I work with a lot of developers, sysadmins, DBAs, and IT managers. I’m a consultant, so companies don’t bring me in when times are good.
They bring me in when the room is covered with poop, and they can’t unplug the fan because it’s mission-critical.
Sometimes I just want to pull specific employees aside and say, “You are way, way, way too good to be working in this brown hole.” Unfortunately, I can’t do that, so instead here’s the signs I see. If you recognize ’em, find a new room to work in.
You haven’t learned anything new at work in a year.
You really love technology, and you find yourself playing with all kinds of geek toys after hours. You read about new programming languages, build servers at home, and teach your kids how to build robots.
But at work, you’re doing the same old same old.
It’s not that you don’t want to learn or deploy new stuff. You just can’t, because you don’t have the time, or management doesn’t believe in change, or your coworkers can’t handle the technology, or any one of a million really bad reasons that all suck.
If you don’t keep growing your skills, you’re gonna be That Guy. You know the one. The sixty-year-old-guy who’s still maintaining the mainframe. He’s a happy camper, and he enjoys his work, but the very thought of doing that drives you crazy – and you don’t realize that you’re well on your way.
Your manager doesn’t know what’s next for you.
This requires two things.
First, you have to care enough about your future to have at least a short-term plan covering the next year or two. What do you want to learn next? How do you want to leverage that skill at work? How can you make yourself – and the business – more money?
Second, your manager has to care enough to listen.
No, I didn’t say your manager would build your career plan for you. He won’t. He’s just as overworked as you are, and he’s struggling to define his own next steps. You’ve gotta look out for #1, and by that I don’t mean urine. Although you do have to look out for that too, come to think of it.
You don’t care whether the company succeeds or fails.
You’ve gotten jaded and bitter enough that you wouldn’t mind seeing the web site explode in a pile of disappointment and failure. You might even be excited because you’d have the chance to bust out a phrase you’ve come to enjoy lately: “I told you so.”
You think “I told you so” means the other person was too dumb to absorb your brilliant advice.
“I told you so” really means “I didn’t care enough to persuade you.”
You don’t go to user groups or conferences.
I totally understand if your company can’t afford to send you to a conference – conferences are expensive – but local user groups are still free. Yes, they require you to leave work a little early, drive a ways, and sacrifice some family time. The reward, though, is that you keep learning, and you keep growing your local peer network.
If you’re too drained at the end of the day or your employer won’t let you out early to drive over to the user group, you’re not doing the right job at the right company.
If you don’t have a local user group for whatever you do, it’s time to start one. I’m not kidding – talk to user group leaders of other local user groups and find out how they got started. Talk to the national user group for your technology and ask what help they can give you to bootstrap a local chapter. And if you don’t have the time/effort to pull that off, you’re either too drained by your current gig, or you’re just cashing a paycheck.
Note: there’s nothing wrong with cashing a paycheck.
We’ve all been there. Sometimes, the money is too good or the opportunities are too few.
This, my friend, is not one of those times in history, and you’re not one of those people.
The simple fact that you’re here reading this in your spare time tells me that you’ve got the passion to keep growing and improving. That means you’re a cut above the average, because believe me, I see one hell of a lot of average people who don’t care enough to read blogs.
There has never been a better time in history for passionate IT people to get better jobs. The market is unbelievable. Yes, you’re going to have a lot of competition from people who are just cashing paychecks, but as soon as the interview starts, differentiate yourself.
“Hi, my name is ___, and I freakin’ love doing ___. I do it at work, I read about it, I try to sharpen my skills on my own time, and I give back to the community by attending and helping out at local user groups. I’d love to find a company where I could focus all my time on it. Are you looking for that kind of employee?”
Game over, man. Game over.