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Archive for the ‘competency’ Category

Technical Leadership – The First Transition

Posted by Sri Subramanian (@whosissri) on July 2, 2011

In Technical Leadership – An Introduction, I claim that real growth involves changing what we do. This post is about the first change.

We join the workforce as interns or college recruits with limited work experience. We are eager to learn, and to work hard, but need to be told exactly what to do, and, at some level, how to do it. Oh, we are expected to have some basic skills, and even some self learning skills. However, we do need a lot of guidance. We need training programs, pointers to documents and books, and someone overseeing the results of our work.

The first transition is from ability to work on well defined, simple problems with help to solving loosely defined, complex problems with more independence.

The most common error as we make this transition is not knowing when to ask for help, and when not to. We know that in order to make this transition, we must first show that we can address the current well defined problems with little outside help. In an effort to show this, we end up not asking for help at all. The result is that we sometimes take inordinately long time to do what could have been done very simply. When this happens growth opportunities come slower.

On the other hand, asking for help for everything, can leave our colleagues frustrated, and become career limiting.

So, what is one to do?

A good approach is to take every opportunity to succinctly talk about what we are doing – at the manager staff meeting, at the water cooler, at lunch with friends and colleagues. By sharing what we are trying to figure out, and how we are approaching the problem, we give our colleagues the opportunity to give us those pointers – to docs, training, and other resources – that can help us achieve our goals faster, and demonstrate growth potential.

Often, developers associate this transition with going from bug fixing to writing features. It is not. A simple, well defined problem may be a bug, but it is a certain type of bug. [A hello world (or such) program is also a well defined, simple problem – though of little use to a typical workplace.] Working on a race condition bug, on the other hand, is a loosely defined, complex problem that is worthy of a senior developer who has successfully made this transition. In fact, the most complex issues are often issues with code already written and in use by customers. The live customers add some very interesting complexity to any problem 🙂

In order to make the next transformation, one needs to work on different types of loosely defined and complex problems – difficult bugs, customer escalations, feature development, tool development, etc. – but that is a topic for the next post 🙂

The full series of blogs on Technical Leadership:

Technical Leadership – An Introduction

Technical Leadership – The First Transition

Technical Leadership – The Leadership Transition

Technical Leadership – Impacting The Customer Experience

Technical Leadership – The Technologist

Posted in Career Development, competency | Tagged: | 6 Comments »

Abandoning Successful Careers to Embrace Our Vocations: A Less Than Historic Lesson from the Life of Vincent van Gogh

Posted by Ken Klaus on February 25, 2011

Many of us have probably felt at one time or another that we were in the wrong job or that our jobs lacked any real meaning or purpose beyond a monthly paycheck.  We can’t always explain why we feel this way; only that something doesn’t feel right or that life and work seem out of balance.  When our jobs feel like a “bad fit” we usually see the problem as a mismatch between what we are currently doing and what we want to do.  For some this problem occurs because they lack the right skill set, education or experience to pursue a particular job.  As a result the way forward tends to be reasonably clear, even if the transition to a new career requires considerable time, effort and resources.  But for others who have the right competencies and training the way forward is less obvious.  In this case they already have the right tools, but are working in the wrong jobs.  As a result they can stumble around for years making minor career adjustments or lateral moves that never really take them in a new direction.  But with very few exceptions a job in one organization or company tends to be exactly like the same job any place else.  Whether you’re an engineer, consultant, bank teller, flight attendant or truck driver the responsibilities and tasks associated with your job remain fairly constant.

