Us admins are really good at measuring systems. (Well, we’re probably not, but we tell ourselves that we are.) We have all these pretty dashboards and counters to tell us exactly what’s going on with a system at any moment in time.
But we usually measure our career with our salary.
That’s putting the cart before the horse because salary only changes after the fact – after we’ve done amazing things, told management, and convinced them we’re worth more money. But what metric do we use to convince ’em?
Uptime doesn’t work because so many factors are outside of our control, like the company’s willingness to buy quality gear or warranties. Lines of code or features shipped might work for developers, but they don’t work for admins.
So what are we supposed to use?
How do I measure what I do to CONVINCE someone to give me more salary?
Or how do I measure what I’ve done with my career?
Salary seems like a poor metric since many times it’s very arbitrarily set for an employee. But then folks normally say they measure their life by how happy they are, which is also subjective.
I reckon you’d measure by the number of Porsches you’ve owned, but that’s a function of salary.
So, I don’t have an answer. You’re welcome.
I’ve had two Porsches. I guess I rate a “2” for career?
I definitely think this is different for everyone.
For me, I don’t like to measure my career on things like salary but more on the work I get to do and the things I learn. A person out there might get paid a lot of money for doing the same thing over and over. But for me that wouldn’t be a very satisfying career.
I want to always be learning new things as well teaching things.
In the last year or so I have started speaking at events and I feel like that is a big jump in my career. I haven’t changed jobs or got a lot more money out of it. What I have gotten is a new experience and challenge.
Salary is tempting because it’s a number, but it’s an impossible number.
Salary far, far more often than not has nothing to do with whether someone did or can do amazing things. It often boils down to negotiation skill, being in the right place at the right time, and sometimes persistence. (And various forms of blackmail are said to help, too.)
For these reasons, and probably others, employees are encouraged — sometimes under duress of getting fired — to never publicly discuss salaries. Which means that the only salary information readily available, outside of companies that have published pay scales, is produced by various reports whose data collection was based on polls. These polls suffer from selection bias and probably some forms of inflation, so they’re useless.
In my opinion, in our industry career success must be based on personal goals, and nothing more. There is simply no standard numeric metric and it’s nearly impossible to compare yourself against anyone else. (The same would not be true, e.g., in sales.) It might even be impossible to compare yourself five years ago to yourself today, if you’ve changed roles, companies, or whatever. If you were Senior DBA five years ago and created a killer backup plan, how does that compare to being Senior DBA today and doing some great perf tuning work?
Adam – sure, if you enjoyed those tasks in the last sentence, could you measure it by the number of days you got to spend doing tasks you really enjoy? (Just thinking out loud there.)
Enjoyment may or may not have anything to do with someone’s idea of “success.” A hardcore capitalist, for example, might trade enjoyment for more money. It’s all very personal, which is why goals work. (Your “life quest” is probably a pretty decent way to handle that.)
I measure it in terms of how often I get to create something new, not just sustain…..
Is it something that needs to be measured? For example, I would never dream of trying to put a number on the quality of my relationships for my family members ( obligatory: http://www.gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes/1985/12/02 )
I like to focus on answers to some of the questions that managers like to focus on. Getting recognition, Feeling challenged, Sense of autonomy etc…
Michael – yeah, I think you could measure that by the number of hours or days you get to spend with your family members. If that number drifts to zero, the relationship quality probably isn’t good.
use the number of personalized shirts you own.
Steve – HAHAHA, I like that.
If you measure it in tweets Karen Lopez is winning.
I think you need to strike a balance between several things that are measurable. Some you want high (salary), others you want low (3am phone calls). Feed them into your black box and out comes a magic number that indicates how well you are doing.
Phase 1: Collect underpants
Phase 2: ???
Phase 3: Profit
Brent, fantastic post. I used to measure my “worth” by my salary; I felt that if I was earning less than peers or friends I wasn’t valued as much as they were. It was a really big point of contention in my previous job, too, since we were all fighting for raises from the same “pool” of dollars. So getting a smaller raise often was the result of not measuring up to your peers and coworkers.
Since changing jobs and becoming a senior DBA, my salary is actually the last thing I use a valuing my career; naturally I’m very well compensated, but finding the right environment to work in with people you like working with; for example I can’t imagine not playing a board game at lunch anymore at a place of work.
You could argue that “total compensation” should factor in things like bonus structures, profit sharing, equity options, or even health care coverage options. But I’ve found that while all those are nice what keeps me engaged and fulfilled is coming in each day and feeling… happy.
Not dreading going into work is perhaps the best metric I can think of.
