I got a lot of really great answers about my “Where do old developers go?”, I’m feeling much better about this now .
Now let turn this question around, instead of asking what is going on in the industry, let’s check what is going on with you. In particular, do you have a career plan at all?
An easy way to check that is asking: “What are you going to do in 3 years, in 7 years and in 20 years from now?”
Of course, best laid plans of mice and men will often go awry, plans for the futures are written in sand on a stormy beach and other stuff like this. Any future planning has to include the caveats that they are just plans, with reality and life getting in the way.
For lawyers*, the career path might be: Trainee, associate, senior associate, junior partner, partner, named partner. (* This is based solely on seeing some legal TV shows, not actual knowledge.) Most lawyers don’t actually become named partners, obviously, but that is what you are planning for.
As discussed in the previous post, a lot of developers move to management positions at some point in their careers, mostly because salaries and benefits tend to flat line after about ten years or so for most people in the development track. Others decide that going independent and becoming consultants or contractors is a better way to increase their income. Another path is to rise in the technical track in a company that recognize technical excellence, those are usually pure tech companies, it is rare to have such positions in non technical companies. Yet another track that seems to be available is the architect route, this one is available in non tech companies, especially big ones. You have the startup route, and the Get Rich Burning Your Twenties mode, but that is a high risk / high reward, and people who think about career planning tend to avoid such things unless carefully considered.
It is advisable to actually consider those options, try to decide what options you’ll want to have available for you in the next 5 – 15 years, and take steps accordingly. For example, if you want to go in the management track, you’ll want to work on thinks like people’s skill, be able to fluently converse with the business in their own terms and learn to play golf. You’ll want to try to have leadership positions from a relatively early start, so team lead is a stepping stone you’ll want to get to, for example. There is a lot of material on this path, so I’m not going to cover this in details.
If you want to go with the Technical Expert mode, that means that you probably need to grow a beard (there is nothing like stroking a beard in quite contemplation to impress people). More seriously, you’ll want to get a deep level of knowledge in several fields, preferably ones that you can tie together into a cohesive package. For example, networks expert would be able to understand how TCP/IP work and be able to actually make use of that when optimize an HTML5 app. Crucial at this point is also the ability to actually transfer that knowledge to other people. If you are working within a company, that increase the overall value you have, but a lot of the time, technical experts would be consultants. Focusing on a relatively narrow field gives you a lot more value, but narrow your utility. Remember that updating your knowledge is very important. But the good news is that if you have a good grasp of basics, you can get to grips with new technology very easily.
The old timer mode fits people who work in big companies and who believe that they can carve a niche in that company based on their knowledge of the company’s business and how things actually work. This isn’t necessarily the one year experience, repeated 20 times, although in many cases, that seems to be what happens. Instead, it is a steady job with reasonable hours, and you know the business well enough and the environment in which you are working with, that you can just get things done, without a lot of fussing around. Change is hard, however, because those places tend to be very conservative. Then again, you can do new systems in whatever technology you want, at a certain point (you tend to become the owner of certain systems, you’ve been around longer than the people who are actually using the system). That does carry a risk, however. You can be fired for whatever reason (merger, downsizing, etc) and you’ll have hard time finding equivalent position.
The entrepreneur mode is for people who want to build something. That can be a tool or a platform, and they create a business selling that. A lot of the time, it involve a lot of technical work, but there is a huge amount of stuff that needs to be done that is non technical. Marketing and sales, insurance and taxes, hiring people, etc. The good thing about this is that you usually don’t have to have a very big investment in your product before you can start selling it. We are talking about roughly 3 – 6 months for most things, for 1 – 3 people. That isn’t a big leap, and in many cases, you can handle this by eating some savings, or moonlighting. Note that this can completely swallow your life, but you are your own boss, and there is a great deal of satisfaction around building a product around your vision. Be aware that you need to have contingency plans around for failure and success. If your product become successful, you need to make sure that you can handle the load (hire more people, train them, etc).
The startup mode is very different than the entrepreneur mode. In startup, you are focused on getting investments, and the scope is usually much bigger. There is less of a risk financially (you usually have investors for that), but there is a much higher risk of failure, and there is usually a culture that consider throwing yourself on hand grenade advisable. The idea is that you are going to burn yourself on both ends for two to four years, and in return, you’ll have enough money to maybe stop working altogether. I consider this foolish, given the success rates, but there are a lot of people who consider that to be the only way worth doing. The benefits usually include a nice environment, both physically and professionally, but it comes with the expectation that you’ll stay there for so many hours, it is your second home.
There are other modes and career paths, but now I’ve to return to my job .