For those who find themselves in this situation the prospect of continuing in the same career for ten, twenty or thirty more years can be daunting.  But why is the way forward so elusive?  Why do we spend years going around in circles – switching teams, managers or companies – but never locate the real source of the problem?  I think there may be two reasons.  First, we underestimate the extent of the change that needs to be made.  We are already using our talents and our training, we may also be well paid and highly regarded in our organization, and many of us will have already spent a decade or more mastering a particular set of skills – the so-called “10,000-hour-rule.”  In short we have achieved a high degree of success and we use our success as proof that we must be in the right job.  So the changes we make never take us outside our current set of tasks and responsibilities and we remain tethered to our ill-fitting jobs.  We also get stuck because we do not fully understand, appreciate or value our experience, training, and qualifications – the talent we have for getting the job done.  We think of our jobs only in terms of what we do or how we do it; but give very little consideration to the reason behind our work – the why.  While the what and how of our jobs can be used to define our competence, proficiency, experience and knowledge, the reason behind our work – the whyis defined by our values, passion, inspiration and dreams.  It is these less tangible qualities, I believe, that offer us a way forward.

Consider the painter Vincent van Gogh.  What if he had been employed as a paint-by-numbers contractor?  He would come to work every day and paint the pictures his employer requested of him – landscapes, animals, architecture, portraits, etc. – all predefined in terms of the content and the colors required for each segment of the painting.  The job would require him to follow the paint-by-numbers system and he would get paid based on the hours he spent painting or the number of pieces he completed each day.  He would clearly be working in a job that utilized his talents as well as one that incorporated his passion for painting; but would he find any real meaning or value in such a job?  And would transferring to a new organization or company or painting other subject matter using the paint-by-numbers system make him feel any better?  When we stand before the paintings of Vincent van Gogh, when we see the colors mix and blend and merge, transforming simple paint and canvas into priceless art we begin to understand why these beautiful paintings would be impossible in a paint-by-numbers world.  We comprehend as well why individuals like van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin, Rousseau and Seurat would never be happy doing this kind of work.

Many of us spend a lifetime in jobs that utilize our talents but never fully embrace our values or aspirations.  Because we get lost in successful and often lucrative careers, we never seem to locate our real vocations – the jobs we are “called” to do.   For some the way forward is clear: embrace your passion, believe in your dreams and invest your time and resources developing the talents necessary to reach your goals.  But for those who find themselves stuck in paint-by-number jobs, the path from career to vocation requires a different approach.  Instead of an MBA or doctorate, we must invest in a new vision – one that will encompass not only our talents, but our values, passion, inspiration and dreams.  We must also be willing to look beyond the boundaries of our current jobs and consider opportunities in other sectors or industries – the not-for-profit world, public service, or a new business venture.  When we risk giving up our careers to find a place where what we do and who we are begin to mix and blend and merge, we set into motion a set of changes that can transform our jobs into a true calling.  And though few will dare to venture into these uncharted waters, those who do may yet find a life and a career as beautiful and priceless as a painting by Vincent van Gogh.

Posted in change, competency, Job Fit | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

A thought about role models

Posted by Meg Bear on September 24, 2009

3805440296_090547b368Lately I’ve been thinking about the fact I need more role models in my life.  Ironically, we don’t seem to talk about role models for adults, we think they are only useful for children.

I am guessing that this is a bit of a cultural bias, based upon the assumption that when we are adults we are fully formed into who are will be for the rest of our lives.  So first, we need to re-frame that world view a bit.

Like most people I see myself as evolving and growing.  Both in my job and in my life.

As I grow, I find that observing others who do what I want to do (and do it well) is a great way to pick up techniques and skills.  I do not need these people to be my mentor (in many cases I might not even need them to know I see them as a role model) I just need to be in situations where I can watch and observe.

When my oldest daughter was two and a half (and not yet in school or having a younger sister) she used to model others openly.  Once, when she was with the nanny at the grocery, she saw a little girl with her mom and said “hey, there’s a little girl, let’s follow her!”.

So if you happen to notice me following you at the grocery*, you just might be someone I am trying to use as a role model.  Just stay calm and feel confident, that you are probably someone I find inspiring and hope to become someday.  And if you happen to notice someone who is wildly successful and showing great polish in their personal presence send along their name so I can track down where they shop.


*Editors note: the Meg in a grocery is pure fiction, I haven’t been regularly in a grocery for years.

