What’s your Programmer Competency?

Via Gadgetopia, I stumbled across the Programmer Competency Matrix by IndianGeek.

What is my programmer competency, you ask? Let’s find out…

  • Computer Science: Level 1. This is not surprising to me, as the only formal computer science training I have is an Introduction to Programming class I took in college. I got an “A” in the class and spent half the time telling my classmates that the teacher was wrong. The class taught Pascal, a language I learned to use in 1984, because I was a 14-year old geek who wanted to learn programming beyond BASIC.
  • Software Engineering: Level 2/3. Before becoming a programmer, I was a systems engineer who scripted just about everything you can imagine (which is programming, too, but traditionally not looked at as such). In fact, me and a coworker scripted all Year 2000 compliance testing and updates for 2,500 users in a Fortune 500 company. We used to challenge each other to see who could do more work in one day without leaving our desks. We weren’t lazy; we just preferred to move around during lunch and for the 3:00 half-price cookies in the cafeteria.
  • Programming: Level 2/3. This is a huge category, so it’s hard to say anyone would be a solid “3,” but I feel I’ve mastered a good chunk of the items in here. The one I think I’m best at: “communication.” (Ask anyone who worked with me — peer, subordinate, or manager — and I think they’d concur.)
  • Experience: Level 2. I’m a programmer by evolution, not by initial choice. I’ve spent as much of my career as a programmer as I did as a systems engineer, so I lose points here.
  • Knowledge: Level 2. If I had time to read everything I want to, I’d be better in all categories above.

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"Do what you love" or "Love what you do"?

A friend of mine has returned once again to a place called “career second-guessing.” He’s an IT guy who’s comfortable but not “happy” with his current employer or work situation. (It’s a decent paying job with little surprises but no room for growth.)

We’ve been bantering via email about what he should do. My last response was something that may be of interest to others, so I’m sharing it below.

“Do what you love” is probably the wrong thing to say. The correct thing to say is “Love what you do.” There are huge differences. Sounds almost the same, and it is — the difference is the chicken and egg.

If you believe, “Do what you love,” you must first figure out what you love — something that’s not easy to do, because we don’t know what we love until we find it. Think about the time before you met your significant other… If you had to describe your perfect mate (physically, mentally, emotionally, etc.), it wouldn’t necessarily describe him or her (at least, not in all ways). It’s no different with work.

Consider how many times we’ve said, “This is my dream job / mate / situation.” How many times has that panned out? Odds are, it flamed out more often than it panned out.

Some people get lucky and love what they do early in their professional career. Sometimes, over time, you fall out of love with what you’re doing. When you’re not loving what you do, it’s time to move on — just like it’s time to move on when you don’t love your mate. You’re fooling yourself otherwise.

I’ve changed jobs more times than most grown men can count (more than a baker’s dozen jobs since college). I average 1 1/2 years between job changes. For a period of time at each new job, I love what I am doing because it’s exciting and new, like a new girlfriend, or a new video game. Then I fall out of love, and I move on.

Your challenge is to find the thing that you’ll love to do, then hope that it’ll continue to keep your interest. If you don’t have it now, it’s time for a new job, where you may find it. If you don’t find it at the next job, then try again. Don’t lock yourself into something you don’t love to do.