What do I do now?

I've been trying to work out what I want to do with my career recently.  When I've been speaking with mentors and colleagues, the first question that comes up is quite reasonably always "What is it you want to do?".  I have to admit that this question has had me stumped for some time.  For the last three years, I've been working as a principal consultant in the system integration space for medium to large size businesses, and I have not found it satisfying.  I do the work well enough (some say even exemplary), but I haven't been able to summon the passion that I can put into work which allows me to excel.  I find myself compelled to seek more responsibility and higher pay, but its just not working for me.

Yesterday, I went to see Stephen Fry speak.  It was a very entertaining journey through Stephen's life, and the things that make him tick.  He called it his personal WWW, the things that inspire and drive him that for the contrivance of his topic all start with the letter W.  One of the Ws that he spoke of was Writing.  He doesn't just like to write.  Its not that he is paid to write.  He is compelled to write.  His love of language and how it can move people is his passion, his reason for getting up in the morning.

For many people, working in IT is just a job.  They have other things in their life that they call their passions, and they just come to the office to get a pay cheque.  I have many interests and hobbies, but my central passion is programming computers.  I view it as a creative pursuit.  Not art per se, but a craft that can produce elegant and useful things.  When I come home at night, more often than not I end up still camped in front of a computer.  So for me, computers are my passion, my raison d'eŠtre.  As with all passions, this gives me an edge.

It goes beyond being a code monkey however. Sometimes when I discuss the topic, people say "oh, you'd get bored just doing programming", because I've worked as a solution architect for so long, and I can operate at a business level as well as a technical one.  This is true, but not for the reason that people think.  I'm a bloody good programmer, an nothing gives me more pleasure than solving a technical challenge, but that's not enough to make something that works.  Creating modern software is a complex task, and to do it correctly there is a mix of communication, leadership and technical expertise required. I'd arrogantly like to think that I can perform all of these tasks.  I like the challenge of setting up simple, streamlined processes and teams that get jobs done.  It'd be nice if I got to do a bit of hands on work, because a true leader is a doer as well as a manager, but its more of an oversight, training and review function.

Which technology I work with is largely irrelevant.  There are some that are more interesting to work with than others, and some I have more experience with than others, but all are interesting to me.  Because technology is my passion, I pick new techniques and languages up very easily.  My company recently had a need to develop an iPhone application.  It just so happened I had been playing with iPhone programming in my spare time.  Where other engineers would have said "no, I haven't done that before" or asked to go on training, I relished the opportunity to pick up something new and got stuck in.  I trained a small team and let it to success.

So much of consulting consists of going into organisations that do not operate effectively.  They are rendered moribund by internal politics, people of limited talent in positions of power, and the sheer difficulty of organising a large workforce (usually too large) that is quite often afraid of change.  This is the reason that they bring in outside expert help.  These organisations get the job done, quite often a boring one, and they turn a profit.  But they do not produce exceptional results.

There are people that are very good at going into dysfunctional situations and turning them around.  I have immense admiration for these people because they do a very difficult and often thankless task.  They turn failure into a bare pass.  They can take pride in the fact that they put the hard yards in to get a result, but the end product is rarely anything to rave about.

I have performed project recovery work successfully before, but I am rarely given the opportunity to effect any real change.  I'm brought in as a technical specialist, often very late in the piece when many of the decisions have been made, to solve a particular problem, often within ludicrous constraints that don't make any sense in the context of producing something that works.  I've lost count of how many times I've been asked to work on a "platform project" to put in place tools and procedures for an organisation that does not have any function to put on that platform yet. How pointless.

So here's what I want from my job:  I want to create good software that does useful things. To do this, I want the freedom to be a good chief nerd (or lead engineer, or architect, or whatever else you want to call it).  I know what I'm doing.  Just get out of my way and let me do it.

My challenge now is to engineer the opportunity to do this.  To quote a review of yesterday's performance that appeared in The Age, "Fry proves that we can take power over, and joy in, the role that is ourselves.".  Time to prove all the outrageous claims that I've just made :)

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