Creating Career Options in Tech

The Geek Whisperers is a great podcast focused on the non-tech side of tech careers — mentorship, career building, leadership, etc. They had me on a couple of GlueCon’s ago to discuss how to think about career options and advancement in tech. You can listen to the whole thing here. 

Get exposure

In general, you can’t really know what all your career options are. But what you can do is set yourself up in a situation or create an environment where options present themselves. You can sort of maximize the serendipity and the optionality around you. For me that was moving from a role that was buried in an organization to a role that exposed me to a larger diversity of people and projects.

In an engineering position I had to deal with architects, so I became an architect. As an architect I had to deal with product managers, so I became a product manager. As a product manager, I had to deal with marketing roles so I moved to one of those.

Take adjacent roles

It’s hard to totally jump two or three degrees from what you’re doing, but what I think you can do relatively easily is to move to an adjacent discipline. Then you get exposed to a bunch of new things, from which you can pick another adjacent discipline.

I have a personal mantra associated with this: if you think someone (or everyone) in a particular role is an idiot, you probably don’t understand it so you should go do it to figure it out.

Of course, my journey has been totally accidental. In each case I was either unhappy with what I was doing or unhappy with what people in the adjacent job were doing and wanted to fix it. Or sometimes both. So I would just start doing the job until it was self-evident that people would have to fire me to stop me from doing it.

What I’ve found consistently in tech is that you can basically do any job you want, if you just go ahead and do it. The person you’re working for right now might not let you do it, but someone else is going to let you do it.

You can basically do any job you want, if you just go ahead and do it.

That’s a privileged statement. I don’t know if that’s actually true for non-white-or-asian-males. And if it is , the barriers to entry or transition are likely much higher.

In any situation, there’s someone on the other side of the table from you. That’s adjacent. Whoever that is, whatever that role is, you should be able to do some part of it. If you’re not able to start doing it, it’s probably too many steps away.

Tweet without intent

Twitter is responsible for my entire career. Unbeknownst to myself, I built a reputation and people started approaching me to take on new roles because of my interactions there.

What is it about Twitter that builds credibility? My theory is that the validation provided by someone’s public persona expressing what it is that they do on a regular basis is kinda like establishing bona fides in a meeting. But constantly, every day.

Everyone has an individual style. My style is to try not to have an intent in any forum where I’m representing myself (and not a business). I try to use Twitter the way I would use a party, or any other social situation. Whatever I would normally do. I tweet when I have a coffee because in a social situation it would be normal for me to walk up with a cup of coffee, so doing it on Twitter is normal.

I know people who do use Twitter with intent: intent to get a job, to raise their profile, etc. It works for them. So I’m not saying you shouldn’t do that. It just doesn’t work for me.