt before I even arrived. That would set the tone for the next 2 years. I think my cube moved 3 times the first week. Then my indoctrination into the corporate culture was one WTF moment after another. Now to put that into perspective, I had been consulting for startups for 7 years at that point, and had seen nearly as many idiosyncratic environments and methodologies du jour as one could shake a stick at. Synacor was a new one, I felt like I had been transplanted back to 1998. Everything that I'd been doing for a decade was effectively new here. I really could make a difference.

The hardest thing about working at a company like Synacor is not the technology, nor the business space, or the 24/7 on call, nor the self-imposed limitations of policy. It was figuring out how to be effective in the political landscape. Figuring out how to make hostile individuals whose jobs you were threatening still work with you enough to get things out the door. People talk a lot. Especially about you behind your back. Building a network of trustworthy informants was a prime strategy of mine. When I was in the office I tried to keep tabs on what everyone was working on, and who was butting heads with who. Building alliances and reinforcing friendships played a key role in keeping the daggers out of my back. On more than one occasion it averted someone sabotaging a project I was working on. One time I got word of a sabotage attempt after it had come to light, and the parties involved had ended up just making more work for themselves.

For me Synacor was a hostile work environment made bearable by an ever growing, loyal, and charming group of friends. As an agent of change, for every person you threaten, two more become loyal friends, and a dozen others hop on your coattails. There has been a rather momentus change a foot. The infrastructure has grown significantly more robust and capable. New projects are being developed with keen attention to separation of concerns. Increasing amounts of work is being shifted to the cloud. Client side programming is becoming common place, and in the groups I touched now the norm. For me, the greatest accomplishment was getting a large body of the company to adopt new ways of doing things.

While at Synacor I built a lot of infrastructure and put them on a number of new devices. They now are not just PCs and set top boxes, but support Android, IOS, and consumer electronic devices like IETV devices. For most of the past year I've joke what I do is generate press releases, but in all fairness I've been launching a new product offering every 6 months. In my time there I programmed in 13 programming languages, on 10 different platforms, and have touched millions of people's lives. Not to shabby.

And that's that.