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4 Questions To Understand Your Long Term Career Trajectory

Published 8/11/2021

Great questions trigger thought and further questions. In this episode, I pose 4 questions (and a bit of homework) to help you get a handle on where your career is headed.

Whether you are in a transition point, at the beginning of your career, or in a senior role, these questions can help point you down the pathway to better understanding and clarity for where you stand today.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Where is your career headed? This is a big question that has very difficult nuances to answer. In today's episode, I want to give you some hopefully easier to answer questions that will help you answer the bigger question. Where your career is headed. My name is Jonathan Cutrell. You're listening to Developer Tea. My goal on this show is to help driven developers like you find clarity, perspective, and purpose in their careers. It's where are you headed in your career? This is a question that everyone has a different answer to. A lot of people may not have even thought about this question longer than a minute or two. The answer to this question is not typically as simple as I want to become X. There is a lot more to think about in the whole picture of your career. I want to ask a few questions. I want to give you a few questions that you can ask yourself. You might want to ask yourself these questions on a yearly basis, maybe as often as quarterly, depending on what the pace of your job is, how early you are in your career. If you're very young in your career, it's very possible that you're in a transition state and choosing the next step. These questions might help you choose the next step. Here are the questions. The first question I want you to ask yourself is why does my job exist? If you don't have a job yet, why does this job exist if you're considering taking a role, for example? Why does my job exist? I want you to be careful not to answer this question with a job description. Don't answer this question with a simple answer of, well, this is one of the roles on, let's say, Scrum team and they were hiring for it. My job exists because they had the budget for it. What do you think deeper about this? What do you think about the motivations for the people who are holding the keys to this role that you have? It can be an illuminating question because instead of thinking about what you do in your job, you begin to think about the bigger picture. Who is convinced that your role is important enough to continue employing you and paying you? Your salary, your hourly rate, however you are compensated is coming from somewhere. Someone is choosing, they chose initially to hire you and they are choosing to continue paying you. Now, here's an interesting answer to this question. The reason that my job exists today is because no one has taken the time to eliminate it. This very well could be the answer to this question for your situation. And I want you to be totally candid about it. Don't try to, this isn't about building your resume, right? This isn't about, you know, trying to impress anybody. Be very candid with yourself. Why does your job exist? It's possible that your job exists because someone thinks it is necessary to fill that particular role. And this might sound brutal, but once you get to the core of why your job exists, you can ask other interesting leading questions and go beyond this one. And kind of the design of these questions is to spark you to think about things that you haven't really thought about with relation to your career before. Right? The second question, are you growing in the areas that you want to grow in? Are you growing in the areas that you want to grow in? It's possible that the area that you care most about is finances. That's something that's fairly universal. Most people would like to increase the money that they make. That's not the end all be all. We certainly have talked about how there is some limit to the reward that money provides. But if that is something that you want to grow in and you've kind of hit a wall for an extended period of time in your job, then this can be an illuminating question as well. But when we talk about growth, we're not just talking about growing financially speaking. You might have aspirations to learn more as an engineer. If you're listening to the show, you'll certainly do. Maybe you have aspirations for leading a team or for helping create a product, providing your input, your creative input to a product. Kind of a follow on question. This isn't one of the four that we're going to talk about today. The follow on question here is, are you able to capitalize on your strengths? Are you growing in areas that you care about growing in? Are you excelling in areas that you're already strong in? Are you having to work on weaknesses that you don't care about? Are you able to work on weaknesses that you do care about? Are your strengths being taken advantage of in a good way? Knowing these questions can help light the path for what you can work on. To be clear, sometimes the answer to this question is, no, I'm not growing, but it's not necessarily the fault of whoever your employer is. A lot of the time, you're holding yourself back. You're not growing in those areas because maybe you haven't talked to your manager about what you care about doing or about your aspirations to begin with. Make sure that you're using these questions not as a way of judging your job or judging your company or team, but instead as a lens to understand your current situation and then an invitation to investigate why your situation is the way that it is. Okay. Question number three, if there is a change, you've been thinking about making what's specifically, are you wanting to accomplish with that change? If you're thinking about making a change, there's probably people who are listening to this show right now and you have a change in mind that you've considered, whether that's changing your job, maybe you're thinking about going from part time, software engineering, consulting to a full time startup role. That's a possible change you've been considering. Or maybe you're thinking about jumping from being an engineer to being a manager or perhaps the other way around. Maybe you became a manager and you're considering going back to being an individual contributor. What are the things that are motivating this change? What are the outcomes that you are seeking? Once you have the answer to this, I want you to also, this is kind of the follow-on, once you have the answer to why you care about making this change, what are the outcomes that you're seeking? Write down a list of two or three ways that you could accomplish those same outcomes with different or no changes. As possible that the changes that you're trying to make are actually just the way that you're relating to your circumstances. Or maybe the change that needs to happen is just some bit of communication. You don't necessarily have to uproot from your current role or make a major life change necessarily. It's possible that you could accomplish the same thing with less disruption or with a more compounding benefit change. In other words, you can make a different change that actually has better benefits to it or more benefits to it than the original change you were considering making in the first place. A good example of this is if you are wanting to make more money and you're considering taking a job in an industry that you don't really like, you could probably take a job in an industry that you do like and make more money at the same time. The outcome that you were seeking was making more money, but you can affect a positive beneficial change with a parallel option, a parallel change option. The fourth question involves a little more homework because you're going to be asking another person to get involved. What I want you to do is pick someone that is relatively aware of what's going on with your career. This could be a manager, it could be an impartial third party. There are reasons that you might choose one or the other. I'll leave it up to you. What you're going to do is ask them what they see in your five year or ten year future. Where do they see you headed? I want you to have already prepared the answer to this yourself. This is a very common question, what's your five year plan, what's your ten year plan, but what a lot of people don't do is get feedback from others on whether they think that your trajectory is in line with your own plans. What you're doing by going through this exercise is you're checking your own kind of desire or your own intuition against someone else's intuition about your current trajectory. You could have somebody tell you that they imagine you being the technical leader on three teams and maybe your goal is to become a startup founder. And so obviously there's some disparity between these two answers and that disparity is where you can learn. Once you have their answer, you can share your answer and talk with them about how you see your kind of path playing out. And then get feedback from them on what they think is missing. It's possible that like with any kind of played out timeline, there's multiple options. There's multiple twists and turns. There may be some things that you know about your plans, obviously that those people can't know. But by getting this external feedback, you may be able to take away some practical kind of input, some changes you could make in your career that could steer you more towards where you plan to go. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. We'll be back again on Friday for a Friday refill of this show. Thank you so much for listening. Everything we do on this show is only possible because of listeners like yourself who rate and review and share this show. This is such an important part of the lifeblood of a podcast, especially one that doesn't have any kind of monetization other than our sponsor model. Right now that is how we keep the show going. So thank you so much for helping spread the Developer Tea to other engineers just like you. Thanks so much for listening. Until next time, enjoy your tea.