During a recent group chat with some old friends (friends first, colleagues second), a comment during the banter stood out for me. It was -
"I love that you guys can re-invent yourselves like this..."
On the back of this comment and out of interest, I charted my Technical roles (and capability) on a scale of 1 to 10 as I consider a career spanning close to 20 years, I realise how apt this seemingly simple statement is.
As the graph clearly shows, there has been times of serious ascent up the "technical curve". Given the changes in the technology landscape over the last 10 years - with Cloud, Containers, Mobile Applications and Microservices, to mention a few - the choice for me was simple - I had to evolve. However, some (many?) of my friends and colleagues have deliberately chosen not to. To be completely honest, I do not blame or question them - as the graph also shows, to stay relevant, the journey/climb is ongoing.
A social "observation", started in 2007, of a group of young consultants provided some inspiration. Over the last 12 years, this group has yielded two Directors who navigated different trajectories all the way to top of the corporate ladder. More interestingly, it has also yielded an Investment Analyst, who first took a detour to put an international MBA under her belt and a professional cyclist who also excels in her career. Although all were more or less at the same place (in their career) back in 2007, the key learning for me from this observation is that a person can take different paths and ultimately still be successful - in different ways.
- To be completely honest, the journey "back to the floor" has been daunting and there are times when someone much younger (7 years, 11 months, 22 days to be exact) pulls out the technical solution or when you find yourself staring at a stack trace at 2am which inevitably results in the question - "what am I doing here"? When those moments do occur and I can assure you they will, what has helped me pull out of a nosedive is:
- An understanding and supportive wife who takes the career decisions/changes in her stride - especially when I'm up at 2am coding.
"Never Give Up, Never Surrender!" - Having an attitude of "solution or bust" is critical. Although the issue might infuriate you, the adrenalin rush of getting over that line will result in "silent celebration" that will last for days!
Just a word of caution - don't let your wife catch you celebrating too much - chances are she's still not impressed that you were coding so late!
- The wisdom that I gained over a 20-year career, half of which in consulting - with some great mentorship from some high-IQ friends and hard-knocks from some especially low-EQ customers has afforded me an attitude of humility to learn from others and restraint to stay calm;
- Put a good support system in place - having a good friend, now a Mobile Demi-God, as a role model - on a similar journey but many paces ahead, constantly (re)setting the bar at a higher level.
- Finally, an attitude of "servant leadership" - a valuable lesson I've learnt, from a non-technical Leader. Although this might sound oxymoronic at first - to successfully deliver on a any solution, be it Technical or Commercial, you must understand the complexity/detail of what you are asking of your team.
For a Technical delivery, the ability to roll up my sleeves, fire up a terminal or IDE, or trace through a firewall configuration sheet allows me to join the team on the delivery "battlefield". This is my definition of a "Technologist".
Don't get me wrong, I still use PowerPoint. But my favourite Microsoft product is, without a doubt, Visual Studio Code!
Now that I've covered the "Evolution", you might be wondering about the "Revolution". In one context, I could latch on to the "Fourth Industrial Revolution" (4IR) - however, I don't want to scare away any readers who have stayed on this far with tales of autonomous cars and artificially intelligent robots from Cyberdene Systems who will come back from the future to stop the birth of John Connor - maybe another time.
My personal Revolution is that I've come full circle - and indeed, I have. I've discovered, and more importantly accepted, that my passion and strength is solidly in the Tech space. It is important that I stay at the maximum Technical Level - because, as the friend who made the "re-invention" comment also pointed out some time ago - I'm at my best when I'm working on a "cool and sexy" technical challenge. Sometimes, he can be a pretty insightful guy...