Drew – thanks, glad you liked it! Yeah, number of vacation days might be a metric that you could use to gauge happiness. Or maybe hobby projects accomplished.
My career goal was to be on the cover of Rolling Stone by age 30. Didn’t reach that, so everything else was a let down.
ok, I’ll be serious. I don’t know how you measure your career, but I know what is a directly-related factor in getting near your goal: risk.
I have been in IT for close to two decades and I have seen many extremely qualified, talented people working well below what the market was willing to pay for their skill set. For whatever reason (many of them sound) they went with safety over risk and allowed their salary to slip below what the market would pay. “Fortune favors the bold” as the ancient Roman poet said. Not that risk is easy. It’s not. It’s just that it’s often rewarded.
Salary plays a huge part, but it also depends on your work-life balance, employer benefits and happiness at your job. If your salary is adequate but you are working many, many after-hours, then your salary or bonuses should compensate for that. I was “worth” more at my last job because of business knowledge and years of service, but I wasn’t happy. And happiness is very important to me. So I tried to find a good match between salary, benefits, work-life balance and happiness when I was looking for a new gig.
Can you be easily replaced? If the answer is yes and especially if you can be replaced by someone who would be paid less, then it might be hard to get a raise.
I guess I measure by marking off every time I’ve achieved something I was told I couldn’t do. It surprises me how many times I have done so.
Having your life list of things you want to accomplish surely helps one measure success and/or happiness – or life fulfillment I think.
Maybe it’s hard for me to measure this in my life b/c I’ve never made such a list – or actually wrote it down on paper.
Getting a job at the company I always wanted to work for, learning to run and then do a half, starting a family, and world travel are all types of things I’d put on that list.
A $$$ item I’d put on the list is being able to buy a bottle of 25YO single malt.
Good question Brent. One that we probably don’t ask ourselves frequently enough. It’s not an easy question to answer, as ones career and life needs dramatically vary over time.
For me, initially in my career, the driving factors for success would have been the number of technologies mastered and volume of successful complex projects completed. Over time, that changed to include salary achieved, peer acknowledgement of my work and the volume of positive influence on colleagues work.
Now (that I have a family), my driving force has changed towards working as efficiently as possible within a highly organised team, resulting in more quality time with the family. Salary, although important to maintain the lifestyle we are used to, has dropped down the pecking list and is definitely overtaken by work-life balance. Successful career metrics would now, for the first time, include security and dare I say it, a long term exit strategy. Offer me extra money or extra holiday and I’d take the time with my family happily.
I suspect that over the next 20 years, my priorities and measurement for success will change yet again and I guess that it’s for every one of us to adapt accordingly to each phase of our career. Is there one measure – no there can’t be. Does it change over time-yes. Ultimately we all should aim to find a balance where we are enjoying both what we do at work, whilst continually improving on our life outside of work.
[…] saw Brent Ozar write a post on measuring your career. In it, he talks about the fact that many people measure their career as a function of their […]
I find it difficult to determine and apply metrics to this. It’s more like a series of yes/no questions. The more no’s = bad.
Some good questions:
Stress level ok?
Working with “good” technologies?
Management doing the right things?
Helping co-workers grow?
Employer doing well financially?
Dealing with ok levels of friction?
I’m a software devloper but I have worked with or managed many an admin. For me at least I measure their career by level of trust that others have for them. You know those guys doesn’t matter if they are grizzled 20 year DBAs, battled tested (viruses, hardware failures,debugging badly coded 3rd party software) network admins. You know they don’t know everything but you know they can figure it out. So you and higher level execs trust them, their judgement and understand they’ll get you where you want to be. There the ones you want firefighting the latest problem, helping implement the next enterprise system, or even just getting there ideas about something new.
Its something that admins have to keep working at too. I”ve seen some admins that lose it. There salary and position may stay the same but once they lose that trust there career at least at that company is usually over or stagnates.
I measure it by a combination of:
-How many new things have I learned this year
-The number of solutions to business pain points I release in a year
-The number of “miracles” I pull off each year (fixing things no one could fix, finding data no one has been able to find, showig people ways they can use technology to do their jobs much faster, etc.)
-All things considered, am I having FUN doing what I’m doing?
I have been In IT for only 7 years but had an early goal to become a DBA. I was doing DBA work for several years before my title caught up with the work I was doing. For me, being appropriately titled was a measure I used for my career.
I think having an environment that is likable for you is a good measure. Some want autonomy or control to guide things. Some want to be able to focus on certain aspects of SQL Server while some want to try to do several things. There are brave souls who want to work on several RDBMS at once.