Posted in Career Development, competency, learning, personal, Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Don’t spin your wheels! Taking baby steps on the rocky road of talent management

Posted by Louise Barnfield on March 2, 2009

I was on my bike this morning…I mean literally and recreationally, not figuratively and professionally. I’m hoping I won’t hear the words “On yer bike!” in the office any time soon.

I’m no @lancearmstrong or @vendorprisey, both of whose blogs and tweets I avidly follow, but I’m training for my first big event since my last 100-mile ride. Three years on, and very little bike-time in between, it’s pretty much like starting from scratch, which might have been rather depressing if I’d thought about it too much.

I was unexpectedly on my own this morning, and was oh-so-tempted to skip the big hill that I’d planned to climb with a friend before she bailed on me. The complete circuit starts with a steep (my kind of steep, not Thomas Otter’s!!) climb up to a college campus that sits on the crest of the hill. At the top, there’s a 3/4 descent down the far side, then other climb back up before returning down the hill to the start point. All-in-all, the whole thing is pretty daunting for a first timer, which is how I was feeling this morning.

However, I knew it had to be done sometime, and if I avoided it today, I’d only have to face the whole thing for the first time next week. So, I figured procrastination was no escape. Still, I admit I wimped out of the complete circuit, and just did the initial climb up to the top before retracing my steps. Actually, I prefer to think of it as intelligent partitioning! It was more manageable than I feared, I know I can do more next time, and I felt good…in fact, I still feel good!

Isn’t this the same logical approach that we should take to larger scale challenges? If any task seems too daunting, don’t bite off more than you can chew, but don’t let it put you off starting! Start with something that’s more easily accomplished, but still satisfying. If you choose your starting point carefully, there are invariably gains to be made that will stand you in good stead for the next bite of the apple.

Often, we’re told that effective employee development and performance measurement begins with a full-blown competency library. Many HR professionals are daunted by the challenge of creating an entire competency model for their organization, which they perceive as mandatory for an efficient, comprehensive talent management strategy. Isn’t it easier to avoid the issue altogether, rather than face a project that requires too much time and resources before you are able to prove any ROI? Not so! There are ways to scale down the problem, to jump start your program so that the organization is benefiting from the initial achievement while you continue to implement future stages.

Successful organizations have started by defining and implementing a few core competencies for their workforce, before identifying more specific requirements for individual divisions or roles. Their next step might be to profile only those jobs that are critical to the organization…which are not necessarily the C-level or executive positions. A retail business might, for example, perceive the most critical role as their counter staff who are in direct and daily contact with customers, and can therefore most impact the business, either positively or negatively.

This kind of approach is particularly important during the current economic downturn, when organizations are looking to cutback any extraneous work, and get the most bang-for-their-buck from what’s left.

So, there I was on the bike, knowing that I had to tackle the college hill at some stage during my ride. I could have parked at the bottom of the hill and immediately started riding…uphill. Not smart! I can be dumb, but not that dumb! I preferred to start easy – to get a few easy, flat miles under my belt. By the time I reached the college entrance, not only were my legs warmed up but I’d enjoyed a very pleasant ride with superb views across a reservoir and surrounding hills. I was feeling gooood – inspired, enthusiastic, and approaching a hill that didn’t look anywhere near as daunting as it would have done half-an-hour earlier.

Starting easy with competency modeling can also be a no-brainer. Think of what you already have as a starting point – employees aren’t just a blank sheet of paper. Even if you don’t have a fully-fledged competency library, your employees have competencies and skills they’ve already achieved. So, use their history to build your future.

Talent review meetings, as a starting point, provide the incentive for managers to pull together this kind of information for an identifiable reason and recognizable benefits. Past performance reviews identify the abilities that each employee already has. That information should automatically feed into their employee profile, at the same time rewarding them for what they’ve already achieved. In turn, those profiles can feed into the talent review. Not two, but three birds with one stone!

…perhaps even four birds, since this approach could also make your performance reviews more palatable to your workforce, when they realize they have the makings of a decent employee profile with no added effort.

