A Career in the Do-Stage

2019-10-07

So a couple weeks ago I posts on this idea of a 'Career Rockwall'. I believe it's a better model for how a career grows and changes over time. As part of my talk, I added a layer to the model, which I called stages. Now over my career, I have work for a handful of companies. And each position has started with a very similar tone: 'Can you DO the work?' Even after a few years at this profession, every position seems to start with DO. I called this the 'DO' stage, because you are valued for what you can do.

When I first started my career, I remember this challenge constantly gnawing at me. 'Can I do my job?' I chose to adapt to this challenge by acting the sponge. I tried to learn everything! How does this thing work? Why did we choose that thing? Why did we build it this way? I wanted to learn all I could. I found teachers and I stayed curious. Now, 5 years later, I just started at a new client. And I find myself asking the same questions. How does this work? Why did we choose that? Why did we build it this way? In both cases, I came it not knowing.

To be sure, I have accumulated knowledge in my career. I know the basics of many programming languages now, for example. But every position has something new to learn, because no two companies are the same. When I first started though, my questions and learning was far more technically focused. I was looking for resources to expand my tool kit, and to hone my craft.

Books like Headfirst Design Patterns, Practices of the Agile Software Developer, and Clean Code were all instrumental in my learning after college. Just as important were the video lectures and tutorials I found on Pluralsight. Yet, the best by far, was the time I got to spend with any mentor willing to teach me. Sometimes the tutorials were appropriate. But a mentor was always able to link the theory back to practical experience!

Though I did not know about them at the time, there are these things called User Groups. They are groups of professional practicing your same craft, who meet locally. Having recently begun speaking at these groups, I realized what I'd been missing. I would have loved to get to learn from mentors at other companies. And since they post their topics in advance, you can choose those that most interest you.

But don't let it stop there! Once you've learned something, find a way to give back to the community. Pay it forward, as it were. Plus the best time to try to teach, is right after you figured it out. Other wise you start to forget what it was like not to know. If you just learned something, you are truly the best person to convey those 'Aha!' moments. Paying it forward has two great effects.

The first is you'll learn the material better. By having to explain a concept to someone else, you learn it better yourself. But the second effect has to do with the next stage. AS you share you knowledge, people will gradually shift from valuing what you can do for them, to what you know. Even though you may be in the do stage, you can always be working on your know credentials. But I'll talk more about that next week.