I Got Laid Off and Then I Found the Best Job I've Ever Had: How Noodle Has Been an Agent of Positive Change in My Life
This year has been a hectic one, to say the least. I started the year in a brand new role, with a brand new company, in a brand new industry, and was ready to take on the world. 2020 on the other hand had its own plans, and in the span of 5 months, things went from blissfully calm and generally awesome to a total mess.
I’d made the decision to shift from one of the largest background check companies in the world to a very small, and very young mobile marketing company and was a part of a growing team that had a lot of ambitious plans. The culture was amazing, the perks and benefits were world-class and the leadership team had a really clear vision for our path forward - things seemed promising.
Then, came COVID, and everything changed. The world changed. My new company had to make the very tough decision to make lay-offs and unfortunately, I was one of 50 that got let go. While I don’t blame them or think less of them for the decisions they made, I was still devastated. It’s painful, but it’s a business decision. I know the decision was not based on my performance or my abilities, but that’s easier to say now because at the time I felt like I’d just gotten dumped by my high school sweetheart.
I spent the next month applying to jobs, like thousands of others, and was lucky enough to land in my current position as Recruiting Manager at Noodle. At first, I wasn’t sure if this was going to be the perfect fit for me because I do not have experience with higher education or education technology - but I fell for the mission and for the people and am so happy to have taken the plunge.
In my role - I have had the pleasure to work with leaders across the organization and help them grow and scale their teams. I’ve built procedures and policies, I’ve helped with our goals to be an inclusive company where people are welcome to be themselves and to thrive as themselves, I’ve met some of the best people in the world and after it all, I’m glad that I got forced out of my last job so I could find my new home.
Noodle itself is a real pioneer in the education technology space. Our core values speak to our commitment to never stop learning, and to embrace joy - and when you are supported and encouraged and feel like you are on a team where you can thrive, it’s easy to live these values.
I know first hand how hard it can be to have to start over, to have to take a chance on an unknown, and how to pick yourself back up when things seem like they can’t get any worse. The tough times often make way for better times and every day I am thanking my lucky stars for my better days. Noodle is a truly special place, and I am so happy to be in a role where I get to help share our values and why anyone would be lucky to be on this phenomenal team.
As large companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google continue to commit to remote work cultures, I figured it would be a good time to reflect on my journey into full-time remote work at Noodle over the past two years, and some impactful conversations I’ve had with folks in edtech through my podcast.
Remote work is a bit of a foreign concept in higher education traditionally, even though recent months have shifted that dramatically. Even so, it is still a major culture shift for a very place-based profession. The ways we communicate, balance our time, and create community all have to change. There is a lot of good that has come of this shift, and hopefully I can reinforce some of that by sharing some anecdotes from my time at Noodle.
Communication is (Still) Key
When I’ve worked on-site, I have tended to keep to myself and focus on my work. With that being said, offices are naturally social environments and I’ve appreciated them for that. It helps to build a culture and community at work. We also tend to take it for granted.
In my experience, remote work can be just as effective in terms of communication while also allowing people to work uninterrupted in whatever way and time suits them best. Since we’re all apart and still need to keep in touch, we have to put deliberate thought and effort into making sure everyone is up to date, can contribute, and can keep track of progress on projects. There are plenty of great tools out there to help with these sorts of things, but I’ve found Slack to be an amazing platform for teams to communicate with each other. We use it here at Noodle and it can have so many helpful integrations so each person can customize it how they want and make sure to join all of the channels they want to be a part of. Also, you must have a project management tool like Jira (preferably alongside Confluence) to keep track of ongoing work across teams. You can also build repositories of knowledge for yourself and others, and these can be so crucial as teams grow and people move on. We use Jira across the entire team here at Noodle and it works wonders to keep everything organized and on track.
Lastly, remote work has been transformative in the way I approach video calls. We’ve all certainly become much more acquainted with these nowadays, but even still, there is so much to learn and improve on to make sure these meetings are run effectively. Simple things like better lighting, sound, and framing can help to make sure there aren’t any distractions or disruptions. It has also been reinforced how important it is to make sure you practice your active listening skills to convey your understanding to others. Also, since it can be a sort of slippery slope, making sure only the truly necessary folks are included on your video calls since it can just be too cumbersome with too many people even though there is often no limit to what the platform can handle. Noodle has done a lot of work here to make sure everyone is equipped with what they need to be their best self forward and norm our expectations around how these meetings are structured. From day one, I was given the opportunity to get all of the gear I needed to deck out my workspace to help me to be efficient and be able to communicate effectively.
