I retired at 28 because of Adobe – Part I: The Policy

by Jordan Spencer Cunningham on

Maybe “retire” is a strong word, but hear me out: I effectively retired for five months and still received regular paychecks while in Adobe’s employ. It wasn’t me taking advantage of a policy loophole or sneakily subcontracting someone else to do my work remotely. In fact, Adobe encouraged me to do this, no strings attached. Read on for why and what happened.

Adobe seems to get it

When I joined Managed Services at Adobe some 2.5 years ago, I never thought I’d be able to ever claim such an outrageous thing as the premise for this piece. Still, Adobe wooed me enough at the time that I jumped ship from my previous employer where I was already fairly comfortable and thought I was going to stay for at least another three to four years.

Well, just take a look at Adobe’s benefits. They’ve even improved since I was considering employment. With an unbeatably good salary and extras hitting just the right spots in exchange for doing something I more or less enjoy combined with a pretty good promise of work-life balance in a world where IT folk are expected to be robots with 99.999% uptime, no really wasn’t an option. I can honestly say I’m extremely glad recruiters reached out when they did and got me on board here.

Heck, Adobe even just celebrated its 20th year of being on Fortune’s list of 100 best companies to work for. That counts for something.

Relatives and friends hear about the things Adobe does to make working for them a no-brainer and then tell me I have it “so” easy. To the contrary, we earn our keep, and we work hard. There are times that can be especially grueling. There have been times I’ve been tempted to seek something easier. In the end, though, the reward in all its many facets helps get through the ordeal, and the ordeal eventually drops back down to manageable levels.

Adobe as an organization seems to know what’s most important to real, working adults and how to leverage that to attract and retain good talent. Keeping good employees happy is a good business strategy because product quality increases and client interactions become more positive. Healthy employees are more profitable, too.

There seems to be an understanding amongst the people that run Adobe that the employees who make the company work are human people, for heaven’s sake. Adobe seems to assume that people typically have a greater life purpose outside the world of work, which gives them a reason to go to work in the first place.

And then Adobe goes beyond simply talking about this like so many organizations do to actively enacting policies and initiatives to fulfill the philosophy. Nobody wants life and all meaning and purpose to pass them by whilst stuck in front of a terminal or an IDE, as interesting as the magic behind a terminal can be (I say that without irony or sarcasm: I really love me a good command line session piping data to frontiers never before grepped by man).

The great policy change of 2019

Then it happened. Later in 2018 we received an announcement that when a new kid comes into the family (either via birth or adoption), both primary (usually mommies) and secondary (usually daddies) caregivers would now receive equal paid parental leave: 16 weeks, bumped up from the previous 4-week policy, effective January 1, 2019. Call it equality, call it simplification, call it whatever you like. I call it fantastic.

Very generous, to say the least. Few organizations can afford something so generous as much as they’d like to– such a policy would bankrupt smaller groups and destabilize poorly managed behemoths. Indeed, I sometimes wonder if this can viably continue.

Maps of meaning

All of the sudden a third boy was about to join us in a few months. Let’s stop right there for a moment; we will explore this aspect much more in parts II and III of this series, but let me state right now in simple terms that I love and adore my boys and my wife more than anything or anyone else on the planet. They are the sole purpose I do what I do at work. If I did not have thoughts of them and their well being constantly before me, I know for a fact I would not be where I am today doing what I’m doing now. The fact that some of Adobe’s core ideals apparently align with my highest ideals and that they back it up at significant cost really says something to me. It’s more than just getting freebies from a corporate entity to keep employees from whining too much; it’s about why we work in the first place.

I came here to save my wife and my two children and… seven billion lives… it’s too much. I just hope I’m, I’m smart enough and brave enough to save three.

Serge Leveque, The Core

Dream team

I hadn’t really thought about the upscaled paternity leave until a few months after this news came along, and then it hit me.

A 16-week disruption is not easily accommodated, even for an organization such as Managed Services that’s grown to be well over 100 people. In my role we’re working closely with specific, assigned clients for months and even years on end– meaning our work can’t just be easily absorbed in digestible bits by all of the 100+ other people; rather someone else has to take on that entire client by him or herself. Analyzing this situation and multiplying it by the certain number of additional people leveraging this policy every year, you really start to appreciate that a little boy can cause a big ripple in a big pond.

