Building a Career in Technology
I was asked to talk to some young technologists about about their career path in technology. These are my notes which wander somewhat between career and general advice.
- Don’t assume progress means a career into management – unless you really love management. If you do, great, do that. You’ll get paid well, but it will come with downsides too. Focus on what you enjoy.
- Don’t confuse management with autonomy or power, it alone will give you neither. If you work in a company, you will always have a boss. The value you provide to the company gives you autonomy. Power comes mostly from the respect others have for you. Leadership and management are not synonymous. Be valuable by doing things that you love.
- Practice communicating your ideas. Blog, convince friends, colleagues, use github, whatever. If you want to change things you need to communicate your ideas, finding ways to reach your different audiences. If you see something that seems wrong, try to change it by both communicating and by doing.
- Sometimes things don’t come off the way you expect. Normally there is something good in there anyway. This is ok.
- The T-shaped people idea from the Valve handbook is a good way to think about your personal development. Have a specialty, but don’t be monomaniacal. What’s your heavy weaponry?
- Whatever speciality you find yourself in, start by really knowing the fundamentals. Dig deep sooner rather than later as knowledge compounds.
- Try to always have one side project (either in work or outside) bubbling along. Something that’s not directly part of your job. Go to a hack night, learn a new language, write a new website, whatever. Something that makes you learn in new avenues.
- If you think any particular technology is the best thing since sliced bread, and it’s somewhere near a top of the Gartner hype-curve, you are probably not seeing the full picture yet. Be critical of your own opinions and look for bias in yourself.
- In my experience the most important characteristic of a good company is that its employee’s assume, by default, that the rest of the company are smart people. If the modus operandi of a company (or worse, a team) is ‘everyone else is an idiot’ look elsewhere.
- If you’re motivated to do something, try to capitalise on that motivation there and then and enjoy the productivity that comes with it. Motivation is your most precious commodity.
- Learn to control your reaction to negative situations. The term ‘well-adjusted’ means exactly that. It’s not an innate skill. Start with email. Never press send if you feel angry or slighted. In tricky situations stick purely to facts and remove all subjective or emotional content. Let the tricky situation diffuse organically. Doing this face to face takes more practice as you need to notice the onset of stress and then cage your reaction, but the rules are the same (stick to facts, avoid emotional language, let it go).
- If you offend someone always apologies. Always. Even if you are right, it is unlikely your intention was to offend.
- Recognise the difference between being politically right and emotionally right. As humans we’re great at creating plausible rationalisations and justifications for our actions, both to ourselves and others. Making such rationalisations is often a ‘sign’ of us covering an emotional mistake. Learn to notice these, and look past them to your moral compass.