Self portrait of the author. He needs a haircut.

I sold a few bodies to fund a new Fujifilm X-T5, and it arrived today. I honored the ancient superstition and made sure the first picture I put through it was a selfie.

I used the Fujifilm 56mm/F1.2, which I’ve had for a few years, and that sparked a memory:

My first Fujifilm camera was an X100S. I bought it because up to then I’d been a devotee of Canon’s PowerShot G-series, but those cameras were getting worse. They weren’t using APS-C, they kept changing their minds about which features went into the series and which were held back to coax people over to their dSLR line, and they kept changing the ergonomics.

I’d also bought a few low-end dSLRs, but they were doing the same things as Canon: the ergonomics weren’t great, and they amounted to point-n-shoots with interchangeable lenses for all the control they were willing to let you have.

Still … the next level up felt pretty out of reach and I couldn’t justify it. So the X100S was a compromise: A premium point-n-shoot with a fixed lens and a nice sensor and lots of manual control. I did the usual “I’m done now, this is my lifetime camera” rationalizing.

After a while, though, the pull of interchangeable lenses began to exert itself. The Fuji X-T series was out there, but there was no way I could rationalize that, at all. Could I? I couldn’t. I refused.

About that same time, I was in an odd position at work:

My boss had quit and three of us on the engineering staff were turned into what was variably referred to as “the three in the box” or occasionally “Cerebrus.” The CTO owned his architecture stuff, the engineering director owned the executive team relationship and budgeting, and I owned the operations pieces, which for that place meant a lot of interacting with the administrative groups just to keep things like hiring going. Since I was the only person of the three of us in Portland, it also meant I gave the executive welcoming talk to new employees when it was engineering’s turn.

The arrangement was a weird experience for me. I’d just come back from a nine-week excursion to another employer, and my boss (the one who had just quit) found a role for me as an operations manager when that opoprtunity fell apart. Before I’d left I was the director of docs but I’d made sure succession was handled and there was no going back to that role. Suddenly, though, every time I saw myself in the system I was “acting VP of engineering,” and it was a hard title to carry. My HR business partner talked me down a little: “You always seem to know what’s important and what’s not, and you always seem to know when to quit doing the unimportant things. So just keep doing that. You’re just doing it for more people. We picked you for a reason. We trust you.”

Because it felt like a weird fit for me, and because it was an interim role, I didn’t really think to ask about pay. I did think about pay, I suppose, but decided I was just doing what you’re supposed to do when someone quits and you’re asked to stand up until a new boss can be found, so I kept collecting my principal project manager pay (that’s how they classified operations managers) and giving executive welcome briefings and deciding to do some things but quit doing other things. There was more to it than that, but I didn’t stop to think about it much (which is why I always tell new or overwhelmed managers to keep a notebook of the decisions they made each day until they get over their management imposter syndrome).

Eventually, as these kinds of situations must, the interim situation ended, one of my peers was promoted to the VP role full-time, and I was retitled to “director of engineering” from “operations manager,” because in the interim I’d also picked up full-time management of our project management team, the manager of my old docs team, and our platform engineering group.

I kept not asking about pay until the day my new boss went on holiday – the very European kind where there’d be no calling about this or that – and left me in charge of the annual salary calibration process, which involved working with HR to run reports on everyone’s pay, analyze the differences, and give people raises to keep things equitable.

During that week, two things happened:

  • I had to approve a reduction to my own raise. My boss would’ve ordinarily handled it and I probably never would have known, but that week I was my boss, so I did the soldierly thing and approved my own cut.

  • I had to approve a change in the offer letter for an incoming line manager. The change netted out to an increase in his offer that was equal to the decrease in my own raise. He was also going to be managing six people as a manager while I was currently managing a group of 38 as a director, but he’d be making more.

So … that was a little frustrating. But, you know … surely someone somewhere had thought all this through, right?

I’ll accelerate the story:

Luke Kanies, our CEO at the time, passed me in the hall and asked how things were going. I tried to sort of joke my way out of my frustration, but he picked up on it and went and fixed things, then decided that wasn’t enough and fixed things some more. He advocated for me when I wouldn’t advocate for myself and he made things right. He made them right enough that I celebrated by going out and buying the camera I wanted, not the one I was willing to settle on. A few months later I got that 56mm/F1.2 Fujifilm lens, which is just a breathtakingly nice piece of glass and I took this picture of myself in honor of the ancient superstition about new cameras and new lenses:

The author sitting backwards on a chair with his head resting on his arms looking pretty fucking pleased with himself.

Since then, I have been trying to pay Luke’s advocacy for me forward:

Whenever someone in my group changes roles or moves into management we have a conversation about how salary works, what the pay bands are, and how all that is going to come together in the form of an offer letter. I share with them how managers are encouraged to think and behave about this stuff, both as a matter of simple business realities and as a murkier set of cultural and social factors.

I tell them about my experience as someone who didn’t know how to advocate for myself, and how lucky I was that someone stepped in on my behalf. I ask if they’ve negotiated their salary before, and they usually say no. I tell them that I’m asking them to accept the promotion I’m putting in front of them, and that I encourage them to negotiate if they were hoping for more than what they see in front of them.

What comes of that? I listen to them. Sometimes I learn things about their background I didn’t know, which makes it easy to advocate with the business or HR partners keeping an eye on all this stuff. Sometimes it just turns out that they expected moving into management was going to mean a huge change in their compensation, and we have an honest and sometimes hard conversation about that.

Sometimes we end up negotiating some more. If there’s not enough money to meet their expectations, then we start talking about other ideas: Training and education, the structure of their responsibilities, etc.

The most important thing to me in all of it is that we get through the discomfort and have the conversation, and that by being transparent, kind, and patient about the whole thing I can help them get some practice in a life skill that isn’t taught outside some fairly narrow gender and class demographics.

Anyhow, the sold cameras are boxed, the Peak Design anchors are attached, I’ve set up my basic configuration, I’ve honored the superstition, and I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s coffee walk with this thing.

A Fujifilm X-T5 on a wooden table with plants in the background