Annie’s inflection points series brings up so many memories and emotions for me. We worked really hard together to accomplish the goal for her to go from Casting Director to Cloud Automation Engineer. We’d stay up until midnight most nights after the kids went to bed to do a crash course on everything IT. As she networked and worked to show her value, the people we thought would see that value didn’t return her calls when open positions were available, and the people we didn’t expect would be interested did. She faced an uphill battle on many fronts, and I wasn’t prepared for how complicated, difficult, and frankly unreproducible it was.
But I had reproduced those same types of career transformations before at work. From the time right after the 2008 crash that I put my new project on hold, so I could teach Craig unit testing as he transferred from QA to Software Engineering, to the time that I hired TJ who had learned software engineering from a rural outsourcing company in the midwest, to the time I hired Megan from DevOps Days DFW as an intern before she totally solidified one of our core products, to the time that I worked with Daniel to shift his skills from on-prem to Azure. This is something I do, and this is something I'm good at: I help people grow past what they see is possible.
Then I take a step back and see all the forces that made those results almost impossible for me to meet and virtually impossible for almost everyone in our industry. People shouldn't have to fight that hard to do the right thing.
Helping Craig enabled him to change the trajectory of his career into software engineering, and it ultimately laid the foundation for the product we wrote together which combined my engineering expertise with his domain expertise. It came at the cost however of delaying the ultimate results of the project, which caused me to miss having a central role on the next wave of products at my company.
Helping TJ helped him become a solid and impactful software engineer and contributor even today (we are still friends). And it helped me get out of the mad scientist mode I had been in, forcing me to explain my ideas to someone new and having empathy with his challenges. But it came at the cost of extending that project, while my peers were executing quick wins that gained them notoriety and made me an outsider to some people.
Helping Megan find a path into tech enabled a team she was embedded on who was stuck go from a lost strategy in an on premises data center to an automation-driven cloud strategy in Azure. She brought people together and helped them breathe life into their own careers. I didn't know what I was going to do about that product before Megan transformed it. But it came at the cost of my peers thinking I was crazy by hiring someone with a marketing degree to write our Chef.
Helping Daniel find a path from being overworked late at night into an Azure architect helped us converge the product expertise and cloud strategy that most places can't pull off. And it transformed his life as his employer went from taking advantage of him to partnering with him. But I had to endure eighteen months of my boss at the time thinking I was crazy for doing this and was just blind to the reality that old dogs can't learn new tricks. It turns out they can, if you give them time, which nobody does.
I didn't have a lot of support and recognition on my path to helping the above people and others. I was left with my deep desire, instilled in me by my deeply religious parents, to do the right thing. I get immense personal satisfaction from this. But I am also frustrated that relying on people’s ability to ignore rewards and advancement in the face of doing the right thing is not a plan for success. The forces aligned against a manager doing the right thing are simply too great.
We want to do something to change that. We want to find people with stories like mine: making sacrifices to do the right thing, helping people grow, hiring balanced teams and helping them transform their careers. We want to recognize these people. We want to make a page that says to their boss, employer, and network what I wish I could have sent to my boss a decade ago: “This person is showing strategic and transformational leadership. You should promote them!” That type of message would have made a huge difference to me, and it’s not too late for us to make that difference in someone else’s life and career.
Could you share with us people you know who are doing the right thing for their people, helping them grow and transform their careers? Email us a person we can recognize in this way to email@example.com. We want to tell their story and change the reward calculation leaders in our industry are forced to make. If you can’t think of anyone, can you email us anyway with your thoughts on how you think we should tackle this problem? Perhaps the problem is deeper or different than we think; we want to know that, too.