Planning your career

September 12, 2010 § 1 Comment

Recently, my friend Richard Branham lent me his copy of The Passionate Programmer by Chad Fowler.

The book was published by Pragmatic Life. I’ve talked a bit about the Pragmatic Programmers before – mostly referencing their online magazine (here and here), which of course has many more issues since then.

Chad Fowler, of course, has done too many things to reiterate, but if Agile development, Ruby, or Android are on your radar at all, I’d recommend adding him to your reading.

Anyway, hopefully I’ll gain some inspiration from the book. I’ve languished for the last several months, largely losing my interest in work. Home life had some impact on that, of course (new babies will do that), but I felt it was time to attack work with renewed vigor and, well, passion.

Chad discusses making decision to actively shape your career and not simply letting circumstances choose your career for you. I felt a few statements were particularly relevant to me and my current situation, and thought I’d share them.

…A well-rounded software professional has seen many angles of the industry: product development, IT support, internal business systems development, and government work. The more domains you’ve seen and the more technical architectures you’ve slogged through, the more prepared you are to make the right decisions on tougher projects. Staying in a single company, working your way up the ranks, is a limiting environment in which to grow as a developer…

…I was stagnating. I had reassured myself that I wasn’t pigeon-holing myself based on the fact that the corporation was so large that I could do a number of different jobs in a seemingly limitless list of locations. But I ultimately stayed in the same place doing the same kind of work.

I remember talking to a friend about potentially moving out of this company, and he said, “Is it your destiny to work at $big_company for the rest of your life?” Hell no it wasn’t! So, I quickly found another job and left.

This movement marked the clear beginning of a nonlinear jump in my success in the software industry. I saw new domains, I worked on harder problems, and I was rewarded more heavily than ever before. It was scary at times, but when I decided to be less fear-driven and conservative in my career choice, the shape and tone of my career-my life-changed for the better.

My friend Mike Klinefelter talks about something he calls “leap learning”, which means to make large, sweeping changes rather than incremental ones. This has the benefit of introducing new ways of doing things that you wouldn’t have tried if you stuck to slow, safe, incremental changes. Doing so is often uncomfortable and scary, and sometimes it can have as many (or more!) disastrous outcomes as positive ones. On the other hand, the potential for reward, for improved efficiency, for more betterness is unparalleled.

So I choose to be uncomfortable and scared for a possibility of passion and excellence. It may not work out, but I’m sure going to enjoy the ride.

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