Heather's Paragraphs

Why I don’t talk about where I work, and why it’s important to me

Earlier this year I changed jobs. I decided not to tell most people where my new job was. A lot of people were really curious when I announced I was leaving. I expected this and made it through the transition period. But I’m still fielding questions about it often.

Did you know, people ask you where you work all the time? I probably did this too. And in tech/silicon valley, “I do computer programming at a tech startup” is not enough. People really want to know where.

That’s when I have to explain that I’m not talking about it. I try to move the conversation on quickly, but that doesn’t always work. Often it leads to much increased curiosity. There’s usually a joke about the CIA then and awkwardness. Lately I’ve been talking to people that have heard where I work through the grapevine. This makes me kind of sick and sad, because I’ve requested that people not talk about it. Some people have been really amazing about this, though, and I am so grateful for them.

The purpose of this is to explain to people I know, in one fell swoop, why I don’t talk about it, and help them understand why it’s important to me that they not make it a gossip thing. For one though, the nature of my job is not why I don’t talk about it. If I did tell you where I worked, you’d probably be underwhelmed. It’s not important, except to me.

Here’s why:

Last year, my coworker at the time became mentally ill. It seemed to be a gradual/sudden thing. Some people think it was adult-onset Schizophrenia. He developed grandiose ideas about the universe and AI and other such things. Unfortunately some of these delusions involved me. It didn’t play out well. Eventually he left the company, but persisted in walking around the entrance to the office every so often. Being worried when you come into work every day is a horrible feeling, I discovered, and I left too.

When I left, I realized I had a huge opportunity to turn a new page. My first day coming in to work at my new place was exhilarating. And it was mainly because I knew there was no way he knew where I worked. It was such a huge, gleeful feeling of relief.

By not telling anyone where I work, I’m trying to control that information and keep it from reaching him. I’m not sure that he’s active in my former work circles with his mental state, but it’s something someone could easily forget and mention on Twitter or something relating to my company, and I think he’s still on that. By not telling anyone, I’m increasing my safety, and more than anything giving myself the freedom to go into work without wondering.

I think it’s probably okay now –it’s been a year since he last contacted me, and awhile since I heard he was spotted around the old office. But really, I don’t know. As I learned, I have no real way of predicting this. When someone has no respect for you, anything is possible and you have no control over it.

Sometimes in moments, I’m tempted to talk about what I’m doing now. It would help professionally to be able to talk and network over it, show off publicly what I’ve worked on and how I’ve grown technically. And stop the awkward conversations! But if I did, and he showed up on the street in front of my office, I would feel so stupid for trading off anything for that.

Another thing I learned last year is that there’s only so much companies are willing or able to do to help you. If this became a situation again, I might have to leave my job again. At the end of the day, these things end up as your responsibility. I’m on my own and I have to own my decisions.

If you know me I have a couple things to ask: 1) If you know where I work, no need to talk about it to anyone. 2) Don’t ask where I work if you see me. There are other things to talk about, I’ve discovered.