Taking a break

September 29, 2022

I gave Figma a year but it ended up not being quite right for me.

I've reflected a lot on why that is and I have many complex thoughts on it, but they're hard to communicate well in a way that doesn't come across as griping, and that is not how I feel about it overall. Everyone was extremely kind; the product is very successful; I learned a lot.

Working on Figma gave me a renewed respect for what it means when talented people go really deep on something. One of my favorite small details in the product is that when you rotate an object, the mouse cursor rotate arrows are angled to match the rotation, which means the mouse cursor itself rotates as you drag. When they built Figma they didn't just implement this, but they also wrote patches for each of Chrome, Firefox, and WebKit to improve cursor rendering(!). (This post has links to them.) Figma is full of stuff like this, where some really smart people spent literally years working on getting small details just right. I had been admiring Figma from afar for years before I joined and my admiration was not misplaced.

I chose to work at Figma in part because of the tech; see my recent posts on WebAssembly. It has been cool to draw on random knowledge from all over my career, including Linux graphics, build systems, right to left text, browser internals, both C++ and TypeScript esoterica, and more. Figma is pretty unique in spanning both browser tech and lower level work, and I take pride in having a skill set that spans both of those worlds.

But more importantly I was there to try out working in a different culture — to learn what experiences of my long-time-at-one-company career were fixed and what parts were flexible. In retrospect I was so naive! I knew that going in I knew nothing, and that was a large part of the reason to try it, but today I am also amused to think back on what me of one year ago had hoped and expected. For one example: when interviewing it didn’t even occur to me to ask if the company used email, though of course the answer to that question has big cultural implications.

In all, Figma has a lot going for it. What hasn't been working is my personal life. I've been really struggling as a new parent with how to manage parent responsibilities, my job, and still make time for my own goals — even pretty basic stuff like "get enough sleep", "have three meals a day", or "talk to a friend". I ended up perpetually stressed out, unfocused, and on edge. I can see other people are able to handle this and wonder what is wrong with me, and I am embarrassed how the people I worked with at Figma only got to know me as this unreliable/ineffective person that is not how I perceive myself.

I ultimately decided I needed to make some big life changes and getting back the bulk of my weekdays by quitting my job seemed an appropriately big step. (Just to be clear about it, since it's easy to assume otherwise: Figma's work life balance was extremely reasonable, even generous. It is not "I am exhausted by the startup life", it is "I am exhausted by life".)

What's next for me is to just take some time unemployed, for myself. I have worked more or less continuously for a long time — including summer jobs through even high school and college. For my last job switch I also (stupidly, in retrospect) didn't schedule much downtime either. With retrospect's insight I think I needed to first prioritize finding a way to work sustainably, without burning out, but I'm not even sure what that would concretely mean for me.

PS: It is ironic, but my last day at Figma was just days before the Adobe acquisition news. It was as much a surprise to me as a former employee as it was to you, so none of the above is related to that. I have plenty of thoughts on it but I am not especially well informed, nor wise about business, so I will keep them to myself.