As difficult as I know it’s been for our management and our wider team to shift things around and acommodate such childrearing adventures (I’m not the only one who’s had a kid in Managed Services since the 2019 policy change), I never got an inkling of complaint or annoyance.

When I expressed I felt a little bad about this, like I was a bandit taking advantage of the rest of our team, one of our managers wisely said to me, “People are willing to help because they know you would do the same for them.”

And it’s true. Our team is not only a fine group of competent engineers but also extremely willing to shoulder each other’s burdens. The only silos are the ones we build for ourselves. Part of being so willing to support other teammates is that when the time comes that you’re going to want to go on vacation or that you’re caught in a bind on some insurmountable problem or that you’re getting pressure from a client to do a 3:00 AM manual deployment, karma will step in, and someone will step up. They know it, and you know it, so everyone is willing to give back in kind. A prime example of this, aside from those brave souls who shouldered my burden when I took paternity leave, is how we are responsible for finding coverage for our clients when taking vacation; it’s rare that I don’t have more volunteers than I need within 24 hours of making a request.

One of the metrics influencing the size of management’s bonus each year is how well their subordinates took advantage of Adobe’s “unlimited” time off policy (I put unlimited in quotes because we all know you’re not getting away with taking six months or a year off– it’s within reason and between you and your manager, of course). This kind of spirit was further reflected in the way management handled shifting these responsibilities. Even my teammates who were about to take the the brunt of my load accepted the new burden with grace and professionalism even though I knew all of them had virtually no capacity for it.

Money, meet mouth

The very nature of corporate dealings can leave one feeling like little more than a machine-learned potential dollar value lost in the soulless rows of some vast database, but of all dealings I’ve had with large entities of this magnitude, my dealings in the employ of Adobe have had the most human touch to them of any other, even when at scale. Are things perfect? No, but anyone expecting perfection will forever be frustrated and miserable. I can only express gratitude both for the generous offering from the wider Adobe corporate folks and to the people I know and love on my immediate team. I’ve learned that being grateful rather than entitled gets you closer to what you’re looking for in life, and Adobe gives a guy a lot of opportunities for that.

In addition to making extensive accommodations for little old me, there’s the untold cost burden on the company when one takes paternity. When you factor in the regular paycheck plus insurance and taxes and all the other expensive benefits in the package, it really adds up. And I was effectively bringing in $0 for the company during this time. Sure, you can smooth that over when you consider it an investment in keeping a (hopefully good?) employee long term, but it’s still something few organizations can afford to do, even if they want to. If I didn’t make it clear before, I’ll try to do so now: the sheer cost of sending someone off like this combined with the willingness to adjust whatever is necessary to make it happen reveals the humanity of the whole operation, even if it sometimes gets shrouded a bit by the inevitable machinations of corporate efficiency.

A new adventure

So what happened?

A little boy came, perhaps kicking and screaming, but healthy, into this wide, strange world.

He literally fell out onto the hospital bed without the doctor even in the building. The doctor wasn’t present, and the nurses were out in the hall. For that I want a 50% refund from that outrageous hospital bill, though the bill at least wasn’t so bad due to the insurance and yearly HSA cash gift Adobe provides. In a world where the industry of insurance and hospitals has been bloating for decades with no end in sight, what we get is actually pretty darn good.

Then what seemed too good to be true became true– I wrapped up final work bits with coworkers, sent off final emails, tipped my virtual hat to my manager, and rode off into the sunset, really getting to leave work behind and solely focus on what matters most for months. This was near the end of August, 2019. The planned return date? January 2, 2020*.

On the other side of the sunset, let me tell you– it’s another vast world full of promise, mystery, meaning, and fulfillment.

For a glimpse into the world beyond the sunset, tune in again soon for part II of the continuing saga of I retired at 28 because of Adobe, titled “The Adventure”.

*”But Adobe’s parental leave is 16 weeks, not nearly 5 months!” I can hear the pedants shouting as they count weeks and days. I’ll get to that. Be calm.