A truly integrated talent management solution enables you to insert, update, access information from multiple procedures. Of course, full TM integration goes way beyond the bounds of just performance and profile management, but this is one obvious starting point that more businesses should take advantage of when looking to kick start the TM process.

I’m not ready for my 72-mile ride around Lake Tahoe quite yet, but it was a pleasant way to start!
Onwards and upwards, I say!

Posted in competency, hr, profiles, talent review, Uncategorized | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

What is your unique value to your organization?

Posted by Meg Bear on November 19, 2008

funny-pictures-curtain-ninja-cat If I asked you what is your unique value to your organization, do you have an immediate and compelling answer?  What if I asked your boss?  Your peers?

I am sure you are all aware of the market conditions today and that many people have found their companies rebalancing the level of human capital at the expense of their employment.   We all find ourselves in that interesting limbo place wondering how close to home this trend is going to get.  Will it impact us?   Our spouse?  Our neighbors?  Many of us find ourselves stressed, others want to find a place to hide.

My question is are you doing something about it?  Are you following the lead of Steve and attempting to use this as an opportunity or are you just hoping to survive? 

So back to my question, what unique value to your bring to your company?  If you can’t find an interesting and obvious answer you might want to find someone who can help you figure it out (and quickly).  If you aren’t excited enough about the value your bring to your organization, how can you expect them to be excited?  Similar to my promotion rant I hold firmly to the belief that you are responsible for your own career.  Now is the time to bring the A game.

After you have determined the answer to my question you should go immediately and confirm it with your boss.  Solicit her help in crafting your tag line.  Next check with your peers.  Think about how you are applying this value to the benefit to the company.  Are you doing enough?  How can you challenge yourself to do better?

Why?  Well I guess it’s really about the boy scout motto.  If this exercise only served to get better alignment of your role with your abilities, then you can consider it a win.  BUT if you do find yourself needing to look for a new job, you will be much better prepared to know what you are looking for and why they should hire you. 

Competition is heating up, use this as an opportunity or you will have missed a good one.

Posted in Career Development, competency, leadership | Tagged: , | 11 Comments »

Get rid of performance reviews?!?

Posted by Justin Field on October 22, 2008

Dr Sam Culbert writes in the Wall Street Journal that performance reviews destroy morale, kill teamwork and hurt the bottom line.  I take pity on Dr Culbert’s manager, who must be tearing his or her hair out with Dr Culbert’s obvious distaste for the performance review process.  And I wonder what it is like to work at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.  Are they practising all the bad habits that Dr Culbert’s shares in his article?

If only Dr Culbert’s arguments made sense.  He is clearly trapped in a performance review timewarp.  His version of performance review is medieval, with the manager (who he consistently calls “the boss”) standing in judgement of the hapless employee, who meekly accepts the manager’s opinion.  There are however kernels of truth in Dr Culbert’s analysis, so let’s take a look at the modern (non-medieval) way of performance evaluation:

1.  We believe in the concept and vision of daily performance managementDr Culbert does make reference to this when he says the once-a-year judgement of performance is a poor vehicle for giving and receiving feedback.  And he’s 100% correct.  Our concept of daily performance management is that the manager and the employee have a continuous, ongoing dialogue regarding the employee’s performance and how it can be adjusted to make the employee successful and to make the organisation successful.  To enable daily performance management, we believe our applications shouldn’t limit the user to a once-per-year interaction.  The system should be open and flexible and it should facilitate more frequent interactions.

2.  We believe in a future-facing performance management environment.  Dr Culbert seems to hate having his manager look back at past events and indiscretions and pointing out how bad he was.  Poor sausage.  Instead, think about a system based on performance objectives or goals, where the manager and the employee discuss those goals upfront, and then they collaborate on achieving them.  Dr Culbert would think he’d died and gone to heaven!  In fact, it comes very close to Dr Culbert’s idea of “performance previews,” looking at collaborating to support future performance, rather than looking back at historical events.

