A Job Title Is A Role Not An Identity
I'm not ashamed of my career, but sometimes it seems like some folks think I should be.
The Time I Discovered People Were Paid To Write Code
So this is going to be a little bit of my résumé in long form. Sorry.
I worked in the marketing department for an oil company straight out of school. I did “graphics” — whatever that means. They had things coming up for a tradeshow and wanted something interactive. Programming was a fun hobby for me. So I made something in Flash with heavy abuse of ActionScript. It wasn’t the most elegant thing, but it was lots of fun. I was entirely too proud of it. Somewhat of a trend in my life for some time, but I digress.
After that went well, I wanted to do more. There wasn’t much available for me there, so I looked for a bit of freelance programming work. I landed it with Six Foot doing website things in Flash for indie films and random things.
A few months later they asked me to join full time. I was unsure. As confident as I was, I was also pretty sure I was a
complete fraud. I didn’t go to school for this. I’ve just been doing it for fun since I was a teenager. They made an offer
that was double my current salary. I was making pennies at the time. Call it a failure on school guidance counselors, I
suppose. I had no idea programmers got paid that much.
So I did it. I joined Six Foot as a Junior Developer.
And Humble, Too
The ego I cultivated in that very masculine environment… It took years and a loving-yet-honest wife to bring down that monster. That’s a story for another time, though.
I have so much shame for the part of my life when I was confident.
Through ups and downs, leaving and coming back to Six Foot, I worked my way from a Senior Software Engineer to eventually holding a Technical Director title.
The Game Is Afoot
The best thing about my time there was building a team. I went from being massively nervous about a leadership role to being thrilled to be in it over a couple of years. I enjoyed those devs. I loved how they made the product we were building there better every day while making themselves better in the proccess.
So it was pretty painful when we had to let them all go. Six Foot had veered into the gaming industry and things didn’t work out for everyone there. Many of the leaders (including myself) took paycuts to keep the employees going, but it was a bit too late. Eventually, the whole department was effectively dissolved.
The Big Gears Shift Slower
Something I had to learn the hard way in my leadership role is that the “bigger” the title, the longer it takes to find the next job. Combine the decision to take a paycut with an increased hiring cycle, and you don’t care any more if “Director” is in the next job title. So I took on some contract work as a software developer. Even in the director role, I’d never lost the appetite for programming. The best managers I ever worked with were comfortable “rolling up their sleeves” and helping out when things got tough. I always tried to ride the line of staying close to the code without micro-managing it. I liked the idea of triaging a problem that happened after hours myself if possible rather than disturbing the sleep of my team.
And that’s where I stayed until the time of writing. I’m writing software every day in roles that I used to manage. And I’m fine with it. I’ve been fine with it.
But one of the things that keeps coming up in professional or social interactions is a perception of a “fall from grace”. Like I wasn’t good enough in my director role, so I was “demoted” and relegated to writing software again. I’m not personally insulted by this so much as I am for software engineers in general. There seems to be some inherent elitism in this point of view. Leadership is a skill that is developed. I wanted to develop it.
Not every software engineer wants to be a manager and nor should they be.
I’d love a leadership role again. Candidly, I look around at opportunities to see if I think they’d be a good fit (for me and for the hiring company). But I’m not rushing to them. I’ve been working as a software engineer for a few years now. My experience is an asset and has let me take over as managers/leadership to allow for those folks to take a vacation.
Somewhere along the way, management positions have been put on a pedestal. There’s a natural, primal tendency to do this for some reason, I think. There’s some value in it given that it’s part of the social contract for a leader take some of the glory so long as they take all of the risk/responsibility. But it is folly for leaders to think they are actually better than those they manage. It is delusional. Leaders just cultivated a different skillset. That’s it.