Every year I get asked a standard set of question during my trainings. Most of the time the question is phrased differently like “What do you think I should do next in my career?” or “Which technology should I focus on?” Having heard the question multiple times I have gotten lazy and stuck to my boiler plate answer of “try out a few different technologies and see which one you’re passionate about and then deep dive into it” Or “start reading a lot”. Over time it’s started to feel like the answer isn’t really helping them. Often what they want is a clear cut answer like Focus on Python, or you should be a DBA next. Most senior folk will agree with me that it’s a hard question to answer. Mainly because the answer changes from person to person. Some of us might be technically brilliant and have zero inter-personal skills, others vice versa.
So unlike the oracles at Delphi I decided to sit and really think about the answer this time.
I realized the technologies will changes and the company will put people in different projects regardless of their aptitude for it. So here are some lessons that should work in any case and in no specific order.
Decide how you’re going to measure yourself
For me it was simply how much money I made. This might come across as selfish but the fact is money / salary is a great indicator of what your company thinks your skills are worth. It can easily be compared across organizations and it a hard metric unlike things like job satisfaction (if you love what you do, you can make money from it and it won’t feel like work) and letters of appreciation. I am not saying everyone should do the same but it’s important to have a baseline. So pick one and see how you compare against it over the years.
Don’t spend money you don’t have
One of the best decisions I have ever made was to get rid of my credit cards. As a young professional I was not very fiscally disciplined and often ended up buying things I hardly ever used or wanted. Getting rid of the credit card gave me an instant 30% hike in my salary. The first few months were difficult mostly because I had to cut the habit of buying without thinking. But after that it was awesome because the bank balance kept growing and finally I had something that resembled savings. This not only gave me the satisfaction of having hard cash but also gave me discipline, financial prudence and tested my will power more times than I can imagine. You will be surprised what all you can live without.
Take some time to learn
After getting my first job one the things I was most grateful for was “never having to ever study again”. It took me a while to understand the difference between studying and learning. Learning is something you do for yourself. Take some time in a month to read a book (doesn’t even have to be technical) inspiration can truly come from anywhere. Just recently I stopped playing my X Box and got back to reading again. Before I knew it I was done with 5 books and can feel my brain muscles enlarge. Half the things I write are inspired by what I read in a book.
Have a plan but be flexible
This is something I didn’t have for the first 8 years of my career so I just meandered from one job to another. But after my daughter was born things crystalized for me and it became obvious I need a plan. The best thing about having a plan is you have some destination you’re aiming for. Every once in a while you will think about it and judge how close you are to it. If you are far it will give you the kick in the pants you need to change course else it will bring the satisfaction of knowing you have nothing to worry about. Sure things can go wrong in the plan too, that is when the stuff I mentioned before will come handy.
Hopefully doing just this much will bring out enough change in you to be able to succeed anywhere.