So I’ve been at Jive for over two years now. In those two years I’ve seen our employee count surge from about 35 to over 200 as our customer base has grown by between 100%-200% each year, as it had done the previous few years before I joined. Our engineering department when I joined was made up of four software developers and an operations person; now we have nearly 60 people in engineering including a new CTO (whom I interviewed and helped recruit), Scrum masters, product owners, QA professionals, UX professionals, and a slew of web developers, mobile developers, operations and dev/ops guys, and more regular old software guys like me.
I was just now trying to think how many people I’ve interviewed this year. I’m not sure the number but I put it at least over 50, probably closer to 70 or 80. Often, during interviews, I will detect an underlying concern or two, concerns that I’ve also felt in my past. Working at Jive has caused me to see things differently, though. So I wanted to talk a bit about some of these concerns. Here’s a sampling.
“I am looking for a stable job, and Jive doesn’t seem stable.”
This is an interesting one. Usually what people think they mean is that they want a place where working hard is enough to ensure they never get fired or laid off; they don’t want the company’s lack of a viable business plan or strategy, or an economic downturn, to affect their employment. A “stable” company is generally a fiction, by the way; nothing’s constant but change.
At this point I will point out that Jive operates in the black, has extremely high customer retention, and doubles or triples our customer base each year. You don’t need to be a math major to work out that Jive is incredibly healthy financially.
But this usually isn’t enough to convince people. Often what they really mean is they want a job from a company that has been around a long time and people have heard of. That’s the only interpretation I can think of where a job with Novell is more “stable” than a job with Jive.
Instead of looking for a stable job, I think people should be looking for a job where they can make a difference.
“I am looking for career growth, and Jive doesn’t seem to be able to offer me that.”
When people feel this way it is usually because they have just found out that our organization is pretty flat and we don’t have formalized job titles, career growth tracks, annual review processes, or regular one-on-ones with managers. But they fail to understand why: We are too busy growing to spend a lot of time doing that stuff.
Don’t misunderstand. It isn’t that those other things aren’t helpful or important. But consider this: How much time do you spend at your job planning what career growth objectives you have, quantifying your career growth, measuring it, proving it, documenting it, and arguing about it? How much time do you spend agonizing over whether you are exhibiting the specific behaviors you were told you had to exhibit in order to earn a promotion to the next job level in your career path? How many times have you been disappointed or frustrated because your progress in your “growth area” (i.e. weakness) wasn’t enough to merit the promotion you wanted, or you couldn’t be rated highly because of some political reason? How did that make you feel about your job?
What if you stopped doing all of those things and spent that time actually doing a job you love? What if you managed your own career instead? What if you took charge of identifying your own areas where you want to grow, found the feedback from your boss or your peers you needed to grow there, and then just did it without having a formalized process around it? What if instead of trying to get promoted to “Senior Engineer”, you just started being a senior engineer?
Ironically, when people consider this question, they are preferring larger organizations that have well-established career growth paths with defined career levels and job titles. They are preferring these organizations without asking why they have these well defined career paths. They are failing to consider that many of these organizations do this because they have trouble attracting and keeping talented employees without these career growth programs; they are compensating for something else they are missing, like innovation.
A career growth path is of little value if there is no actual growth. To me this is the big irony. If a software development organization grows from four to forty in two years, don’t you think the people there at the beginning are going to grow? You bet. What about a software development organization that is not even allowed to backfill the positions they lose? It doesn’t matter how good a job you do of meeting all your career growth plan objectives; if the organization you work for isn’t actually growing, there aren’t very many opportunities for you to grow, either.
Instead of looking for a job with a well-defined career growth plan, I think people should be looking for a job where they are going to have many opportunities to grow and contribute.
“I am looking for a job with a good work-life balance, and Jive seems to expect a lot.”
Let’s be clear about a couple of things.
First, finding balance between work and life is important. That balance is a very personal thing. It is not the same balance for everyone. But that balance is very important.
Second, Jive does expect a lot. We want to be awesome. You don’t become awesome by doing the average. Achieving above-average results requires above-average effort. This shouldn’t be that hard to understand.
At face value, this sentiment is pretty benign, but sometimes it hides an underlying issue, which is that, secretly, this person is unwilling or afraid to put their heart into their work.
I understand this; I’ve been there. Starting in 1998 when I went to work for IBM, I spend the next TEN YEARS of my career working mostly on projects that nobody ever used. Most of the stuff I worked on was canceled, or the company went under, or we spent months working on a prototype feature that the business said was absolutely critical only to find out later that, no, we don’t need that, but this next prototype feature IS absolutely critical, rinse and repeat. The only project of any substance during that time period was Novell Forge, which actually was shipped and people used, but Novell ignored so much they shut it down in that same time frame.
I can understand why a person who has become accustomed to that can learn to not be passionate about their work. It is heart-wrenching otherwise. After a few years of pouring your heart into your work and seeing it fail due to external causes, I can see why a person would choose to stop caring and start living for the weekend. At this point your job because a means to an end, the thing you do for 1/3 of your waking hours so you can do the things you are passionate about.
But what if your job was something you were passionate about?
Wouldn’t it be better to spend your working hours doing something that really matters to you? Wouldn’t it be better to have a job that you can pour your whole soul into and feel like you are doing something meaningful?
