#1: Don't Be a Jerk. (That is just a bonus tip, in case you don't want to read past the subtitle)
Nice. Sagely. Very well written, sir, and excellent guidance.
> Most people are probably familiar with the concept of Impostor Syndrome, ... that insecurity rears its ugly head frequently when I start to write about things, especially in the form of published advice.
Nah. You'll do fine :)
The "Two and done" rule made me laugh. I use a similar rule when dealing with my spouse. I tell her, "I will say 'no' three times, and if you ask me again, I will say 'yes', but I'm still thinking 'no.'"
I have had the same experiences you have Ned and have actually received the personal brand advice from my boss or 10+ years. This is very accurate
You won't beat office politics and you won't get your way no matter what. In this current time in society, office politics is big-time, just take a look at how covid was handled and the US elections? Bloody stupid if you ask me. Want to stay employed? STAND OUT, become the person you look up to in technology or at least close. Do more than just one technology. One nowadays just doesn't cut it. Always update your resume and have others give you their opinion. Perhaps look into a career coach. Get certified. And stay away from office politics. If you can place obstacles in the way so you won't get caught then do your best to do it. Some projects are better left untouched. If you can't then only complain once and do your best while looking for new opportunities. Good luck. Nice article.
lots of good advice here! rather than making my boss scared, i thought of it as "make yourself indispensable", but maybe that's the same thing. i totally agree with the idea of a personal brand; it's powerful. one minor nit: you write "...good quality then take a risk on something..." probably "then" should be "than".
Lots of good advice here, thank you for sharing this Ned.
Great article! I'd like to offer a perspective that I don't see shared very often.
I see ageism everywhere in tech. I also see lots of people getting plastic surgery to look younger so they can stay employed. I see this all the time with programmers over 40.
I'd like to offer a few alternative perspectives, which involve expanding one's skills beyond the myopia that a technical perspective provides.
As the offspring of two engineers, I watched firsthand as my parents were relieved early from the workforce, and I set out to increase my vocabulary in the areas that I wasn't very good at, specifically investing. I'd highly recommend "Your Money Or Your Life" and also, if you are adamant about creating a startup with your own money, "The Traction Gap". I also got a degree in a social science, which was the hardest thing I've ever done. I am wired to be an engineer, but I felt that getting a degree that provided a perspective that was traditionally inaccessible to engineers would serve me well. It did. I was able to see outside a lot of the pitfalls that my colleagues had.
Programmers should plan to be work optional (yet still work) by the time they're 40. Investing money wisely prevents difficulties with age-related job issues later. Most programmers bring in a lot of money, and all of them should know that post-40 employment faces ageism and other discrimination. It's tough to invest money wisely, because a lot of people expect to be able to harvest a tree right after they grow it, but it takes time (20-30 years) for a tree to get tall enough to build a house out of.
By 35, I became work-optional. I was a young hotshot in my 20s, but I'm already able to see some of the age discrimination headed my way. I wanted to be able to provide for my family and have the time to re-skill without needing to get plastic surgery or any of the other tactics I see people my age starting to take on. A lot of my colleagues thought I was crazy, until ageism hit them, too. I never wanted to be an out of work HP employee in his 50s, unable to live on a pension 15 years out.
Another thing that really kills me is that I see some programmers get a windfall early on, but use that funding for their own startup. One should never use their own money for a startup if they don't have a well-developed sense of both business models and aesthetics. I remember meeting a brilliant 70 year old who was still very involved in company strategy and development. He told me that he still needed to work. When I asked why, he told me that he had taken a lot of his early cash to work on a "brilliant" startup where he was the technical founder. As someone with a hybrid developer/business background, I was able to immediately tell where the startup fell flat. Within minutes. However, he admitted that he'd worked on this startup for over 5 years, sinking more money in when it didn't gain traction, and subsequently overbuilding the technology.
When I asked what companies he worked for when he was younger, I was disappointed to hear that he never bought stock in the companies, not did he request stock, nor did he invest or even learn about growing his money properly. This made it a requirement for him to work late into his life. He'll still be working at 80. He complained about it a lot, but he was so narrowly focused on being a programmer that he didn't set up the rest of his life to work for him. In the end, I realized that he was still using an early playbook that he'd become comfortable with, and he was killing his future.
I divide my wealth into four sectors, invest in companies I believe in, and have someone manage a portion of it. Real estate (I live in a home with two units, so I can rent one out and live rent-free), Stocks (long term tech stocks that I believe will thrive over multiple market cycles), Retirement (I max all of my accounts each year and never touch or even care about the amounts in them), Crypto (it's important to learn about new things, and provided you stay in the market for long enough, the returns outweigh the risks), and a small amount of cash. I also have several REIT investments that pay passive income. The idea is that were I to go out of work suddenly, my basic life expenses would be adequately covered.
Growing up with income insecurity while I watched my brilliant parents doing amazing tech things was tough. They were great engineers, but lousy managers. When their 40s hit, they were rendered obsolete, along with the tech they were used to. They didn't understand larger macroeconomical shifts, and were stuck in the fractal of their own 1980s engineering zone. I strove to get a degree that would allow me to have perspective, to see when these shifts were occurring, and then be able to re-skill myself to have options when the shifts finalized.
Anyway, I'm glad people like you are writing about these topics. I hope that more people look at alternatives to being a wage-worker that has to grin and please their 25 year old boss. There are more ways to live, and a lot more opportunities for freedom. Please keep writing!
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Really like the "Two and done" rule. This definitely applies to me, and I haven't seen it or anything similar mentioned anywhere before. Thanks!
Very good tips for starters. Most of these happened myself naturally after a 16 years stint in my first company. Then I got bored and looked new challenges and building your personal brand is the first thing you have to do in any new place. As we say "make your fame and rest to sleep".
> What I mean is, you want to be so useful that it will create a lot of problems for your boss (and by extension project, and company) if you were not there for some reason.
Is not writing documentation (or writing bad documentation) or hiding knowledge from your peers a valid strategy for this? I'm confused about this point.
In a large multinational, bosses and bosses' bosses along with priorities get rotated. The last VP's pet project that I delivered fell out of favor and I got downsized along with boss and VP.
What I missed was being offered training on a product that I was unable to conceal my lack of enthusiasm for.
The trap of a long tenure was not keeping up the networking.
While there are outliers in every cohort, age discrimination is Real Thing(tm) at least in Silicon Vallery's technology sector. Folks can deny it all they want, until they become victim to it themselves. It's just a matter of time.