When I help folks narrow down their job search, I always start by asking them two questions:
If you and I were to meet for coffee and I asked you to teach me something you’re incredibly excited about, what would you “nerd out” about? What would the topic be?
If I offered to pay your bills for a year, what kind of projects would you build, or what else would you do with your time.
If you reflect on these two questions, you’ll get a glimpse of what really drives you.
In 2012, on a road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco, I listened to the audiobook Drive, by Daniel Pink. It covers a lot of very interesting information about having autonomy, mastery and purpose. I highly recommend it.
Knowing what motivates you is very empowering. Answering the “passion” questions above, plus thoughts on how people find motivation in different ways, is a great combination.
There are old adages about “when you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work” and others that I could quote here, but won’t. You’ve heard them. They are true, though; don’t discount them.
It took me over two decades to really understand my motivations and where I felt like I really fit into a job. To find that thing that felt so natural, so compelling, I couldn’t NOT do it. Unfortunately it took a really long time to find this route on my journey. It’s not an easy path to discover for some people.
When I was in college learning software development, I thought I wanted to get into forensic data recovery. In the mid-1990’s this was a pretty novel concept, but we were learning extremely low-level programming, and our professors had us building tools which mapped where files lived on disks.
Later, I thought I wanted to be an “industry expert” on one topic, like network drivers. I really enjoyed writing programs that sent and received low-level data packets over Ethernet. After seeing some specifications and how fragmented industries could be and all of the broad areas I’d need to learn, I decided to generalize instead.
I expanded my knowledge into DevOps and Data Center Management. Security. Account management. Virtual Hosting. I ran a web hosting business with some friends.
Over the course of my career I’ve worked in a lot of industries because I am driven by learning. I want to know how the world works. I think like a typical engineer/hacker. I love taking things apart and rebuilding them, especially software.
The common thread in my whole career, even back to childhood, was this “quirk” I have of being super excited about learning something, and immediately wanting to show someone else what I had learned. Never in a braggy, “look what I can do” sort of way. Out of a pure, genuine sense of “I’m excited about this and I think you could be, too; let me show you!”
The whole spark began with a Commodore 64, in 1982, when I was 8 years old. I learned BASIC programming and hacked some games, and showed some friends. One of them became interested in being a game developer, but that’s all it was for him. I was actually doing the programming thing. Sword of Fargoal remains one of my favorite games.
Turns out teaching was in my blood all along. When Jeff Casimir asked me to join Turing as an instructor, it was the easiest career decision I’d ever made. I joined staff when I was 43 years old. 21 years into a career of software development and engineering management, and I left all that to teach others about what I learned as a child.
Not everybody who wants to get into a technical career has opportunity to work on computers before getting into this industry. Many folks my age didn’t grow up with a computer at home. Most of the folks at my high school only got to use a computer occasionally at the school.
In the modern era, it feels like we all have computers, or ready access to them. But there are still families who don’t have computers at home, don’t have internet access, and it’s important to point out here that my parents gave me an incredible opportunity in an era when home computing technology was in its infancy.
I remember being told “whatever you wake up thinking about” is what you should be doing as a career. If I’m honest, “cooking and eating breakfast then sit on the couch reading Reddit” sounds like an amazing career. I don’t think there’s much money in that, though.
One of my kids loves hopping on a musical instrument first thing in the morning. During the week when we have to get up for school/work, this is a more gentle alarm clock. But on weekends we had to tell him “no music playing at 6am”. His passion is clearly music.
I’m not 100% sold on the idea that whatever you enjoy doing as a hobby or interest is also what you should do as a career. But there’s strength in being able to show this passion as “alignment” with a company when you’re applying for work.