De-Coder’s Ring

Consumable Security and Technology

Tag: career development

Enough About Enough

One of my last posts was all about work life balance, “Your work life balance sucks“.  We all have issues with prioritizing our time and allocating enough in each bucket of our lives.  Family, Work, Self, Others.  Here, I want to talk about your knowledge and how it’s important to be intentional in that aspect of your life too.

I seem to be surrounded with people who either know the nitty-gritty detail about the technology or subject matter that they are engrossed in OR the stereo-typical “jack of all trades”.  You know the two types.  The first, you can’t have a discussion with about something.  They know WAY more than you do, and take the conversation very deep, very quickly.  They miss the forest for the trees.  These are your experts.   This person knows the insides and out of the tool you’re using, and their knowledge allows you to be confident in your approach and whether an idea will work or not.

The second type of person is the typical ‘jack of all trades’.  I say typical, because in this case, they know a little about a lot.  I’d even say, a little about ‘some’ things.  In the technology world, this person would be able to work around a bash shell, write database queries and make some updates to a web page.  The counter to this, is the Java developer who doesn’t know how to write a query.  The web designer who doesn’t know a lick of HTML or CSS.  My point here, is that this person is wide and shallow, as opposed with the first person, who’s super deep, but very narrow.

The mental image just came to me of the iceberg.  You know, something like this:

The first person will tell you about that little piece of ice that sits at the bottom of the iceberg.  While that’s important to someone, and is completely valid knowledge, 99% of us don’t care, and unless the conversation is about the bottom tip of the ice berg, it’s inappropriate.

The second person, they can tell you generally about ice bergs: maybe only if it’s covered in snow. If it’s just ice, they may not know about it.

The challenge a lot of us have, is how to balance in the middle of this scale.  Depending on your role, you need to find your sweet spot.   For me, as a consultant/architect/VP Engineering, I need to know “enough about enough”.  I need deep and wide.  I’d argue that I have to know 80% about an iceberg, but more importantly, know how ice works enough to be able to make some assumptions that can later be validated or experimented on.

In the world of technology, this manifests in a lot of different ways.  Mostly, it comes down to being educated enough to decide between two or more options, and picking an initial path go down.  Now, anyone can pick the path, but, the sweet spot means being able to get to the fork in the path as soon as possible to determine if it’s the right path or not.  Which database engine do we pick? Which time-series data storage do we use?  Which visualization engine will work with our python framework, etc.

There’s absolutely no way everyone can know everything about everything.  Seriously, look at the eco-system for devops these days (Back when I was first writing code, we didn’t have no automation!).  It’s amazing!  There are dozens of tools that do almost the same task.  They overlap, they have their sweet spots too, but it takes a special kind of person with a very specific set of skills (hmm.. I’ve heard that somewhere), to determine which tool to use in a specific situation.

I want to say this is another instance of the 80/20 rule, but not exactly.  Let’s go with that anyway.  Instead of learning the 100% details of something, spend 80% of the time, then keep going on to other things.  Don’t be so narrow focused.  Think about the days of Turbo Pascal.  If all you knew was 100% TP, how’s the job market these days?

Balance that with only learning 20% about something.  You will never be seen as an expert.  No matter what the subject matter is:  Technologies, development approaches, managerial styles, etc. You need to be deep enough to be an authority to make an impact on the organization you’re in if you want to excel and succeed.

Everything in life needs a balance.  Diet, exercise, hobbies, work/life, etc.  Knowledge and learning is in there too.  Be intentional about where you focus your energies in learning about something new, and figure out how much is enough.

Quit your job already!

Today is day two at PrairieFire for me.  A few brave souls are working to create a new tool for the cyber security industry.  This is my second time around as a very early employee at a startup, and I’m VERY excited about it.  The funny thing I noticed is……..

“Congrats on the new job! Let me know if you’re hiring XYZ”

“Way to go! Position sounds great, when will you be hiring a ABC?”

How many folks out there are unhappy in their job?  Is it the day to day rut you can’t stand, is it your boss?  Why the heck don’t you do something about it?

