Early in my career, I navigated most decisions by simple hill climbing: if it was a more prestigious opportunity and paid more, I took it. As I got further, and my personal obligations grew, I started to think about navigating a 40-year career, where a given job might value pace rather than prestige. Over the last few years, what I’ve come to appreciate is that there’s another phase: purpose.
Purpose isn’t intrinsically the third phase of a career, but it certainly has been for me, as I was fixated on financial stability for most of my first decade in the industry, and then by controlling my career’s pace as we had our first child. It was only after figuring out, to a certain degree, the financial and pacing pieces that I felt like I had enough room in my life to think about purpose at all.
In my “2023 year in review” post, I mentioned the idea of “advancing the industry.”
Increasingly, I believe that I have a small but real platform to improve how engineering organizations operate, and that it’s worthwhile to steer my career and hobbies such that I deliberately use that platform for good. I don’t take myself too seriously here–most of what I do on any given day doesn’t advance the industry in any way–but it’s a guiding principle for me when I think about larger professional questions like, “Should I take this job?” or “What theme should I write my next book on?”
Demonstrating how this principle played into a few decent decisions:
Before joining Carta, I thought a long time about what kind of role gives me the most leverage to impact the industry. Some friends believe that I could impact the industry more as a full-time writer, but I personally don’t believe that.
First, I believe that successful engineering organizations spread their practices widely across the industry, which makes organizational leadership extremely impactful.
Second, I believe that leadership roles allow you to change individuals lives around you in ways that quietly propagate across the industry.
Finally, I believe that writers who operate have a unique, powerful voice in the industry.
Staff Engineer and An Engineering Executive’s Primer are both books whose potential readership is relatively constrained, but that readership is also positioned to have an exceptional impact on the industry. There’s probably an alternate topic I could have written about that sold more copies (and consequently made more money), but I don’t think there are alternate topics that would have impacted the industry more
I certainly don’t apply the lens to every decision I make, but I do apply it to most long-term professional decisions, and I find it quite helpful.
Even if I go against where this principle steers me, it’s worthwhile to understand why I’m going against it.