3.  We believe in open lines of communication between the manager and the employee.  The thing that struck me reading Dr Culbert’s article was how often the problems he perceived could be dealt with by open communication.  Now, it is true that it takes effort for a manager to build trust that would facilitate this level of communication, and the employee has to play their part too, but that is not to say that it is impossible. 

4.  We believe in customised and relevant content in the performance evaluation.  One of Dr Culbert’s gripes is that “bosses apply the same rating scale to people with different functions” and that managers “don’t redo the checklist for every different activity.”  Well, of course, that would be silly and unhelpful.  So our applications provide the ability to define precisely the content and measurements for each job, so that the manager and the employee have specific and relevant attributes that define success for each role.  And over and above that, the manager and the employee can define specific and personal objectives that apply only to that employee.  By supplying a library of skills, competencies and accomplishments, and by defining highly specific job profiles, our applications will help managers and employees to understand what the baseline expectations are.

Dr Culbert’s right about improvement:  “[it] is each individual’s own responsibility.”  So let’s have a performance management system that helps the individual clearly identify the opportunities.  And he’s right about trust too:  there needs to be a high level of trust between manager and employee.  So let’s have a performance management system that supports building of trust, rather than tearing it down.

Posted in Career Development, competency, engagement, goals, leadership, performance, personal, profiles, succession planning, teams, top talent, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Coping with change through sophomoric behavior

Posted by Ken Klaus on August 15, 2008

Over the past several weeks my organization has undergone some changes as development plans were refined and priorities reassessed. As a result the project I’ve been managing was delayed in order to redeploy resources to assist other teams with their assignments. Even though we have come to accept and even expect changes like these, when I broke the news to my team they were understandably disappointed.


Coincidentally, my organization is also in the midst of our annual performance review cycle and one of the core competencies on which we are evaluated is our adaptability to change. Honestly, just saying this phrase makes me want to stick my finger into the nearest pencil sharpener and give the crank a good turn or two; fortunately my desire to remain employed proved greater than the urge to mangle a digit. So I dutifully completed my evaluation and even managed to avoid giving into cynicism. Let’s just call it an act of sincere, if cowardly, professionalism. Thus, in an effort to redeem this act of cowardice, I offer these more candid, if less refined, thoughts on managing change.


Coping with change is best handled like a Chinese fire drill. Stick with me. If you haven’t had the pleasure of participating in this modest prank, there are essentially three steps: 1) stop the car, 2) run around the car (The number of times the occupants must circumnavigate the vehicle is a matter of some debate. Personally, I think each occupant must complete at least three revolutions around the vehicle, lest those who witness the maneuver fail to recognize the beauty and complexity of the drill.), 3) reseat yourself. Implementing these steps in this exact order is critical. Trying to complete the second or even the third step, before the car has come to a complete stop is not recommended.

Coping with change requires us to follow much the same process. First, we have to stop what we’re doing. Often this first step can be sudden and unexpected, much like the aforementioned drill; but it is a necessary prerequisite to the rest of the process. Next we must get out of our seats and move in a new direction, which may include running around in circles a few times until we know for sure where we need to be. The key to this step is to ensure everyone is moving in the same direction, so if in doubt, follow the driver. The final step is finding a new seat. Often this can be the hardest step, as it may require giving up the driver’s seat and occupying the passenger seat or perhaps even the backseat for a while. If this happens, don’t get discouraged. Instead accept your new position as an opportunity to gain a fresh perspective and broaden your experience. On the other hand, if you suddently find yourself in the driver’s seat remember to buckle-up and enjoy the ride. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your fellow passengers for help, because trying to manage everything by yourself is the shortest route to burnout, and perhaps even career limiting accident.


As a rule change is good, though it is rarely ever easy. Learning to accept change as an opportunity and not just a cause for disappointment can help to ease the distress and frustration you feel when projects, organizations, and even cars come to a sudden or unexpected stop. What’s more, the experience may also prove useful during your next performance evaluation or job interview when asked to assess your adaptability to change – unless of course there’s a pencil sharpener handy.