In my career, I’ve only left a job “to leave the job” once or twice that I can think of.  The other times it was to GO somewhere else for a reason.   Relocation, compensation (this the dumb one, by the way) or an amazing opportunity to build something new (nPulse!).  This time, leaving Capital One was exactly the same as before.   I had a good job, wasn’t really looking for a new one, and BAM, a REALLY good opportunity showed up.

My career advice, since you’re reading, don’t stay in a job that you hate!  Work can be fun, it can be challenging and exciting.  Don’t stay somewhere because it’s “secure”, don’t be afraid of leaving and trying something new.   I can’t tell you how many people have said “Wow! I want to go work at a startup because …”.   Just find it and do it! Find a job you really enjoy.  Don’t get stuck in the traps that hold us back.

Stupid reasons to stay in a job:

  • Job security, need that pay check!
  • After this years performance review/bonus/raise, then I’ll start looking
  • My boss sucks, but one of us will find a new position in the company soon
  • We have great benefits here!

Sure, a lot of those SOUND like good reasons to stay in a job (kind of?), but don’t let comfort or the myth of stability hold you back.  Find something you like and enjoy.  It’s the age old question:

“What would you do if you had a million dollars”

No, it’s not about your cousin and low risk mutual funds, and no, you can’t do “nothing”.  Is there a task that you enjoy doing so much that it doesn’t seem like work?   Maybe it won’t pay as much, but probably it will pay a ton more in the long run.  Think about it… will you get a better raise doing something that bores you to death or something that really lights your fire and gets you pumped up to go to work every day!

Check out the book, 48 Days to the Work You Love, by Dan Miller:

http://amzn.to/1PknCvX

((  This may seem like a little stab at my last job, and it’s absolutely not.  Capital One is doing some REALLY cool things in technology.  Investing in startup companies, embracing cloud and open source across the board.  It’s a VERY exciting time to be there, and my bosses were good too. Ha!   ))

Cross posted at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/quit-your-job-already-chris-fauerbach

Volunteer for Personal Gain

** Everyone should volunteer their time, and donate money to their church or non-profit/charity.  If you don’t, reevaluate your values.  If you’re reading this, odds are you have more than you need.   **

The most precious commodity we have is our time.  Once it’s gone, you can’t get it back.  You can not buy more of it nor is there a massive trove of undiscovered time in the sands of Canada or under the Gulf of Mexico.  It is imperative for us to use all the time we have in a wise manner.  Sometimes that’s work, sometimes that’s time with family and other times that’s watching TV (we all need a little down time.. just not 45 hours a week seeing who got kicked off the island).

An area of my time that I put to good work is volunteering.  I spend hours a week at church or at my kids school.  By using skills that I’ve learned, I can share knowledge and my passions with other people.  On top of using knowledge I already know, this is an awesome time to learn something new.  Extend your personal boundaries and get our of your comfort zone.

Think about your volunteer time strategically.  Choose a leadership position on a committee that may or may not be in your field.  I ran the ‘HR’ department of my church for 2 years.  I’m not a HR person by any stretch, but I do care about other people, the church and making sure the staff was treated respectfully, fairly and by the book.  This type of an opportunity will hugely benefit ME going forward too.  It also benefitted the church by having a dedicated and concerned volunteer in a position that isn’t anyone’s favorite role.  It has to be done, but it’s not easy.

This year, it’s about being on the finance committee.  What the heck do I know about institutional finances?  Nothing!  BUT, I do know a lot about personal finances, and I have some very strong and clear beliefs on how to responsibly use money.  This allows me to step outside of my comfort zone, but again, learn something that can help me when I need to worry about finances of a company I start or a run a division of which I have financial responsibility for.

Now, if you’re reading this and thinking “He’s just humble-bragging”, you’re doing it wrong.  You’re missing the point.  Do good work for other folks, if you can, learn something while you’re doing it.  Don’t just put in the time. Anyone can just put in time and mark the checkbox.  “Yep, volunteered this week”.

Cross posted at:  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/volunteer-personal-gain-chris-fauerbach

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