A few days ago, Seth posted to his blog and I’ve spent a lot of my time thinking about that post since I read it. Short and to the point, like he often is, this struck me:
“You’re not lucky to have this job, they’re lucky to have you. Every day, you invest a little bit of yourself into your work, and one of the biggest choices available to you is where you’ll be making that investment.”
My first reaction was, “Sure, but people often don’t have a lot of freedom in their career.”
This is true, I learned first-hand after taking a position with the intent of boosting my career, only to find out that I had been misled, and hadn’t gotten what I bargained for. In 2003 I joined an IT department that was still coding in ASP Classic and VB6, but I was assured that all new development was going to be in .NET. Wanting to get away from another ASP Classic shop, I moved, and very quickly learned that life was not to be what I was promised. And that could happen to anybody, especially early in their career (as I was at the time).
This doesn’t have to be as harmful to your career (and mental health) as it was for me. I’m writing this now to tell you what I wish I’d known then. If you end up in a bad position and are “stuck” for whatever reasons, you need to take care of yourself first.
I didn’t have to let that career move stagnate my growth as much as I did. But I was not wise enough to know what to do. This year is my fifth working for a company I love and a team I am proud to be on. Five years into this job I know what I wish I’d known at any point in the other five years. I know how to grow my own skills.
You need to be doing what you love as much as possible. If you’re in a shop that is using old code, bad practices, hacks, you need to be working on developing your skill set on your own time. If you’re not even getting paychecks in the field you want to be in – you need to be working in that field at home.
Join an open source project. Start an open source project. Stay on top of everything you are passionate about. In the software development field, there are countless ways to be active on the latest, greatest tools. On a minimal budget.
Push yourself. Come up with something new over the weekend, and show it off to your team. Try to get others interested in what you are doing. If you’re doing something interesting, somebody will be interested in finding you.
In 2008, my skill set was: ASP Classic, VB6, SQL Server 2000. I worked with the same basic tools (only minor changes) since 1996.
The project currently on my desk is using Xamarin 2.0. In 2008 I couldn’t have even dreamed that I would be working in C#, writing cross-platform code in Windows for the iPhone and Android. I had to be ready for the challenge when it arose, and having spent plenty of my spare time working on the things I’m fascinated by, I now get to spend my full days working on things I love. Do what you love, and you’ll just continue growing to do more of it. The rewards are worth every bit of effort.