Balance, Harmony, & Integration
Something I’ve really appreciated these last few months as a new parent (and an expectant one before that) is the ability to be present and as helpful as I can be for our little family. Remote work (namely working from home) has allowed for me to be able to better integrate my job into my roles as a parent, a husband, and just as a human being who needs time to take care of myself. Not having to waste a huge chunk of everyday commuting and being able to just step away from my desk and attend to other duties around the house, be able to pop out for a quick appointment, or grab coffee with a friend has been something I am continually grateful for. Noodle has made sure to reinforce the need (right now especially) for protected time to tend to childcare needs and even just have time away from work to care for ourselves through initiatives like Summer Fridays.
I will certainly acknowledge that work-life balance is hard, even in remote work. There are busy days where I can’t get to any of those chores around the house and that can be stressful as I pass by the dirty dishes in the sink and the dog looking expectedly at me to go outside. I’ve been able to work on this and make sure my wife and I work as a team to do our best balancing it all and at the end of the day, that’s all we can ask of ourselves; is to do our best. The work and the chores will be there. Working from home takes that same ethos of deliberate care and thought that I mentioned before, just applied in your own personal context. Certainly, some people will need to have literal separation and will find a coworking space more conducive to their success, but I prefer to optimize my own workspace at home. In addition, the culture of any organization needs to support this as well and everyone at Noodle is really patient and caring about what each of us needs at any given moment.
Community is What You Make It
I mentioned the concept of community before when it comes to remote work. Certainly higher ed is big on building vibrant communities for students, and that is no different in digital spaces. Transitioning to working from home, there are times I definitely miss the feeling of being on a college campus or even just in a shared physical space with my team. Now I have to put the same intentional energy into making sure I get out to local networking events, go to conferences, and keep in touch with colleagues over email, social media, etc.
On the organizational side, there needs to be an emphasis on building rapport and culture even from a distance. I’ve seen really fun efforts in the shape of care packages sent to employees around important milestones, doing “fireside chats” on a consistent basis, bringing everyone together frequently to align on what is happening, and making sure to celebrate the successes of team members publicly. These are things that I sometimes never experienced even when I was in person for various higher ed jobs. Noodle has done all of this and more which is really refreshing and much appreciated. It helps to know the need here is apparent to our leadership and they give time and effort to it.
Remote work has changed my professional life for the better. Higher ed often struggles with work-life balance and to be able to support student success each day at Noodle in a way that better integrates into my life, is simply a game-changer. I don’t know if I’d ever go back honestly. I hope this trend in higher ed is here to stay.
This was it. I had tossed, turned, and lost sleep for four days over this decision. I consulted my wife, spoke with my supervisor, and even sought input from my favorite Human Resources Business Partner on this decision, but now was the time to either step up, or stay quiet.
“So, let’s back up a bit, how did you end up at Noodle? Or rather how did you end up in Industrial and Organizational Psychology?” John Katzman asked me during a Noodle at Noon— a daily company-wide event during which our CEO interviews an employee— towards the end of my summer internship. I took a deep breath, told myself this was an opportunity to use my platform and I had to seize it.
“Thanks for asking John. To share my journey to Noodle, I have to share my journey authentically. I’m a transgender man, and while that part of my identity is a small sliver of who I am, it is still an incredibly important part of who I am. It has shaped my lived experiences, especially my experiences in the workplace, and ultimately why I found myself in IO psychology studying diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
There it was. Out in the open. Me — I was out in the open.
I shared my story with John, and in turn, the ~200 people who make up the heart and soul of Noodle. I shared my journey of self-discovery, as well as the decisions and consequences that followed my decision to live my life authentically when I transitioned in my early twenties. I don’t remember everything about that conversation, if I’m being honest I may have blacked out from nerves and anxiety. Up until that point, I had worked very hard to be discrete about that part of my identity, spending countless time, energy, and money to be “just one of the guys.”
Candidly, I had not even said the words “I’m transgender” in over 3 years, but I had found my home at Noodle. A home where I feel secure and supported to embrace and celebrate all aspects of who I am. I had spent the last two months of my summer building relationships across all departments and levels of leadership within Noodle, I had a strong support system, and now I had the platform to change hearts and minds about trans* folx. No matter how wonderful people are, we all have our biases, and even if we are not aware of it, they sneak in and change how we view people once we have new information about them. I’m sure some people turned off the webinar and went to lunch after hearing the word “transgender” come out of my mouth, and that’s okay, it’s not about changing everyone’s mind, it’s about changing one, changing one heart, one mind at a time.
