Had a somewhat frank discussion with my boss last week; the major topic of discussion was adjustment to management, and whether or not I felt like regressing (reading this over again, I’m realizing my word choice there is telling) into a purely technical role. In theory, one of the great things about my current company is that there is no superiority in technical leadership versus managerial leadership — both are valued just as highly.
To digress, I think it’s more difficult to rise in a technical role than a managerial role. I think this happens for a few reasons. First, there are more people who want, in the steady state, to not have managerial responsibility in a software engineering organization. Second, people often forget that one has to be as much of (if not more of) a leader in the technical track as they do in the managerial track. Finally, in any well-recruited software engineering program, there are people smarter than you.
In any event, an opportunity came up where I could move into management, and I’ve been doing that for a while. I knew at that point, as I know now, that I will never reach the technical ability of several of my coworkers, let alone what they will reach in coming months/years. I just don’t seem to “have it” anymore. I don’t know if it was the bank, or what, but something killed my ability to be hardcore.
When my boss and I were talking, he mentioned that he made the transition to management at a point when a) he knew he had achieved strong technical contributions and was a technical leader and b) wanted to make changes at a level greater than could be made as an individual technical contributor. I understand point b totally, but I realized when he said that that I missed the boat on a. The thing is, I’ve never felt like I’ve made particularly strong technical contributions, anywhere. And I’m not real sure I’m particularly good at the management thing either. 0 for 2.
Anyhow, this got me thinking about what I could consider myself “really good at” in the same regard as my boss was able to say that he was a good engineer. My list comes up more or less empty. In fact, in terms of things I’m really good at it, it comes down to two things:
- Synthesis and deduction. For some reason, I can “figure things out” and “guess the right answer” faster and more accurately than most people. Of course, Occam’s razor provides me a nice corollary to the Lake Wobegon effect whenever I start thinking in terms of better than average.
- I am good at playing a warlock in a computer game. This is exactly useless, and serves only as a reminder that I’ve wasted days of my life doing nothing productive but repeating the same keystrokes over and over again.
In my job, I enjoy CS topics. I like data structures and algorithms, but I’m not particularly good at them. I not really good at functional programming. Not particularly good at object orientation. I still can’t tell you how a VTBL is implemented. I lack the ability to think in abstractions and communicate in terms of proxies, factories, decorators, and visitors. I get confused when writing loops. I couldn’t hack a kernel driver. I’d probably fail at implementing a file system. At best, I know a little about a lot of things, and that’s not particularly useful in an industry that values depth.
So yeah, technical aspects out. So that leaves the interpersonal. Oh. Right, I don’t have any interpersonal skills. I’m a poor communicator, can’t keep eye contact, feel uncomfortable in social situations, and don’t particularly like confrontation.
0 for 2, again.
Let’s see, I’ve got some hobbies.
- Coffee … well, we’ve seen how that’s gone lately.
- Tea is pretty hard to screw up. Water. Heat to appropriate temperature. Steep. Remove leaves after appropriate time. I don’t suppose I suck at it, but it’s not much to be proud of.
- I take pictures sometimes, but I can’t photograph people.
- I enjoy high performance driving, but I still botch the 1-2 shift all the time, am sloppy with throttle lifts, and am still intimidated driving on the interstate or at night.
- I like reef tanks, but I don’t have one right now, and I killed all the fish in the last one I had.
- I enjoy reading, but I quickly forget everything I read. And I lack the patience and cognitive ability to read, say, Ulysses, or finish Goedel, Escher, Bach.
- I like LEGO, but all I can do is put models together. Given a box of parts I can’t make anything interesting.
- I like stereos, but I already have degraded hearing in my right ear, can’t make out words in music, and hearing will only get worse as I age.
- I like movies, but I can never work up the energy to watch 8 1/2. Or Kill Bill. Or North By Northwest. 1
- I like to hike, but I’m (irationally) scared to death of being in the woods since getting Lyme Disease. And I’m still afraid of that coming back, or of associated brain damage.
- I tell myself I like to write, but I couldn’t even finish a short story when I tried.
Rolling with the stream of consciousness thing here…
So. I can play a video game well. I guess I hoped that I’d be doing a bit better than that four years out of college. Wednesday I hit the two-year date at my current job. That’s sort of neat. It has its problems, but I like where I work, and that’s novel.
Getting hit with a lot of recruiting calls, both from people I’ve talked to in the past and a lot of cold calls too. A lot of people desperate for engineers out here, but just deeper into the financial industry and hedge-fund/i-banking land, where I don’t really want to be right now. Crazy money is neat and all, but I don’t really feel like selling my soul again.
Realizing more and more that I only have a few friends in the world. Far fewer than I thought at one point. Most of them live in different parts of the country than I do.
This is rapidly devolving in a direction I didn’t want to take it.