The "Lost and Found" series comes to a close. Previously, in Part 4 I talked about the importance of unit testing your code. As the final chapter in this series, I want to talk about my most recent struggle: career stagnation.
There have been a handful of moments in my career where I felt I had plateaued. It was a point at which I wasn't learning very much day to day. The moment that realization set in, work became a grind (at least for me). Day in and day out, it was the same old routine. I don't know about you, but I love learning new things. It's what gets me up in the morning and keeps me up late at night. If I'm not learning, I get depressed and lazy. While this alone should be enough motivation to avoid falling into this lethargy trap, there's another negative side-effect. Plateauing in your career usually means you stop moving up, or lateral, or anywhere. If you're happy with that arrangement, then read no further. However, most of us want that next promotion, that next client, or that fancy senior developer position at [Insert your dream company that may or may not rhyme with moogle here]. Reaching those goals is almost impossible if you hit a ceiling and fall short of their requirements1. Even the most vaulted developer at Facebook isn't going to be kept around for long if they stop learning. The software industry just moves too quickly and will leave you in its dust in a nanosecond if you can't keep up.
So what are you to do? It can be hard working a solid 40 hour week while juggling any number of other responsibilities like family, a significant other, children, or side hobbies. How are you expected to fit in career building on top of all that? Well, the first step is deciding to make it a priority. Many people complain about not having enough time, but time isn't the issue. We all get 24 hours a day to work with but as evident by the likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or [Insert your favorite software idol here] it is possible to reach heights previously unfathomable. The only difference is that they made their goals a priority. If all this sounds like hogwash to you, let me ask you to take a moment and think about what you prioritize your time on. Go on, I'll be here when you get back. Got it? Good. Those things are a higher priority to you than the things you're not spending time on. But you do them and find time somewhere in your busy schedule. If you're saying that TV isn't a high priority, then why are you watching it?!
The second step is easy: Start reading books related to your career, or listening to audio books while you exercise or during your commute. All you need is 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening, every day. Do that and you'll burn through about one book a week which means 50 books a year. Compare that to the average that most adults read, which is 1 book a year, and you'll be far above the game! 50 books a year is the equivalent of a Ph.D in your field every single year. Can you start to imagine what kind of effect that would have on your career and your income!? There's a whole list of other things you can do as well, but I think the first two steps will suffice in getting you started. If you're curious about what those other things are, I highly recommend checking out The Miracle of Self-Discipline by Brian Tracy.
Unless, of course, you already work there and are living happily ever after. Good for you! ↩