Career planningWhat is your path?
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 .
More posts in "Career planning" series:
- (24 Jul 2015) The immortal choices aren't
- (22 Jul 2015) The age of least resistance
- (27 Oct 2014) Mine
- (23 Oct 2014) Disaster recovery
- (22 Oct 2014) What is your path?
- (20 Oct 2014) Where do old devs go to?
I really enjoyed this post. I am considering two of the courses you covered and finding the decision more challenging that I would have predicted. Your thoughts on the matter have been helpful. Thanks.
I think we all just retire before the age of 40 as mill- or even billionaires. Right?
And blessed are the few that are able to work for a large company where they can foster their career with stability... while working in a small, dynamic team with interesting deliverables and implementing progressive technologies--possibly even contributing to OS projects.
I agree with most of what you have here, however, it might be overstating the importance of salary by suggesting it is "mostly" the reason people seek out new paths. I have walked away from enjoyable roles at non-tech companies that paid well simply because I didn't want my career growth to stagnate. As you said, tech companies usually offer the greatest number of career growth options for engineers.
I'm 41, with a nice family, two kids. I've been working for a big company for about 18 years now, first as a developer and now as an "architect". I still consider myself a good developer and that is what I like to do most, always traing to steer away from management chores, but sometimes they became unavoidable in my position. I do most of my work from home, and this is a big plus for me. I also have a good enough salary that keeps me from even considering pursuing a step up the ladder (only management from where I am now, and that would mean a job I would hate). More and more, however, I'm influenced by the early retirement movement (like Mr. Money Mustache and Friends), and I realized that I don't want to be working for a big company for the rest of my life. Outdoors, family, travel, life in general suddenly sound far more important than sitting at the keyboard on weekends. At least I would like to reach financial Independence so I can keep working only on things that really interest me, and not having to work on what I'm told because I need the job. Interestingly enough, most of the people joining the early retirement schemes comes from IT or other engineering fields.
Joe Davis, Salary isn't the only, or the major factor, but career advancement is often a key. If you are paid below you value, it is going to generate resentment.
Career plan: have fun with what I do. Now. In two years from now. In five years from now. In twenty years from now.
50 years old, I went down the entrepreneur root 16 years ago and have never regretted it. You do have to be realistic though, if I had to find a job again I suspect my career path wouldn't help much.
A little bit younger, but I believe Nico hit the nail. Financial independence is key, when you are young you can take bigger risks (you can eat crackers for a week if you need to) but that doesn't mean you have to be conservative either.
With my business partner, we follow the entrepreneurship career path. It ain't easy, but it is a very rewarding activity. That means you need to develop or hire the skilleset you don't have, but the thing that you need to have (or go find a partner that has it) is the ability to spot quality collaborators for your enterprise. The team is key.
I never thought about splitting up the Entrepreneur vs Startup modes. I always included Entrepreneur in the Startup mode, but I agree with you that they're different paths. In my mind the Entrepreneur path is the one to go down - startup life is way too high risk, regardless of the reward.
David Brabant has articulated the essence of my own career plan -- when asked the "five year" question in interviews or regular career development appraisals, the answer has always been "working on interesting stuff". And that's how it's worked out, too, over the decades, with just a few judiciously timed moves, and despite the inevitable interludes of being put into a management role until being rescued by the next re-organisation.
Really, you get out of your career what you put in -- if the outfit you're in at the time is worth working for in the first place, in terms of its culture, then it's up to you to make your own ground truth as to what you are and what you do, and never mind the job title that gets hung round your neck after the fact.
What about. Working just enough to earn just enough money to enjoy the life by yourself and with your family. Is it still possible to do this in the States or somewhere else in the world. You could be dead by tomorrow and which inscription you would like to have on your tombstone. He had a good "career path" or he enjoyed "living his life". Please remember why you all are doing this. :-)
Ayende Rahien, what carrer path you have presented to youself 15 years ago ? You expressly understand this way and saw all the steps you need to take? Now, 15 years later, tell whether there on this road twists and turns that you did not anticipate? You way - the entrepreneur mode or you started with a startup? How much time do you spend management and other non-technical things compared with technical things (developing of course).
Questions for further career growth excite me very often nowadays. After 8-10 years of development, you are constantly trying to tighten manager positions, and somewhere you've already partially in these matters. Yes I still get very cool, but I do not want to - I began to understand that despite the ability of, this role does not bring me pleasure as the developing. Have you had such dileemy or not?
And that can advise you as a great developer?
Mike, Having just enough money to get by exposes you to a lot of risks. A major health incident, an unexpected expense, etc. I know that "to get by" vs. "enjoy the life" is not quite the same thing, but it does indicate a focus on the here & now rather than a well thought out strategy.
Aleksey, Those are great questions, I'll try to answer them in a full blog post
Thanks, Ayende! It will be very cool!
After being in the software development industry for fifteen years I have seen a lot of different approaches to this. Some companies want you to become an architect some push you into management. The last two companies I have been at I have been able to manage teams and do software development. It appears to me to be a good compromise to do both and keep your career path options open to many different alternatives that may come your way.
Tom Henricksen http://myitcareercoach.com/
I don't think a beard would look good on me! (No offense taken. It is pretty funny!) Good article, though. It is nice to see the options listed, along with pros and cons. I am definitely on the Technical Expert path. Many of my friends are on the Old Timer path, and are very well respected by their employers. It is all about goals, risk and where you are comfortable.