Every time I change jobs or switch companies, I refine my expectations for my ideal work environment. You'll never like everything about a company or a position, so you start to build a mental list of must-haves.
- How does this position align with my core values?
- Is this job improving the quality of my life?
- Am I making a difference with my work?
- Does this job make me a better person?
- How much influence does this position have?
More than ever, people are seeking validation far beyond a paycheck. This doesn't mean it will come easy, but we're never satisfied. Truth be told, we spend ~13 years of our life at work, so it's pretty important we enjoy what we're doing and that it connects with our core values.
Learning from Experience
I've worked at four different companies as a Software Engineer. Ten total, if you count other jobs. Each one of these has molded my vision for my ideal position. It's an ever-evolving state which I often reflect on.
Here's a drastically simplified example of my progression:
- Yay, I have a job 🎉
- I wish I got paid more - I guess I should go to college.
- Manual labor sucks. I can't do this forever.
- Okay, I take it back. Retail is worse. Please get me out of here.
- My first internship! Finally on the path towards where I want to be.
- I need to work at a company with a more progressive culture.
- Business casual shouldn't matter. I'm not interacting with customers.
- Remote work is critical - I need to have the option to work from home.
- I want to be more than just a programmer - I want to utilize my skill set to it's fullest.
- I enjoy mentoring others. I'd like to do more of that.
- Is the product I'm working on improving other people's lives? At what scale?
Improving Lives at Scale
In my past position, I was working on an internal app helping make the lives of other engineers easier. I found fulfillment in my work, but eventually, I stepped back and thought about the impact of my work. Total, there were maybe ~200 engineers I was impacting. Was I making a difference? Somewhat.
The tooling I worked on did help reduce the amount of time it took to identify and addresses issues with our product. And sure, one could argue that this impact spreads out to the external customers as well. Even with that being said - at what scale was I making a difference?
When I interviewed for my current job, one of the things that really intrigued me was that I would be working on a retail B2C (business-to-consumer) product versus an internal app for a B2B (business-to-business) product. In this instance, that meant my level of impact went from the scale of hundreds to millions. The core product was genuinely improving people's lives and I would be a main contributor to that.
Every now and then, I like to look at what users are saying on Twitter. It helps me understand the real world impact of our product (both the positive and negative). Here are some of my favorites that make me feel like I'm improving other people's lives.
I would encourage everyone to:
- Create a list of what your ideal job looks like.
- Assess your current role and evaluate how it stacks up against your ideal list.
- Identify places where you might be able to make improvements.
- If there is an overwhelming lack of alignment, start looking for a new position.
Life is too short to settle for mediocrity. Find your why and seek purpose-driven work.