I was too anxious to look at the chat on the side of the webinar as John and I sunk our teeth into the state of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as a whole, and how we do better as individuals, as well as an organization. But I do know that the messages full of love, support, and pride that flooded my Slack throughout the day and the days to come confirmed that I had, indeed, found my home at Noodle.
At the end of my internship I was brought on as a full-time Noodle employee (or “Noodler”). I have seen how the amount of support and acceptance of all aspects of my identity has allowed me to flourish in my career here. I have been afforded every opportunity to grow, develop, and do meaningful work that has empowered me. There is no doubt that every organization has room to grow when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion; DEI is ever evolving, and organizations have to keep up. But keeping up starts with people, and the people that call Noodle home, are people with brilliant minds and big hearts who are eager and willing to learn and do the work to continue being better every day. To create the best culture we possibly can so that everyone has the opportunity to thrive as their authentic selves.
Covid-19 and its continued effects are wholly unprecedented. For those of us with children the altered state of our everyday lives, and that of our families, has been challenging, overwhelming, and is riddled with a consistent sense of uncertainty. Despite the overall tragedy that is Covid-19, finding positivity in our new ‘normal’ is tantamount to our ability to parent effectively while also caring for ourselves and our mental health.
When the pandemic became a reality, I immediately pulled my son out of daycare. As someone with backgrounds in both public health and nursing, I was acutely aware of the severity of the many effects that Covid-19 could and would have on the world and I wasn’t taking any unnecessary chances on the health of my family. Soon thereafter my husband, who is a teacher, was shifted to working-from-home when schools shut down. Suddenly we were both trying to work full-time while caring for a rambunctious 18-month-old. Despite the love that we have for our son, Henry, it was hard. Henry couldn’t understand the overnight shift in routine, isolation from other children, and being stuck at home. My husband worried about the future of his job and the children that he cares so deeply for, and I worried about how I would be able to juggle caring for a small child while working full-time. Henry was mostly worried about Sesame Street and goldfish crackers, with the occasional meltdown over having to wear sunscreen.
The ability to work remotely has always been a perk, and despite being fortunate enough to have job security during a time when so many people were being laid off, it suddenly became a pronounced barrier both personally and professionally. As an Enrollment Advisor, my work performance is based on metrics and I simply couldn’t meet them while being a mother and wife with my family in my ‘office’ 24/7. Enrollment Advisors are expected to be on the phone for the majority of their day, so chaos and background noise are a no-go. It was beyond stressful, but I’m also grateful that I was able to spend so much time with my family. Finding silver linings and positivity in the unique situations I’ve experienced due to Covid-19 has been a saving grace for me, and the value of the quality time with my husband and my son during such a shaping time in his life is immeasurable.
Henry just turned 2 and is thriving. His language skyrocketed almost immediately when he left daycare which I attribute to the constant interaction with my husband and me. We learned to be creative with ways to keep him entertained at home, and found a love...no...PASSION for sidewalk chalk, bubbles, and inflatable pools. Our dogs received more attention and walks than ever, we prioritized sit-down family dinners, and embraced being more mindful and present for ourselves and for each other. Both my husband and Henry are back in school/daycare now and although it has been a relief to have some sense of normalcy again, I admittedly miss the chaos and togetherness of forced lockdown.
Working for Noodle has been a blessing throughout the uncertainty of the pandemic. I have felt nothing but support, caring, and understanding from the executive level to my direct manager and everyone in-between. Mental health, work-life balance, and prioritization of family are discussed consistently, and multiple resources have been made available to all employees for which I continue to be grateful. The culture of our organization has always been a major benefit working for Noodle, and I believe the culture has not only remained intact during Covid-19, but has also vastly improved. The sense of togetherness that is so desperately missed by being socially distant is alive and well at Noodle, and I credit this to my ability to remain focused, motivated, and balanced in both my personal and professional life.
Parenting is a challenge during the best of times. Covid-19 brought an entirely new set of challenges that we continue to navigate and overcome piece by piece, and that’s something to be proud of. Our kids love us. Our kids appreciate us. Our kids look up to us. We are doing the best we can with what we have, and though they’re hard to find at times, we must continue to focus on our silver linings.