The randomness and chaos of your career

posted by Jeff | Thursday, September 9, 2021, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

Twelve years ago today, I learned that I would be flying to Seattle to interview at Microsoft, for a job that I ended up getting. What I haven't thought about much since then is that I was actually talking to a few different groups out there, and even in the group where I landed, there were some questions about whether or not I might take on some kind of leadership role. It ended up not being that, which I later found frustrating given my career trajectory at the time. Even then, I think I understood that I didn't want to be heads down coding all of the time. That's why I sought an internal transfer after a year, to get back on that track.

But that wasn't the only "almost" even in that company. A year in, I almost landed a position managing a dev team that built testing tools for the various studios making games to integrate with Xbox Live. It came down to me and another guy, and the hiring manager took the other one only because he had been at the company longer. He wanted to build a second team for me, but didn't get the budget. That was frustrating. I imagine things may have turned out differently had I got that job.

These are just a few examples of the randomness and chaos that you can't control, even when you think you're actively managing your career. 2009 was a tough year, and honestly any job I didn't hate would have been an improvement, but one that relocated me to Seattle and a company that I admired was a pretty big deal. It was the year that I wanted to stop letting career happen to me though, to actively move toward the things that I wanted to do. There's still an element of chance to it all, which I can accept since I'm not Type-A. I figure if you just keep at it long enough, eventually you'll hit the chance that gets you where you want.

I was talking with a friend the other day about how at a certain point you stop caring about equity in employment offers, because you almost never hit that lottery. I still take pride in asking for salary over equity in a gig years ago, which worked out since the company eventually tanked, but I didn't really know it would. Another gig, I couldn't get equity when I felt that I should since I was basically starting the engineering team from scratch. And now I have a job where the company actually went public, after years of not caring about equity. So much chaos and chance.

Even when I hit the chances, I've made mistakes, and that's OK. The last 12 years did get me to the general place I wanted to be. The truth is I'm not even sure where I want the next 12 to go. It's hard to get caught up in titles, and I tend to think more in terms of responsibilities. Am I an operator? A visionary? A team builder? A little of everything? Do I want to lead leaders or lead makers? I know which things I'm better at, but nothing is really off the table. It helps to be at a company that's big enough to have those growth opportunities.

All things considered, you can't just wait for things to happen, you still need to be deliberate. For my first decade in software, I was not deliberate, and I think I wasted a lot of time not growing. But when you do take control, to the extent that you can, there is still some randomness to endure.


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