21. January, 2004 - careers, politics

A few folks I know have been thinking about their jobs and trying to decide whether to stick it out at a company they don’t especially like, or move on to something else.

That’s obviously a big decision and one on which you probably shouldn’t take casual advice from someone who can’t even spell "Palm" correctly (yeah, I’ve left the typo from yesterday in place), but when I think about my career, there have been three big transitions. The first was when I decided to quit being an intern for big companies and bail on the computer business for a year and a half to go drive school bus. The second was when I packed up my life and moved from MN to CA to work for Apple for a year. And the third was when my group got laid off at WAM!NET and I took the opportunity to start my own business.

When I took time off to drive bus, I was intentionally turning my back on computers for a while. But another part of what I was doing was admitting to myself that I wasn’t ever going to finish my Bachelor’s degree, and needed to quit getting hired as an "intern". When I took a job at LaserMaster again, I’d bought a Macintosh and was busy teaching myself programming on the Mac. I learned how to do technical support over the phone, and more importantly, learned what kinds of problems real customers have before I started doing any real programming on LM’s products. That was more of an education than most people get out of four years of college, at least in my eyes.

When I went to Apple, I ended up in support again, but this time developer support. I learned a ton about programming the Mac in that year, since I had to figure out how to solve other people’s problems, usually a few per day. Again, I got a huge education, and again I doubled my salary.

My third big change was starting my own business. In the four years since I’ve done that, I’ve gotten a huge education again. This time it’s been less in technical areas and more in fuzzier stuff I’d avoided in the past. I didn’t pump up my salary, but I’m doing more work that I actually like, and I’m not sure what kind of price-tag to put on that.

I guess where this is all going is two ideas. The first is that sometimes you have to make a change in your career in order to get ahead. The second is that when you do make a change, there’s often an opportunity to learn more than you expected, and that education can set you up for the next change. If I hadn’t started learning the Mac while I was driving bus, I never would have been able to get hired at Apple. If I made a good name for myself at Apple, I probably wouldn’t have been able to make my own business work. Working at a number of differently mis-managed companies didn’t hurt either, but I don’t think the education I’ve gotten (and am still getting) from that has paid off yet.

Copyright 2009, Dave Polaschek. Last updated on Mon, 15 Feb 2010 13:55:54.