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Tech Life

Moving from the Megacorporate to the Start-up: Lessons Learned

What service mesh expert Lin Sun learned moving from IBM to
Apr 6th, 2021 5:00am by
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Lin Sun
Lin is the Director of Open-Source at She has worked on Istio service mesh since 2017 and serves on the Istio Technical Oversight Committee. Previously, she served on the Istio Steering Committee for three years and was a Senior Technical Staff Member and Master Inventor at IBM for 15+ years. She is the author of the book Istio Explained and has more than 200 patents to her name.

After I decided to leave IBM, I was very sad. I had an amazing career there and made lots of friends along the way. I had interesting assignments and a side hustle as an inventor. IBM rewarded me very well for my patents — I made enough money to purchase my first house.

At the same time, I was also very excited yet nervous about the new job I had taken. While I was eager about adopting into the new environment, I knew the new company, delivers at rapid speed. Would I be able to fit in?  Could I meet their expectations? Could I execute fast enough? How could I be a leader when everyone else knows way more about Solo than me?

In short, what would it be like to move from the oldest, most trusted IT companies to one of the hottest, most nimble start-ups in this industry? Here is what I learned.

Why I Changed My Job

I am an extremely risk-averse person, which you can probably tell by the fact that I worked at IBM for 19 years. Not only that, I don’t believe in debt, and I pay off any debt as fast as I can. I had planned to work at IBM for a few more years, and then slowly travel around the world to explore and learn about different places and cultures.

Out of all of the negativeness, COVID freed me from many around-town-driving activities or traveling for work or vacation, so I had a lot more time to think.  I started to think about what is important to me and what makes me happy. Family always comes first, and I also found I enjoy learning and exploring new things. Have you ever had your best ideas while you were on vacation? I believe innovation happens with new environments and new people. While I couldn’t change my home office during a pandemic, I could change my job to create that new environment.

I have been working on Istio since the beginning of the project, and the project is becoming the “Kubernetes” for the emerging service mesh market. It would be unwise for me to work on something completely different. After being impressed by how fast the Solo team delivers and what they offer around service connectivities and Istio, I decided to give it a shot.

What could I lose? I could always find another job.

Surprises I Learned Working at a Startup

Now that I have survived the first month and feel that I am still trusted and I can continue to deliver, I am no longer as afraid and I’ve learned many things along the way, including our cloud-based payroll and expense systems and many cool tools, such as k9s, tmux and many others.

I’ve also encountered a few surprises coming from a megacorporate to a startup during my first month:

  1. Get ready to share your cell phone number. In a big corporation, an employee may share cell phone numbers with their direct manager, but it is otherwise rare. Texting is a common communication method at a startup and people may call you without asking for permission.
  2. Working at a small startup feels like working with a family where we say happy birthday to each other in our slack channel. I felt much welcomed when I joined (Hey — I even made it to the company news announcement!) and have thoroughly enjoyed our social events so far. For example, during a company-wide virtual tea party, we had special guests who taught us the histories of the teas in our tea box and we made tea together virtually.
  3. Endorse the culture of execution then report. There won’t be rounds of meetings to discuss things before any work is done. Startups often have tight deadlines and execution happens after a brief level set of goals. There are no multilevel approvals involved, many times I just tell people “I did this.”
  4. I feel more motivated and determined at work. The company performance is tied to each of us and every extra thing I do makes a big impact. I started to hear people telling me “You are awesome” and I rewarded them with big shoutouts as well when they did a good job.
  5. I feel empowered to think outside the box. Without many rules and policies in place, along with a very flat reporting structure, it is easier for me to challenge myself to think differently while still feeling trusted.

The freedom offered by the start-up also offered me the opportunity to create some small projects during the weekends. For example, I was super excited about the first IstioCon and created this video the Sunday before the conference:

I was also very excited about our Deploy Istio to production workshop, and created this diagram to illustrate the first lab:

 I hope I provided some interesting perspectives for those who are thinking about changing jobs. I am glad I was brave enough to push myself outside of my comfort zone. I’m super grateful that the Solo team took a leap of faith and invited me on board. I am happy that I am no longer limited to think and execute within my small matrix within the megacorporate environment. I am excited that I get to dream and continue learning in the new environment.

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