Uncharted Waters

Oct 7 2014   4:38PM GMT

Create Your Own Career Trajectory

Michael Larsen Michael Larsen Profile: Michael Larsen

Keys to Your Career

There are many doors. Which ones to open are up to us to decide.

This post is, in a way, a response to Justin Rohrman’s post about “Ageism in the Tech World“. Does it exist? Yes. Is it detrimental? It certainly can be. Does it have to be? No.

Overcoming ageism, or any other “ism”, requires taking control of our own career trajectories. How do we do that? We make choices and invest our efforts in areas that will ultimately prove beneficial.

Yes, it’s that simple.

No, it’s not easy.

No, there is no one size fits all method to doing this, but here are some things that I have done to address this in my own career.

Stand Up for What You Believe In

Wouldn’t it be terrific to have a platform that you could use to show what you are skilled at, and make clear where you are not? Such a thing exists. It’s called “blogging”. Most of the successes and interesting opportunities I have been presented with have come from posts I have written. Blogs are great no pressure ways to explore your ideas and share them with others. They take time to percolate, but if you are consistent, you will develop a following. Testers are especially generous with sharing ideas, even half-baked ones. The more you write, the more you explore, the better your understanding becomes. Your own convictions will ring through in your prose. Hiring manager or recruiters, provided they take the time to read, will stand up and take notice.

Let Your Voice Be Heard

Some of my best interactions with fellow testers, and companies looking to hire me, have come from conference talks I have given. There are plenty of opportunities, but many tend to look at it from only the top level perspective. They see a keynote speaker deliver a talk at a conference. While they get inspired, they often get frustrated and say “oh, but I can’t keynote a conference.” What they don’t realize is that speaker didn’t start with keynoting conferences, either. I haven’t been a keynote speaker yet, but I hope to be one in the future.

My speaking trajectory started out small. My first presentation was a lunchtime talk given to my immediate team (which consisted of about six people). My next opportunity was to give a short presentation at a local meet up. After that, I wrote a paper and presented it at a regional event (i.e. the Pacific Northwest Software Quality Conference), which then led to my delivering talks at other conferences. As I have developed skill (and received evaluations on my topics and presentation style), I have concluded that, by being responsive to the feedback, and proposing topics that people are interested in, my opportunities to speak have grown considerably.

Which Path to Follow

Sometimes the path is defined. Sometimes we have to plant something to mark the way.

Demonstrate Your Skills

If you are a programmer, and you do not have a Github account (or a similar service), you are all but invisible to the broader programming community. These platforms give programmers an opportunity to share ideas, put projects out for people to look at and review, and demonstrate skill and proficiency. Software testers also have avenues to demonstrate their skills. Weekend Testing is a regular meeting place to discuss a variety of testing topics, approach testing challenges, or test an alpha/beta product. By participating in these events, and having my comments as part of the chat sessions (and archived with the sessions), I have become searchable to a broader population. Participating in testing challenges, as offered by the Miagi-do School of Software Testing, or events like the Software Testing World Cup, have also been a great way for me to demonstrate my skills and share my knowledge with others.

Ultimately, the skills that I develop are secondary to the regular time applied to improving my skills and staying current. So much material is available online, for free, and from so many different sources. There is no reason anyone who genuinely wants to get better at their work cannot do so. The tools at our disposal are many and varied, and the ability to access them has never been more convenient. If I choose to not take advantage of the opportunities at my disposal, then yes, it really is my fault alone if I do not curate or shape my career. We all, deep down, believe we are amazing. They key is doing visible things to help other people know we are amazing as well.

3  Comments on this Post

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  • Ben Rubenstein
    Some great advice, Michael, that I think can apply to many different disciplines, not just development and testing. Using all the avenues available to you can really help to raise your profile and give you control of your career, rather than waiting for opportunities to come along (in my experience, you'll be waiting a long time). Always be thinking about what else you could do - if it doesn't get you the money/status you want at first, it may pay off in the end. 

    11,260 pointsBadges:
  • Genderhayes
    Now is the future you never know what may happen or "cease the moment" opportunities is out there with new technology Science who knows what a person may come up with as for me I have a hard time keeping up
    10,720 pointsBadges:
  • Michael Larsen
    Genderhayes, it's true that "keeping up" is subjective. We don't know at any given time what technology is going to be the "killer app" or what is going to be a flash in the pan. One benefit of software is that many of the aspects that work for one language follow over to other languages. I think I'd go slightly insane if my primary focus was hardware design ;).
    6,160 pointsBadges:

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