In Which I Ponder My Career Path a Bit
I'm at the beginning of a shift in my career. For the past two years I've been building a product, creating this thing we call Pantheon — which, if you're curious, you can hear me go on about; nerd alert! — and it's been great. I'm still actively working on that (deployed some code today; booyeah!) but I'm also starting to focus more on public communications. In addition to talking (hopefully at a more measured pace) to interviewers, I'm starting to blog more for work, and get back into doing some public speaking, which is exciting.
And hard! And scary! I was up until 5am with butterflies in my stomach before that keynote in Munich. It's been a while since I've felt like that.
It gets me thinking again about that age-old question, just what would you say you do here? The reality is that I need to let other people who write code full-time rise up. I'm a Founder and at some point I need to get out of the way of the two or four or six people who will do what has been, heretofore, "my job". They may not know all the details as well as I do, or be able to walk the full stack front to back in their sleep, but they'll learn. Plus there will be many of them, which means that they'll be a lot better at coping with the workload than singleton me.
As I get out of the way of that, I'm moving towards communications and strategy. It's the more unique niche for me, trying to actively become a "thought leader." It's not something that's as replicable. Transferring engineering responsibilities for a built product is a relatively straightforward task, a known known. It's a lot harder, treacherous, murky, to figure out how to tell our story, how to pursue our vision, blaze our trail. That first blog post I linked to got some boos. It's going to take some flops and false starts to get the right groove on.
What I'm embarking on now is a lot less tangible than banging out and deploying features. In another couple years — knock on wood — it'll be something that can be transferred, but for now this is serious undiscovered country. Dunno if I can do it, but it's the frontier, the edge.
To be honest, stepping out of the world of engineering is nerve-wracking. Programming is not my ultimate calling in life, but I'm good at it. More importantly it's been a place I've been able to carve a niche, establish as an area of expertise, develop authority and prestige (in one way or another) for the past decade plus. Taking a step forward means letting go of some of what has previously made me important. This is where my credibility has come from in large part, and I'm an old enough man that this gives me the fear.
Fear can be good. It's often a sign that you're onto something. But it can also be bad. It's a poor mood modifier, makes people jumpy and short-tempered. It also creates a sense of pressure, of needing to regain that stability and power. Clawing back power is a bad vibe, starts to smell like desperation. Desperation is a terrible cologne.
There's also the great fear that maybe I'm not going to be very good at what I'm trying to move into. I've got enough self-esteem to know I'm at least decent as a writer and a talker, but do I actually have anything interesting to say? Is my perspective really worth anyone else's attention? Can I actually add value this way? It's a lot more personal than coding.
But ready or not that's the challenge.