What's the difference between a career you own and a career you have?
A career you have feels like you're a boat in the storm.
Thrown around by winds and waves at the mercy of the elements. Boss says jump and you ask how high, boss says learn new tech and you ask how fast, boss says crunch time and you say thank you, boss says layoffs and you're hosed.
A career you own feels like you're in control.
You work with your boss, not for your boss. Set your own hours, choose your own tech, and if there's overtime, it's because you felt like doing more. Layoffs? There's a new job waiting across the street.
First, you need a vision. What do you want?
A career that follows every whim, opportunity, and disappointment doesn't get far. Keeps circling around the start point.
But add a dash of vision, a small chance to make choices towards a goal, and look what happens.
The walk goes far! 😍
It's not a straight line, life doesn't work that way, but you get somewhere. Where that is, you have to decide for yourself. Once you do, everything else becomes easier.
Rather than being thrown around by the storm, you can make choices based on how they fit your vision.
Second, approach your job like a business. You're there to provide value in exchange for money.
You don't have to be a complete mercenary about it – enjoy time with your team and build the camaradeire, but never forget that work is a business transaction. You are paid for the value you bring and nothing more.
Value here means business value. The business thinks like this: "If we give $X to you, how much money falls out?". The ROI may be immediate, if the business is profitable, or in terms of improving fund-raising success and future profits, if you're a startup.
The company pays for that value with money and other benefits like opportunity, brand, fun, and interesting challenges. But it's your job to make sure the ROI makes sense for you.
Third, think about leverage. What can you bring to the table that isn't just you doing the work?
Engineers are worth so much because we build assets. Invest in the code once and it keeps doing your job for years 😍
That's leverage. You do many hours worth of work with an hour of writing code.
Being a senior engineer and an expert in your field unlocks another source of leverage: Owning projects and being responsible for their delivery.
Force multiplying the team around you with experience, advice, and clearing blockers means you achieve way more than you ever could yourself.
Pick a niche, kick ass, solve expensive problems. That approach works in any economy.
PS: the Senior Engineer Mindset explores these ideas and lessons learned in 34 essays
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Who am I and who do I help? I'm Swizec Teller and I turn coders into engineers with "Raw and honest from the heart!" writing. No bullshit. Real insights into the career and skills of a modern software engineer.
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