I was chatting with a colleague recently when the topic of satisfaction with the state of our respective careers came up. Both of us are software developers with similar backgrounds, at least a decade and a half of experience behind us, married with families, and reasonably financially comfortable.
His immediate answer to the question of whether he felt he was where he’d wanted to be at this point in his professional life was a resounding yes. Mine was an emphatic no.
When he prompted me, I made a desperate attempt to justify my answer but the words I heard myself say lacked conviction. I spoke of the potential I’d repeatedly been assured I had and that I hadn’t lived up to. I spoke of the expectations others had had of me and how I’d consistently come short. Even as I uttered the words, I was painfully aware that my arguments were specious. Rather than explaining why I, personally, wasn’t satisfied with my career’s progress, I was detailing the multitude of ways I felt I’d failed to measure up in the eyes of others. None of my justifications had anything intrinsic to do with me. I had ceased to be a sentient individual to become a mirror for the people who had influenced me in the past.
Putting aside external expectations, I truly do feel I haven’t ticked enough items off the list of accomplishments any self-respecting software professional should have completed midway through their career. So as an exercise, I decided to sit down and attempt to express a new answer; one that placed me in the driver’s seat.
In my early dreams, the ones fuelled by teachers and other influential people, I had envisioned myself at the bleeding edge of technology developing the next greatest thing. I’d be an expert in a particular niche area, contributing to or outright authoring technical books, providing training, and possibly even speaking at the occasional conference.
Delusions of grandeur? Possibly. But I knew I had the potential; I’d been told often enough.
I got married while in university and, within 5 years of my graduation, I was the mother of two children and working a four-day week at a company that specialized in asset management software. Though I could speak with some authority about inventory replenishment algorithms or the impact of two digit years as the end of the millennium loomed, the world was leaving me in the dust. The fastest and brightest minds were eagerly jumping on the internet bandwagon while I was adding functionality to or tweaking what was even then considered legacy code. Already, a large portion of the dream had evaporated.
The next few years found me working my way up to development manager by way of technical lead. I did my best to juggle career and family life but my career lost more often than not till I reached a point where the career simply had to be put on hold. My children needed me at home.
I spent five years as a stay-at-home mother though I took on part-time contract work so I could keep up my programming skills. The strategy worked but this was not a period of professional growth for me. By the time I felt that my children no longer required my presence at home, I was so far behind that I no longer considered myself a senior developer. I eventually found a company willing to take a chance on me and hire me as an intermediate developer. That was three years ago.
I’ve been struggling ever since to catch up and learn as much as I can but I’m still far behind the people I consider my contemporaries.
Am I where I thought I would be? Not even close. Do I regret it? A large part of me believes I’ve done the right thing and is satisfied with what I have accomplished. And yet a small but vocal part of me can’t help but yearn for the future I might have had.
I was recently reading the November/December 2012 issue of The Writer, a magazine about the craft of writing, and found the following advice by author Diana Abu-Jaber: “Don’t worry about other writers’ successes or where you thought you would be or should be by now or the latest disappointments. That’s not a winnable game. Wish everyone well, applaud for their triumphs and work, work, work!”
That’s advice I’ve decided to take to heart. So how happy am I with the state of my career? Taking all factors into consideration, I’m satisfied. Now, off I go play with some of those new fangled tools I keep hearing about but haven’t yet had a chance to try.
What about you? Are you where you thought you might be by now?