We were having a nice relaxed chat with a close friend of ours the other day when something she said got right up my nose. She just casually dropped “you’ve always been lucky with your jobs” into a sentence that previously wasn’t really going anywhere. I instantly took a defensive pose and would have put my hands on my hips if it hadn’t have been for the fact that I was driving at the time. Being told that I am “lucky” in my career choices was just plain wrong, especially after all the time I’ve spent strategically developing and managing my career.
Don’t get me wrong. I bear our close friend no ill will, I just don’t want to be categorised as someone who’s been lucky on the job front. If I have been a slacker or a ne’er-do-well I’d be more than comfortable with the monicker, but I’ve been both diligent and creative in my choices. I’ve studied my craft and sought out thought leaders while endeavouring to be creative in seeking solutions – so lucky – I don’t think so!!
This got me thinking about how so many other folk that I’ve worked and collaborated with have approached their careers and how they have fared. Have the people I’ve worked with also been strategic in their choices and diligent in their career development? In the majority of cases, my answer is a resounding NO. How do I arrive at this assessment? I base it upon their knowledge and achievements (or lack thereof).
About 8 years ago I was head-hunted (not for the first time) by a company that is seen as a world leader in the technology field. I stated up front that I would stay a maximum of 2 years, as this is my strategy with respect to developing my career.
One of the major reasons for joining this organisation was my expectation of their technical excellence – specifically in the software testing field. Sadly, what I found was that they came to me for guidance far more than I ever went to them! How could this be, I thought, when their resources are far in excess of anything I have ever encountered before? The answer was that 99% of staff never availed themselves of these fantastic resources and therefore missed a massive opportunity. The company offered personal development and ran a Summer School in Australia each year, but this didn’t seem to translate into effective results when it came to achievements. My only conclusion was that they just weren’t motivated as much as I am. Incidentally, one of the last jobs I did for this company was to rewrite their graduate boot camp Testing module to focus far more on test execution than test theory. I really enjoyed delivering that two day course and several of the grads asked me about a career in Testing – a small win for the dark side…
The majority of people I’ve worked with over the years want the kudos and benefits of working for a leading and prestigious organisation, but they don’t feel compelled to give the same level of commitment back. I know we all go through phases in our lives where family comes first (and it should), but if you want to be successful you need to put yourself on the line and leave your comfort zone as often as possible.
The main example I can point to in my time with this international tech leader (where my hard work paid off) was when I was asked to work with the organisations’ Swedish business which resulted in me spending more than 6 months collaborating with three international businesses in order to deliver a Smart Ticketing solution in Stockholm. I was chosen for this engagement ahead of peers who had been with the organisation for over twenty years. I was very lucky that day!!
After I left this world renowned technology company I spent the next 18 months working for a boutique Testing Services company in Melbourne and I can say without doubt that the calibre of people I worked with there was far in excess of the majority of those that I worked with at the international tech company. The main difference was the culture set by the owner of the business. She was driven to achieve and build a successful company and everyone knew what their role was in achieving this goal. I introduced the Summer School concept into this organisation and was one of the main presenters. If I hadn’t spent years developing my own career there is no way I could have taken a lead in this endeavour.
Back in the early ’90s I decided to make a career change and transition from being a software developer to a software tester. The main reason being that the software that I had been specialising in for the previous 8 years (HOGAN banking software) was becoming less prevalent in the market place and I needed to look elsewhere to utilise my skills.
As we all know, software development entails a degree of testing and therefore I wasn’t changing careers, I was just shifting focus. Was this a lucky decision? I’ll never know what would have happened if I hadn’t made that decision. All I do know is what did happen, because I did. Proving negatives is a fools game. What ifs are a waste of my time and energy. Once I make a decision I don’t look back, it’s fruitless and counter-productive and detracts from going forward. So, you see, there was no luck involved in what came next, there were only outcomes based upon a context-driven decision.
This doesn’t mean to say that I never have regrets in my life, of course I do. But, those regrets are based upon me taking responsibility for my actions and dealing with the consequences, not concerning denial or shifting the blame or looking for scapegoats. It’s no different when we make decisions about launching a software product. If the product ships and it’s successful, it’s because we strategised, planned and delivered what was requested. If the product ships and is bug ridden and unstable then we have obviously cut corners and misunderstood the inherent risks associated with such a product. No good/bad luck here, just good/bad strategy and delivery.
I have rarely worked on poorly run projects, mainly because I walk away from them early in the product development lifecycle, because I’ve established that the fundamentals (for successful delivery) are missing. This doesn’t make me a defeatist, it just means I’m a realist – as we know (from experience) you can’t test quality into a product. If the software development fundamentals (business ownership, clear requirements, controlled change management, agreed outcomes, source control etc.) don’t exist then we’re unlikely to succeed – even if we do feel lucky!!
So, I guess the moral of my story is, don’t rely on being lucky; take control of your career and good things will happen. The majority of my career has been spent working as a freelancer and this means it’s even more important to stay current with the latest technologies, tools and techniques. However, unlike the majority of freelancers I’ve worked with, I factored in at least four weeks personal development every year (that I personally paid for). This development took many forms. It was generally a combination of class-based training, interactive workshops, industry conferences (as a speaker and an attendee), reading blogs, magazines and White Papers, seeking out industry experts to pick their brains and (maybe a little dated now) reading books.
I am currently considering an opportunity in Japan that has come to me from within my personal network. In fact it’s over 10 years since I last looked for a job, the jobs have all come to me via my network. Again, does this mean I’m lucky?
Dateline: Melbourne, Tuesday July 15 2014