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Aaron N. Tubbs

Dragon chaser.

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At the bank, I was working to become an AD. This was for two reasons. The first was that one of the best things (and one of the few positive things I can remember) about working at an investment bank is gobs of money. Becoming a director meant a higher rank, which meant a higher pay scale, which meant more gobs of money and a bigger bonus. The second was that it was the only way I could see to engineer myself out of a position that was doing its best to destroy me. It was impossible for me to work with my management, near or far, to get out of my position, despite the constant promises that things will get better soon. Reaching rank meant more delegation, and more mobility to another group, so it was a win-win situation.

So if you’ll notice, neither of those scenarios say anything about wanting to become a leader. Sure, in the back of my mind, I knew that directorship was partially about leadership (and about being an asshole without pissing the bigger assholes off). However, leadership was only a tertiary concern for me, subordinate to my major goals: money and an exit strategy.

Of course, I found a different exit strategy, and money is pretty stupid without time or piece of mind to appreciate it. People have been figuring this out for years, but I think it doesn’t really make sense until it happens to you. Everybody smiles and nods, and says “yeah, that’s true” without really understanding it.

In any event, at my new job, we are blessed with a unique situation, in that leadership is not a requirement for rank or success at the company, whether measured in terms of pay or responsibility. My current job provides one the means to stay on a technical track, enter a management track, or do both, recognizing that all software engineering management is at least somewhat technical. All managers start off at the company as software engineers. This is cool because everybody has to understand software engineering challenges, and kind of weird, since software engineers aren’t always the management sort. I like it, though.

So, the question in my mind since day one was whether I was shooting for management again or not. For a long time after leaving the bank, I felt sort of like damaged goods, and didn’t really want to make any career decisions beyond getting out of the bank. Most of my work energy was focused on learning how to be technical again, and getting my mind and life back under control. But, I’ve realized a few things in my work.

  1. I will never be as talented or technically able as some of my coworkers. I’ve read a number of technical books and articles, and I try to stay up to date, but I don’t have the magic ability to just “get it” like the best folks around me do. I made the intentional decision to work at a company that has people smarter and more talented than myhself — it makes sure I’ll always have something to learn. So, I’m not intimidated by this, but recognizing one’s own limitations is also important.
  2. I enjoy software development and design, and relish finding a solution to a hard problem.
  3. I like working with other engineers to solve problems.
  4. As silly as it sounds, I enjoy the political game and the struggles and challenges that happen when designing software at a large-scale level.
  5. I recognize that sometimes I am more effective at facilitating a solution than solving it myself.

I’m pretty sure none of that means anything, but I’ve at least come as far as to figure out that it would probably be wise to give management a shot. This is somewhat tricky, as I’m happy with my current manager, happy with my current coworkers, and am still learning things from the work I’m doing. As such, there’s no real motivation to just jump out and try something new. Comfort is good, but not the key to career advancement, or something.