There’s a term for juggling your work life and personal life, work life balance. It’s hard not to hear about it, companies talk about it all the time, in interviews, in meetings, it’s everywhere and it’s great that it’s being taken seriously.
Fantastic, let’s assume then that your job provides a healthy work life balance. It’s a good enough gig that you are engaged and invested in what you are doing and your teams success. Let’s also assume that you enjoy not just where you work but the industry you working in.
The thing about working in and loving software is that there is never a shortage of things to learn. Technical, process, domain, there’s a never-ending stream of information and what complicates it further is that all these things become multi-dimensional because there is often a triplicity between what you, your company and the industry are interested in.
Lets refer to that struggle as…
Company Career Balance
Consider Company Career Balance like a three-ring Venn Diagram,
Probably the most stable ring. The reason being they are the most likely to remain static much longer than your personal interests and incredibly longer than the software framework du jour industry. It’s understandable that even great companies find what works for them and sticks with it.
This ring is like dreams in the movie Inception, rings within rings. Topics here also can take on an ethereal quality, sometimes the hype is real sometimes it’s just smoke and mirrors.
Somewhere in the mix are your own interests, if you are lucky the circles overlap considerably. If they don’t you are stuck sliding the circles around to strike a balance.
The more disparity between company, industry and personal interests the more stressful choices in your career will probably feel.
When you are pursuing things your company values and the software industry values then getting a promotion or changing jobs are both not so scary and easier to handle. Knowledge is a form of currency, it’s value just varies by context. When your company career balance is closely aligned your currency is at its strongest.
It doesn’t mean you are in a bad spot if things aren’t all in line.
If you are interested and develop skills that the industry values and can introduce new solutions to your current team your the all-star go getter. That’s not a bad gig. If you love your company and become a domain expert, not too bad either.
All it really means is you’ll have harder choices when it comes to what to learn / pursue. It’s only going to feel worse if you re trying to get a promotion or are forced to look for a new job. From a skills perspective protecting your job and trying to get promoted look pretty similar.
Diversify and Decouple
First it’s ok to just want more. More money, more title, more big name company experience, more opportunities open to you. What is hard though is maintaining a balance when you are pursing these things.
Maybe you are chasing a new fancier title at your company by pouring you time and energy into things that you are tangentially interested in and are marginally relevant across the software industry. You are essentially specializing in your current company. To be successful and happy with this arrangement your interest in a promotion will need to outweigh you interest in other pursuits.
Say your willpower holds up you gain the knowledge but not the shiny new job. How do you handle the frustration?
Not surprisingly it’s about finding a balance. We need to structure our skills the way we structure good software. Decouple the skill from its implementation. When you start to feel the dependency is growing to strong, diversify your interests. Allow your passion to flow into a different area for a time, it will only feed and inspire your other interests.