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Joe Mainwaring
Joe Mainwaring

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How Covid & Cancer Impacted My Career

Isn't it funny how much things can change in just two years?

When I summarize my life, these past few years will be its own chapter because of how transformative the moment became. As a professional in the technology industry, it's not the direction I expected to be in, but I feel I've played my cards decently, all things considered.

Leading up to the pandemic was a 20 year career where technology wasn't just a job, it was a passion:

  • My career first began at age 15 with an apprenticeship at my school district. I worked along the IT manager and learned the concepts of support/help-desk, and performing both hardware and software repairs. I also began to learn how decision making in organizations worked.
  • At age 19, I took my first lead role in IT, overseeing operations for a Division 1 Collegiate Athletic program, made up of 15 different sports and a handful of supporting departments.
  • I maxed out my depth of skill in IT in my early twenties, and by age 26 I pivoted into Engineering by delivering my first iOS app.
  • At age 27, I joined a startup as a mid-level software engineer. That experience not only allowed me to build a depth in software development, but it also exposed me to the experiences delivering a product to scale.
  • At age 30, I built a simple app over the weekend that went viral, and used the profits to found a company to handle my side projects. I also found the sum of my background coalescing in my day job, taking on another Lead role, this time owning the delivery & roadmap for a product.
  • At age 32, I experienced my first exit event as the startup I helped build was acquired by a Private Equity firm. I got a taste of that rare treat: realized options.
  • At age 34, I found a new way to be creative with technology, delivering two art installations to a prominent museum. That effort grew my company for side projects into a legitimate LLC.

Finding Lemonade with Covid

Covid was an absolute disaster in terms of the velocity I had built with my career. Those first few weeks of lockdown had ripple effects across my professional network & significant impact on my mental health.

Prior to Covid, my role as a Team Lead had been fairly stressful, requiring a delicate balance of deliverables and support during a key moment in the product's early life. Having my support system decimated by the effects of covid quickly caught up, and by June of 2020 I was ready to throw in the towel and find greener pastures.

Did I find greener pastures? I did, but not where I expected. Shortly after I submitted my resignation, our Director of Infrastructure decided to move on as well. I took it as a moment of opportunity, and pitched my CTO the idea of grooming me into the Director role.

The pitch was well received and I promptly switched roles into the Director of Infrastructure. This allowed me to distance myself from the stressors that had made my participation unbearable, and providing me with new paths for growth.

Playing the best Hand with Cancer

Cancer is an unexpected curveball in life.

I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer in April of 2021 and spent half the month at the hospital. I underwent major surgery to address the immediate problem the cancer had created and would begin taking Chemotherapy that following June on a two-week cadence. To this day, I am still on chemotherapy.

In the short term, this had a profound impact on my ability to participate:

  • Leading up to the diagnosis, the symptoms had become so invasive, that it was stealing my focus and attention.
  • Because of the tumor & major surgery, I heavily relied on oxycontin for pain management. While I tried to participate, in hindsight the fog this medication created left me less capable. I was happy to be rid of the medication shortly after beginning Chemotherapy.
  • The Chemotherapy treatments reduced my work schedule to 60% my normal capacity for the 2021 calendar year.
  • It took about 6 months from diagnosis before I felt recovered & healthy enough to establish a "new" normal.
  • No time for side projects & I gave up 100% of the consulting revenue I usually bring in every year.

Did I need to participate? No, I was afforded as much time off as I needed to recover. I chose to participate in part because I needed something to keep myself occupied. I can't make cancer go away any quicker by spending more time focused on it, so I opted to put the time to better use.

Looking into the long term though, I'm optimistic on my prospects. Even though 2021 was robbed of any chance for growth, the consistency & predictability of my health is returning more time back to my professional interests. I'm spending less time recovering from Chemo, and more time living a normal life.

The Future Is Bright

The past two years have been transformative towards the type of person I've become today, but they leave me optimistic about what I can do with my experience in technology going forward.

  • In my role as a Director for a tech company, the path leads towards one conclusion: CTO. As long as I continue to execute on the growth opportunities in front of me, I will one day elevate into that over-arching role at a company.
  • I'm finally getting more time back to put towards creative endeavors, and I'm getting the itch to get back into side projects, with the intent of generating additional income. Maybe one day, one of these side projects will grow into something that can replace my corporate path. Now that coding isn't my daily duty, I can treat it more like an artisanal hobby.

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