I’m kidding! Kids, please do not attempt this, or any other car related prank, at home!

Posted in competency, performance | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

Profiles: The Foundation

Posted by Mark Bennett on July 18, 2008

Continuing Meg’s discussion about realizing the strategic value of integrated talent suites, let’s start with the foundation of Profiles.

The notion of building talent management suites on a foundation of competencies has been around for some time now. Competencies were seen as a natural mechanism for connecting the various talent applications together with a common “currency.”  An employee could be rated on competencies in the performance management application, they could locate courses in the learning management application that would help develop competencies, etc. One problem has been that it’s been very difficult for companies to develop competency models that truly impact their strategic success. As Meg described, the result has been more tactical, talent process automation in nature.

Lately, talent management suites are being built on top of a Profile foundation. The concept of Profiles is rooted in the idea behind competencies, but expands beyond competencies to encompass other characteristics (or attributes) as well. These characteristics can include things like certifications, experience, interests, travel preferences, potential, and so forth. Some look at this as a “fall-back” solution to having trouble in developing a competency model, but another way to look at it is as a way to model more things your talent should possess that matter in your company than just through competencies. If it helps to get things started by simply dealing with education, licenses, and so forth, at least it’s a start. More importantly, folks have also pointed out that attributes can more readily describe, and in a more granular way, what it is that makes a person effective in their role, beyond what competencies alone can do.

With Profiles, a company has a way to know, across the organization, who knows what, who has what skills, certifications, who has what experience or practice, etc. What’s also important and starts to make things more strategic is when a company models what characteristics are required in jobs and organizations and how effective someone can be in that role that has those attributes. We can think of this as introducing a kind of “exchange rate” that helps you understand the meaning and value of the attribute “currency.” Competency Gap Analysis has been around for a while, but Profiles takes things to another level. Having a richer set of variables to compare when searching for someone against a role, or when an individual is looking for ways to develop themselves, is very helpful.

With profiles giving you a way to track what your company’s talent has and describe what your company needs, you have the foundation from which to impact your strategic success. Now you can use analytics to find which attributes really do result in higher performance in a role. Some of these might still be competencies, but you also might discover other attributes that either more directly predict better performance or that demonstrate a positive effect on competencies that in turn result in better performance. When you couple that analysis with an analysis of what roles are “pivotal” in your organization, you are really beginning to get a handle on how your talent can improve your strategic success. Now you are starting to see what your strategy needs in order to be effectively executed. In addition, you can also uncover untapped opportunities to leverage your talent to gain even further competitive advantage. Finally, you can even go deeper and find where the “sweet spots” are in terms of how an attribute impacts performance (and how performance impacts business results). For example, at what number of hours of training, number of projects in an area involved in, level of proficiency in a given competency, etc. do benefits start to level off?

To sum up, Profiles give you a better ability to understand how (and where, and how much) improvement in attributes results in better performance and how much improved performance impacts strategic success.

So how does the integrated talent suite fit in? Now, instead of just measuring activities (e.g. number of applicants processed, number of reviews completed, etc.), we can better understand the effectiveness of our HR processes in terms of achieving our strategic goals. We can link the results of the acquisition, development, and performance processes with the results of the business. Furthermore, we can better relate those HR processes to better decision making by line managers. For example, management in partnership with HR can better understand whether to invest more or less in acquisition vs. internal development (as well as for what attributes). Together, they can better understand what works and what doesn’t in making the acquisition pipeline effective. Opening the lens a little wider, HR and management can better decide how those investments in processes should change in reaction to external forces like economic, regulatory and competitive change.

Posted in analytics, competency, profiles, Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

Firsts and Worsts

Posted by Meg Bear on June 19, 2008

I’ve been finding myself reading a lot of blogs these days.  What I find interesting, is what kind of posts I respond to.  I find the conversations on “firsts” and “worsts” fun, they make me smile and remember and then they make me glad I’m past it.

