Be a Sponge
There’s a job out there that I’ve wanted since August 8, 2009. Thing is, it never existed as an open position (still doesn’t), and until now I’ve never told anyone. The other thing is, I’m going to get that job. In the future I see in my head, that job is mine.
In 2009, I wouldn’t have been ready for it. And in 2009, it’s not like I started planning for it or shaped the last couple years of my work specifically to prepare for it (heck, when I interviewed for a position at UVa—different than the one I ended up taking and leaving after a year—I truly thought I’d be there a long time).
The job I want requires me to be able to identify business opportunities, risks, and trends; strategically plan and implement technology to meet short-term and long-term goals; implement and direct development methodologies and mentor developers in their use; provide opportunities for growth and leadership to others in the organization. These are the things I’ve been preparing to do for a long time—not just for the last three years—by doing (and by both succeeding and failing, and learning something from both), and by listening and paying attention to, well, everything I could that’s remotely related to the above.
If there’s one piece of advice that students should have hammered into them—and that’s “students” in the sense of “anyone trying to learn something new, be it in a formal or informal setting”—it’s to find a thread in what you’re learning and yank on it until it leads you outside the classroom, whereupon you best soak up everything you can. (I even said as much somewhere in this old ProfHacker post on mentoring graduate students.)
Excuse me for a moment while I beat this analogy into the ground…
Without a doubt, there’s junk you’ll mop up and squeeze out into the drain and will cause you to want to bleach your sponge or throw it away and use a new one. But then there’s those times you’ll come across a pool of glorious knowledge and you’ll want to soak it up and keep it in a mason jar on the shelf.
No, really. You will. I have mental mason jars labelled “Houston” and “Nowviskie” and “Watters” and “Leon” and “O’Reilly” and “Spolsky” and “Atwood” and “Nielsen” and plenty more. And I get more every day, because I pay attention to everything I can get my grubby little hands on.
When I get that job that I want, it’ll be because I listened and paid attention and made connections between subjects, people, needs, desires, and so on, and I did something with that knowledge. Do something; do anything. Keep pushing. Focus on a goal. Ignore whatever barriers you perceive, or keep banging your head against (YMMV), or find a way around them (hint: often helps to bring others with you, and while some object to the terminology, I’m a fan of flanking attacks). Keep moving forward, and soak up everything.
Yes, when I get that job, I’ll explain where “August 8, 2009” comes from, and how I knew what I wanted to do for Unnamed Company if I ever carved out the opportunity.