Often, the phrase work-life balance is really used to convey the idea that “I suffer through my work so I can do what I like to do in life, so I don’t want work taking up any more of my time than necessary.” If instead you spend your time at work doing what you like, suddenly the distinction between work and life is pretty blurry.
Instead of looking for the job that requires the least of a person so they can spend more time doing what they like to do, I think people should be looking for a job they can be passionate about so they can spend more time doing what they like to do.
As I’ve been thinking about this the past few days, I started to notice a common thread. Let’s review the main issues again:
- “Is this a stable job?” vs. “Is this a job where I can make a difference?”
- “Is there a defined career growth plan?” vs. “Is there a lot of opportunity for me to grow and contribute?”
- “Is the minimum contribution acceptable?” vs. “Is this a job I can throw myself into?”
There’s a clear pattern here. Do you see it?
- “What is this company going to do for me?” vs. “What can I do for this company?”
It’s funny. A few years ago I would have never guessed I would write a blog post like this. Obviously the relationship between an employer and an employee has to be mutually beneficial for both to prosper over the long term; I don’t think that needs explaining.
I don’t believe that most who have asked these types of questions are poor employees. I wasn’t, when I was asking them, or even wondering them inside my head. However, what I’ve come to understand is that those questions take a key factor out of the equation: Ourselves.
If we ask a question like one of these I’ve discussed, we are, essentially, trying to figure out whether aligning ourselves with the company is going to make our life better. When we think this way, we are discounting our involvement in that. We are thinking that this job is a thing that is going to happen TO us. The employment decision then becomes one of determining what things the job might do to us if we align ourselves with that company, how likely we think those things (good and bad) are to happen, and whether that compares better to the current situation.
Our involvement is completely a non-factor in that assessment, when the reality is actually the opposite.
If instead we are trying to figure out what we can offer a job position, the whole thought process changes.
Is my job at Jive a stable job? Well, my performance at Jive has a lot to do with that. I’ve delivered or helped deliver a number of features that account for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars of annual revenue. Revenue that Jive would not have if someone had not performed their job. That revenue makes Jive more stable. Jive is more stable because I made a difference. It would be wrong for me to discount my ability to make a difference at Jive when I am trying to determine whether Jive is stable.
Is there an opportunity for career growth at Jive? My contribution at Jive has a lot to do with that as well. My ability to execute has led to greater revenue and to greater confidence in the engineering team, which has led to greater responsibility, more interviewing, more hiring, more mentorship, more learning, bigger scale, larger products, larger customers, more complex technology, and staggering growth in both our customer base and our employee base. Rightly or wrongly, certain key names like IBM and Microsoft on my resume have had a positive impact in attracting higher-profile employees and customers, which also leads to greater revenue, cooler and more interesting projects, and an expanded network of colleagues as we’ve hired really dynamic people from all over the country, and even the world, to work with us; and with that expanded network comes expanded learning from people of diverse backgrounds and experiences. Has my technical ability, my experience, my ability to deliver product, my leadership ability, my business understanding, all grown over the past two years? Like no other two year period of my career. It would be wrong for me to discount my ability to contribute at Jive when I am trying to determine whether Jive can offer me opportunities for career growth.
Does Jive offer me a good work-life balance? Well, in Jive I found a company that I really care about. Not only do I naturally refer to Jive in the first-person plural (“at Jive, we do…” or “for us, Jive is…”), but I find myself referring to Jive as my company, even though I am not a founder, and treating as such, e.g. “I expect this at my company”. I know what we are capable of, I have seen what the world can be like with what we have to offer, and I cannot abide the thought of failure. I know each executive personally, I know their wives, and I’ve been to some of their houses and out to dinner and rock concerts with them a number of times. I have good personal friends in every department of the company. These people’s lives, their families lives, their future goals and dreams, depend upon me to do my job, just my life, my family’s life, and my future goals and dreams depend on them to do theirs. I have to be able to look these friends in the eye and tell them that I am doing the best I can to make Jive successful. I am working on stuff that is interesting and awesome and challenging and making a difference to many, many customers that I care about. I spend my time each day doing what I love, and part of the reason for that is that I have made my job at Jive something that I love to do. It would be wrong for me to discount my passion for Jive when I am trying to determine if Jive can offer me what I want in my life.
Reading through this sounds like I think I did it all. I don’t. I’m just pointing out that my involvement in my job makes a difference as to whether my job is what I want it to be.
This is generally applicable to life as well. Too often we approach life as a thing that happens to us, discounting the part we play in it. We evaluate our marriage by what it offers us instead of what we can put into it; the value of our friendships by how often they call us instead of how often we call them; the quality of our life by how much we receive instead of how much we offer. We don’t consider that our efforts to contribute more toward a better marriage, better friendships, or a better life are going to lead to a better marriage, better friendships, or a better life. We don’t consider that, in large part, our jobs, our marriages, and our lives are what we choose to make of them.
So here’s the question for you. What do you wish was different about your life? Are you waiting for life to happen to you and feeling annoyed that it is not happening to you in the way you want? What could you do to turn the focus inward and do something differently to make your life more of what you want it to be?