Over the past few months I have been going through a slow mental transition in respect to my own self-image of what I do for a living. In recent years, when asked “What do you do?” I automatically responded “Oh, I’m a software developer.” A title that I love.
A Software Developer is a Creator. A good software developer can listen to the spoken and unspoken words of someone with a software problem and create a solution for it from virtually nothing. A great software developer solves problems in a way that it becomes a delightful experience to use what they have created.
I ran across this quote the other day which summarizes why I love to think about and cultivate the idea of being a creator:
If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for the Creator, there is no poverty. – Rainer Maria Rilke
I didn’t always want to be a software developer. In fact, there was a time when my self-esteem was low enough that I didn’t think I was smart enough to write software. Before that, there was no awareness that the field even existed.
In high school I thought I might like to be a coach one day. I loved playing sports. I loved being a part of a team, working hard towards a shared goal, and experiencing success or failure as a team. No one won or lost by themselves. Everyone had a job to do and it would take amazing coordinated acts of many individuals in order to accomplish anything special.
The coach was there to teach us fundamentals, to guide us, and to show us how to be a team. The great ones in my past took a sincere interest in the individuals well being on the field and off. They cared and it showed. Their lessons shaped my attitude about life, work, and success.
I let go of the idea of being a coach as just a childish idea based on the logic that I was only interested in it because sports were the only powerful thing that I had experienced until then. “I need more life experience before choosing my path” I would tell myself as I entered into college.
I declared myself a Computer Science major based on the idea that I also loved working on computers. In my spare time I would build computers from component parts, tear apart the family computer to see how it worked, and stay up until 5 in the morning reading reference manuals to learn more.
At some point I must have decided that sports and coaching was indeed in my past and that my competing passion for computers was going to be a “real” career path. I had completely forgotten about all this until recently… I’m not sure I ever really understood the relationship other than there simply wasn’t one. You just had to choose.
Until very recently I simply could not image myself in any role other than Software Developer (more generically a technologist) or, previously, a football coach. Those were the only roles I could identify with. I recognized the fact that those two roles couldn’t be further apart in their extremes and that I always felt awkward living between those two worlds… one not really knowing the other.
This year I’ve stumbled upon a new opportunity. It is a new role and, in my mind, one this lies between the two extremes. My company, @hand, needed someone to become a Program Manager for one of their most strategic accounts. A Program Manager is someone who manages multiple projects for a program which is usually a single, strategic account or industry vertical.
I remember having lunch with our CTO back in early February and coming to the realization, as the words left my mouth, that everyone’s career has but a few defining moments. Sometimes, out of necessity, an opportunity arises and you are given a choice. Take the opportunity and don’t look back or choose to actively ignore that opportunity and never know the difference. It was as close to being handed something on a silver platter as you get… as informal as it was and one I felt, for an unknown reason, that I shouldn’t walk away from. I don’t think either of us knew what a sea change of thought that decision would bring for me over the coming months.
That day I became a Program Manager. A new job title, a new chapter in my career.
An interesting thing has happened to me since that day. I’ve been accused of “becoming a salesman”, of instantly losing any geek cred that I had, and just last night I was told that I had “joined the dark side”. Now I should mention that all of this was in good fun but layered on top of my own self-doubt it really resonated with what I was feeling anyway. For the first month it showed.
The teasing bothered me until I began to recreate a new self-image that I liked. What does it mean to be a Program Manager? What type of manager will I be? Those questions have dominated my thoughts for the past months and I have to write about it to get back to solid image.
In the past few weeks I have come full circle. My opportunity is to become that mythical manager that I never could find.
In fifteen minutes I have to leave in order to make it to the project kickoff meeting. Most of this post turned into an exploration of where I’ve been to understand what lies ahead. I’ll have to write about that another day… to be continued.
Now! Let’s do this!