Pillar 3: It’s OK to pivot, and you’ll probably be more valuable when you do.
Pillar 3 is so EVIDENT on LinkedIn. Go look at 95% of all profiles out there and what do you see? Bob F Everyman – IT guy at universal megacorp and Sally T Jenkins – programmer for ultrahuge programming company.com
If I’m honest, this was me. I was ‘Preston Kilburn, Network Engineer at International Oil Company’. Until I wasn’t (but that’s pillar 4 – I know right – I’m totally stringing you along for that pillar 4…)
And if I’m even slightly a bit deeper cutting – fellas – this is much more of an issue for us. Men tend to have their identity almost wholly wrapped around their careers. And … Maybe that’s OK if you’re a professor or an accountant. But guess what – unless you’re staying a front-line help desk ticket taker – you’re going to have a ton of different roles. If you’re not straight up support – 10 to 20 years from now your job has a huge extinction rate. Most likely, it won’t be there.
I’m not saying don’t pick a niche. But what I am saying is make sure your niche is an INDUSTRY not a specific JOB. Let me give you an example:
My father-in-law is a former IBM and Cray Super Computer operator and programmer. We were talking about work ethics at the time, but then he mentioned something that took me by surprise. He was frustrated with a guy back in the day. What stuck with me was what his job was:
Computer Maintenance Tech (AKA – the guy who vacuums out dust from inside the computer).
He was literally a hard drive maid. That was his job. That’s not a ‘thing’ anymore. At least not that I know of. And I know a lot of people.
What I am saying is that I’ve had careers in VoIP, Networking, System Administration, Virtualization, and Security. Because I have shifted verticals many times, I rarely find myself in a position where I don’t understand more than the cursory facts of an issue a customer is trying to solve. And in many senses, I’m a bit unique for this, because when opportunities have come along I haven’t’ said ‘Nope, I only do X’.
Honestly, I think my varied experience has opened a LOT of doors up. Perhaps closed a few, but for the most part I think it has opened more than closed. And it has given me one of the coolest nickname a recruiter has ever given me:
‘The purple squirrel’
When I was on the phone, this guy said ‘Look Preston, we need someone who has a good understanding of Cloud, Voice, Security, Virtualization, Networking and QoS. I’ve looked at around 125 candidates – and you’re my purple squirrel!’
Want to know what the nice thing about being the purple squirrel is?
I say ‘NO’. A lot.
I actually turned down that very friendly recruiter, because honestly it would swing me back into a commoditized area – which I want to avoid.
What pillar 3 is about is freeing yourself from the oldskool confines of ‘Well, I was trained to do X, so I can’t do Y’. Allow me to give you some real-life examples:
“I’ve gotten a CCNP voice, so I’m not going to work on an Asterisk VoIP system”
“I know Ruby, I’m not about to look at Python”
“I know linux, I’m not touching Microsoft (or vice-versa)”
When the opportunity presents itself – and it will if you’re keeping your eyes open – expand your skillsets! From a core ‘you’ perspective, this does 5 things:
1: You are not your job at your employer.
I struggled with this concept until I got fired (hang on to pillar 4 for this story). Canned. Let go. Pink Slipped. Whatever the euphemism, my employer, (and at the time a huge chunk of my identity) said “See ya!” What happens when this event rolls around is one is faced with two choices “I am better than that situation” or “Surely I can’t go on anymore”. Rarely does someone walk away from a firing and go ‘meh.’
2: You are not what you know now.
The concept of constantly doing and learning more is super daunting for some people. I totally get that. But it’s a thing in IT. You can NEVER assume in this career that you will be doing the same thing even 18 months from now. And what you know now might be completely irrelevant, but YOU are not. You are not what you know now, get uneasy and out of your comfort zone. Once you get comfy – do something new.
3: Your work is probably better than you know.
Frequently we will receive feedback on what sucks about our performance and internalize this to N+2 degrees. “I got yelled at for not doing this report” might turn into “I’m absolutely horrible at reports and all administrative stuff”. Now, you might legitimately suck at that area, but on the whole, your work is probably better than you think it is. Don’t be afraid to take inventory of what you’ve done and be proud. You’ll need it come review and role-shift times.
4: The desire becomes: Embrace Automation.
No matter how awesome and fast you are at something, find a way to automate it and let a robot do it. NEVER DO SOMETHING MORE THAN TWICE. If you find you’re doing something a third time you’re doing it wrong.
5: You start to do your due-diligence.
The hardest question I get asked when I work with folks considering a vertical or career shift is ‘Does this company suck’ or ‘Does this role suck’. I’d take a semi-crappy job and a turd company with an amazing boss. And then I’d move 45 minutes after that boss left. Stick around to find out how to do the due-diligence of figuring out if a team is new and swanky or old and janky.
If you embrace the pivot, I promise your bottom line and your opportunities will start to reflect it.