There is a very important product that you have complete control over: you. Your skill set, your personality, your overall career is completely within your control. Those are all features of your product and it’s on those pieces that you need to iterate and improve.
Good products are successful often because they have good product managers. It is up to you to decide how you fit into the world and what people are demanding of you. Product managers help take “market interest” and turn it into deliverable features that enhance the product. Sometimes these features aren’t in demand but will aid in the overall quality of the product.
I know you are probably thinking this is a lame comparison. Sure, we all know that in order to be in demand we need to make sure our skills are sharp. We need to be wary of trends and work on making ourselves marketable. Blah, blah, blah… This is all stuff you can find on any book or talk about building a technology (or any other) career.
A few months ago while reading Soft Skills, I found one lesson that stood out to me: if you view your employer as a client that pays you for services instead of being an employee of a company, you will view your career differently. You will view your career as a series of marketable skills that can help you move up in your current position or in some other company. I took this message to heart. Examining where I was in my career and what direction I wanted to take it in. Looking at yourself as a contractor allows you to feel a sense of freedom and control over your career. Taking this view, I started to wonder what my market value was, and specifically what skills I may have been missing.
Once more, I decided to manage my career in an agile way. For those who are unfamiliar with agile I won’t go into a ton of detail but it can basically be summed up by small iterations on a product. To do this you need to by interacting with customers, make a working product, and responding to changes or suggestions.
How often do people plan their careers out, with expectations of having X title with Y salary at Z company? How often to people seek feedback about their careers either from their peers or through interviews? And how often will people change based on those suggestions or feedback? Almost never.
The goal here is to examine your career. What do your peers, managers, and other companies think? How do you see yourself? Are you where you want to be? How do you get there?
So that’s exactly what I did, I examined my career. Luckily I had a great manager who gave me constant feedback and guidance on how to enhance my career internally to the company where I was working. This gave me my first “customer feedback”. But I felt that I wanted something more with my career. More responsibility and something a little more cutting edge. So my first step was to look internally at what I could do while I searched outwardly to see what might interest me.
I want to be clear about something here. At no point did I tell anyone I was actively looking both internally or externally at options. It was important for me to be doing research without any sort of influence. Where I was currently employed I would bounce ideas, ask questions, and try to figure out if I could move in a direction I wanted. At the same time I would talk to recruiters and other companies to see what they were doing and how I would fit in.
Through the interviews I was able to get an idea of the “market interest” in me. This was useful because it gave me an outline of what skills others thought were important but also allowed me to look at job descriptions to see what interested me. I would then compare those to my personal interests and allowed me to come up with a better definition of where I wanted to go.
After understanding what areas I wanted to focus on I eventually started focusing on recruiters whose companies jobs interested me. One particular job stood out from the rest and after getting off of the call with the recruiter, I was sold. The job sounded perfect and was a great opportunity to grow. However, after the second round of interviews I found out that I did not get the position. I was crestfallen. Yet instead of getting angry or frustrated I decided to call the recruiter and asked why I didn’t get the position? I was seeking the feedback necessary to improve my product. I was told that I interviewed great, that I showed drive and ambition, but lacked the experience needed in Go and DevOps.
Well there it was on paper, things I needed to change if this was the type of job I wanted. These changes were to help me move towards my career goal and I knew that I would not be able to get that at my current position. So I doubled down on learning more Go and started applying for jobs that used that language in hopes of gaining experience. I was determined to learn the language better because I felt that it would help me market myself for jobs that I wanted.
I eventually found a position and took it. The hope here is to gain the experience I need and develop new skills to keep me moving forward. What’s amazing is that because I started in a new place with new challenges I’ve been able to continue to explore and find areas to improve. New interests have arisen and I once again get to evaluate my career.
At my previous job I didn’t focus on what it meant for my career. Starting out I was too focused on other things, which is okay, but when it came time to start worrying about a career I had a lot of areas that I needed to catch up on. Eventually I was able to find a niche and an area that I found interesting and take in all that I could. Leaving that job was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. It meant leaving colleagues that had become friends. It meant leaving a company that I helped build. Yet there was a sense that my growth was slowing and I needed to help build my product.
Ultimately it’s about what you want. Gone are the days of working for a company for forty years. The market is constantly changing, innovating, and growing. You get to decide what direction you want to go in and how you want to grow if you spend the time to figure that out. Sure, you can do the regular nine to five each day and be content in your work. But, if you are like me, you have a thirst for building and creating. Using an agile approach to your career allows you to determine what you want to be and what that means. You are constantly evaluating your career and skills. You are making moves that will help you move in the direction you want. You are taking control of yourself.