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Career Calculus...

This is a response to Erik Sink's essay on his blog ( ) and the responses to Joel's recent essay.

Erik thinks that controlling other people's perception of you is pointless.  He thinks that the only thing about your career that you can control is what you learn (with learning from mistakes being his primary example) and he thinks that everything else will fall into place.

However, I think this is wrong.  I think other people's perception of  you is a variable you can control (to some limited extent).  And while concentrating solely on other's perceptions of yourself is a losing game, it can't be totally ignored either.  I'm sure we all know of gifted people who don't get what they deserve because they make no effort to clue people in on their value.  And on the other side, we've all seen incompetent people shoot to the top because their *perceived* value is much greater than their true value. 

I got to thinking about this because of Joel's rant on resumes (ie how others perceive you) vs Erik's view of focusing solely on learning as a means of guiding your career.

Monday, January 26, 2004

I have to agree with Crimson here. In any company, you are promoted on how you are *perceived*. If you do a damn good job, you would expect to be perceived as such, and get promotion/benefits/salary in step with that.

Sadly, most companies are fairly dysfunctional which means that if you just do a good job, and ignore perception, you're in trouble.

I didn't realise this in the beginning, because I had a good manager. Good managers *know* how good their staff is and what they contribute. I never advertised, I just did what I was told. After leaving my good manager, my career seem to go into freefall - and I finally worked out that I was supposed to publicize myself, widely and as often as possible, even to my own manager.

Ignore self-marketing at your peril. Inside a company not just outside.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

If I may use an analogy here, it is the difference between artificial life, and artificial intelligence.

With Artificial Intelligence, you are trying to do a top down rule-based system.  With Artificial Life, you're setting the framework for the rules to be 'born' based on experience.

With Controlling Other People's Perspection of you, you are trying to establish rules from the top down, which never address the entire system.  With Taking Your Career In Control, you are building from the bottom up.  With the building from the bottom up, it would naturally grow into a system where other perspective would be guided to its natural conclusion.

It is not just a matter of focusing on the technical side of your career, but your holistic side.  Look at what Joel did -- he rode a bike across USA, not just for the heck of it, but for the experience, and to self-discover (and refuel) himself.  Your ways may be different, but it all boils down to taking good care of yourself -- mentally, physically, and spiritually -- and the rest will fall in place.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

To come back to the original Eric Sink article, I actually agree with the article that you need to spend time learning, building yourself up. I spent countless hours in my youth studying everything I could about computer systems.

What changed?

I got a job. I don't have time anymore. Once they've extracted 10 hours from me, I'm dead. I don't have time to study languages. I mean, I've got to work out my pension plans, my taxes, perhaps how to plan the education for my children, spend time with the family, socialize...

...reading books is fine, but that ain't learnin'.

Programmer learn thyself is a great idea, but for a lot of people it's theory which doesn't translate into practice. Your best hope is to subvert your job. This is why you have to put up with badly-written pet projects that previous developers have written as a "learning exercise". You know, the simple FTP jobs which have been built using XML/XSLT to handle config, etc.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

A much better take on Career Calculus:

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

I like his post, especially the part about choosing
your manager carefully.  The "learning" part is interesting
too, but there's a difference between "real" learning
and the "how to code in a zillion languages" that
seems to be regarded as "learning" by too many IT outfits

The "pick your manager/co carefully" part is very good
advice.  When I was unemployed, I interviewed at a startup
that, it turned out, was trying to develop a database
engine in Python.  The CEO was trying to convince me that
the inherent performance issues that their DB would have
versus competitors written in C/C++ would be overcome
with "better algorithms".  Algorithms, schmalgorithms -
a sort alg in C will _always_ be faster than one coded
in Python or any other interpreted language, assuming
they are otherwise the same algorithm; using Python to
write a database engine is a classic case of using the
wrong tool for the job.

I finally had to leave as I realized that the guy wasn't in
business to build a successful company, but to prove an
academic point.  So, even though I was unemployed, I
left and rejected the guy's job offer, since I knew that
taking the job would be hell-on-earth.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

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