This is a post about positioning yourself in your career. Coming from a guy who loved all his jobs. Maybe I did something right. I was always able to build trust and get enough independence to move fast and work on my terms.
We often try to live up to our job position titles. From my experience, you can find yourself in two difficult situations. In one scenario, you might feel underqualified for your position, constantly chasing perfection without ever feeling satisfied. In contrast, you may feel constrained by your job title, which keeps you from exploring other areas of interest.
Here’s my advice in one sentence: do “you”, create a unique mix of skills amplifying your talents, and become irreplaceable by raising your value regardless of what the current title says. Exceed expectations. But make sure you're looking at the right ones.
Let me tell you a story. I trained Judo (a Japanese martial art focused on using an opponent’s strength against them) for years. When I competed in tournaments, I was always wearing the most beginner belt colours. My coach never provided us with many options to get certified and pass exams. I felt I was worse than my competitors. I told him I wanted to pass the blue and brown belts (just one step before black) exams.
He told me I could wear them, that I could wear whatever I want really and he’ll have my back. He said that I would have easily passed the exams years ago and it’s not important what colour I wear but how I fight. He asked me how many times I beat brown and black belts. The answer was plenty enough.
I think about this conversation every time I feel like my job title doesn’t describe what I do (or want to do).
I’ve been influencing how software is built in companies while working at every level of my career, even as a junior software engineer. I trained people, proposed interview questions, built templates, and provided advice. The position titles came afterwards. They always came. Perhaps I was lucky to work with leaders that noticed. Now I try to be the one.
“Don’t give any of yourself away” is the quote I remember from excellent Austin Kleon’s books. Don’t drop your hobbies. Nurture small things you like. Apart from coding, do you like cooking, designing, painting, parenting, running, whatever else? Keep it as a part of you. You don’t need laser focus, you’re much better off being an interesting diverse individual that created their own path.
You still need to be great at something, don’t get me wrong. While there are already great engineers, artists, and data analysts, none of them have your unique perspective… Unless you’ve abandoned your uniqueness.
Don’t feel you’ve ever had the ingredients for your perfect mix? Go out, experience new things. Contact distant friends that you see doing cool stuff on Instagram.
When I was younger I felt terrible not feeling an expert at one thing. I felt I’m wasting time filmmaking or writing short stories instead of coding. I envied people who seemed so focused and were high achievers. But most of them created their own paths. And their perceived focus was often just a result of good branding.
Look at Tim Cook. At first, everyone compared him to Steve Jobs. Now he gets his own biographies. His Apple is different, yet it still flourishes. He didn’t imitate Jobs, he became his own flavour of Apple CEO. Now many want to be Tim, less erratic, better at working with people, persistent over time.
My writing skills and a gut for good image composition prove useful every day. I can edit promo videos. I can write okay product copy. I can contribute to UX designs. My hobbies and interests feed my work indirectly and are to my advantage.
In my recent podcast appearance, I discussed the cybersecurity challenges associated with handling genetic testing data. I realize that not many individuals have experience in both biotech and cybersecurity, which makes this conversation somewhat unique.
You do you. Embrace your uniqueness and respect the uniqueness of others as well. All parts of you are valuable. Find places where you can utilise this potential. Don’t give any of yourself away.
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