Prior to graduating college I read a great post from Patrick McKenzie, who is a self-described “ex-Japanese salaryman who currently runs a small software business”. I liked it so much I spent the better part of an hour formatting the article in word and printing it out for my “Important–save and read for later” binder.
I’m not entirely sure what “later” counts as, but at the very least, it’s certainly “later” now, and I might as well share it with all of you loyal reader(s). Note: I probably don’t need that (s) there as the only person I know that reads my blog is Jackie, but hey, one can hope.
The post from McKenzie is titled “Don’t Call Yourself a Programmer, And Other Career Advice“. While at first glance it may appear to be geared towards developers (read: programmer) I would argue that advice given in this column is great for anyone in any career, looking to achieve and be happy.
The essential argument of the essay is that from a company’s (i.e. potential employer’s) perspective you are not defined by what you do, how you do it, or how hard you work, you are defined by accomplishments. Employers don’t care that you can build an application using Ruby on Rails with a mySQL database, employers care that your application saved the company two hundred thousands dollars. Heck, your boss might not even know (or care) how you programmed the cost-saving application, only that it is cost-saving.
In other words, do not pitch your skills or unique abilities by describing your detailed knowledge of them, but by describing what they can do, and have done for others.
If your thirty-second elevator speech mentions a programming language, you’ve already lost the battle. If your resume mentions working knowledge of Microsoft Office products, you can politely step out of the office and head back home, because that is not what employers want to hear. It doesn’t matter that you know the difference between pass by reference and pass by value, or that you’ve got a trade certification. As an employer looking for a digital artist I don’t care that you’ve mastered Adobe Creative Suite 6. I care that you can make this look nice, or make that product sell.
Companies at their core exist to make money (as they should). As such, define your job and your accomplishments in alignment with their goal: to make money. As a programmer you don’t build backend payroll applications, you save costs, by the thousands. As a marketer you don’t have a thorough understanding of CRM tools, you drive double digit percentage revenue increases. Those are goals your employer, or potential employers care about, and these are metrics you should be tracking.
I really liked this article and recommend it to everyone who is currently a part of the workforce. McKenzie does a great job of providing examples of individuals who use technology as a tool to further their business initiatives, but yet aren’t programmers. He also provides a great deal of insight on other topics ranging from networking (amongst those things we call humans), negotiating (for salaries and other things), work relationships and the importance of communication skills.
I’ll close this post with his final paragraph, and added emphasis on his last line, work to live, don’t live to work.
At the end of the day, your life happiness will not be dominated by your career. Either talk to older people or trust the social scientists who have: family, faith, hobbies, etc etc generally swamp career achievements and money in terms of things which actually produce happiness. Optimize appropriately. Your career is important, and right now it might seem like the most important thing in your life, but odds are that is not what you’ll believe forever. Work to live, don’t live to work.