Laurie recently posted a worst interview and Gretchen posted a look back at her first Onboarding experience in a “real” job.  Then yesterday, a collegue asked me the age old question, “tell me again how exactly did you get into Tech, Meg?“, which I’m sure he intended to be a compliment, on just how wise I am in the ways of my job, and thus a blog post was born.

Let me first say, that I have been receiving a formal paycheck since the age of fourteen and have had all kinds of horrible (and some not so horrible) jobs prior to (and during) college.  Like most I didn’t think they really “counted”, since they were not “real” jobs.  They were ways to make money. 

After college, is when you get a real job. 

I had it all planned out.  I would go to college, I would get a great job, I would live happily ever after.  So it was some shock at the end of my college experience that I realized I hadn’t actually figured out *how* I would get a job.  Nor did I know what kind of job I wanted (turns out that they weren’t putting fresh college grads in charge, who knew?).   In a panic, I started to consider the options that would allow me to delay paying back my student loans, grad school? peace corp? while also pursuing the campus recruiting process. 

Most of my interviews were unmemorable (I’m sure for all involved), but one had me talking to someone who stepped out every 5 minutes on his [at the time still novel and quite large] mobile phone as he was “expecting a call to close some funding”.   I left the interview unimpressed and not completely clear as to what they did anyway.  I did make it to the second round with that company, which required both an aptitude and a personality test.  Being just out of college, I didn’t really find that odd, but I will note I have never had to do either since.

After some time passed, I started to catch on to the idea of being a candidate and while I did get more rejections then I had ever experienced in my entire life, I also started getting a few offers, most for jobs like insurance sales, a “manager” position at Lady Footlocker and an offer to do “sales support” for a Manufacturing ERP startup (of course at the time it was not ERP yet, it was MRP II but I digress).

In the meantime, I had found a summer study abroad that I really wanted to do.  It was some ten countries in six weeks studying the European Union and the Euro.  Now this was exactly what I wanted to do (travel and geek out studying European economics), and I needed to figure out how to find a job offer that would let me start in September vs. June.

Yes, I’ll say it again, I chose my career based upon which job would wait for me to come back from a trip to Europe

Upon returning from my summer off, getting my stuff out of storage and beginning my first day at work I found out a few interesting “real world” realities

  1. Startups, can have challenges in the area of workforce planning, and, when they miss their numbers are inclined to freeze hiring
  2. Positions that you are hired for might not still exist when you start six months later
  3. When you find yourself starting a new job, for which the actual position has been eliminated, it is good to be a fast learner and to project flexibilty — quickly
  4. Tech guys are easy to bribe, if you are nice to them they will teach you survival skills for the fee of a few lunches (editors note, I suspect I had a bit of an edge being female here)

So, due to an adequate score on the aptitude test and the fact that I had a job offer in writing, they decided to place me in the support organization where I spent my first months doing QA for a new release. 

It took me a good six months to have any idea what the company actually did (native applications in Oracle forms and Sybase APT), what my job actually was (first and second line support) and how to gain the skills to do that job before they realized I didn’t have any skills (see bribes mentioned above).   

For the geeks reading this post, I will share my first technical training session to give you an idea just how poorly suited I was, to be fixing software bugs.  I was thrown out for being “difficult” and thus my black-market approach to knowledge acquisition was born.

Un-named trainer: Are you familiar with Unix?

Meg: No

Un-named trainer: Do you know vi?

Meg: No

Un-named trainer: You’re going to hate it.

Meg: Oh. (editors note, in fact I did not hate vi nor did I find it difficult)

Un-named trainer: ok, so you are going to go into vi and write this create table statement

Meg: why?

Un-named trainer: because you need a table

Meg: what for?

Un-named trainer: You’re just being difficult aren’t you.


And the rest they say, is history.  I will say, that having such a strange start to a career, has proven to be very helpful to me over time.  Jumping into jobs I’m not skilled to do, to meet challenges I have never done before, comes very easily to me.  Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail but I am never afraid to try.

The industry term for that is agility and it is a competency that I think is a good one to claim as your own. 


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