Wednesday, February 2, 2011

starting to understand why I'm twitchy

I'm ready to be done with interviewing. It's a non-stop succession of stressful meetings that break up the middle of my days, trying to prove myself when I'm really just barely back into my game with computers (let alone on top of it).

And the jobs I'm (successfully) interviewing for have some intriguing things in common:
  • More responsibility.
  • More need for independent motivation.
  • Roles that are not well-defined in the work they'd be doing, either because engineers pick from a list of business priorities, or it's a new role that no one has done yet.
  • Really fantastic opportunities to learn new skills and build and fix cool and/or important stuff.
One thing about me as a software engineer is that if you need a brilliant programmer to buckle down and write a giant pile of genius code, I'm honestly not your first choice. I've known several engineers who are better at programming than I am, and around here they're not that uncommon.

Engineers who understand systems, though, and can intuit the behavior of big piles of moving parts, whether or not they exist yet...or who can work more along the boundaries of software engineering and systems administration...or who can actually communicate those ideas...that's less quantifiable, and less sexy, less valued in the tech culture. In the past, people have hired me to write code, and then I just naturally spent part of my time doing systems work, because there was a vacuum there that I was eager to fill.

Now, though, it seems that people want to hire me for my actual talents. That means I have to really be good at it and produce useful results, in a highly visible context: in all 3 jobs, my responsibilities will be unique and whatever I do or don't accomplish will be immediately visible. It's no longer just a skunkworks kind of thing I do on the side, almost for fun.

And that all runs right up against my own personal dose of impostor syndrome. I can do that stuff? Did I say I can do that stuff? Really? I haven't actually accomplished anything with my career, have I? Does my brain even work any more, after 18 months out of practice?

It's like my favorite scene in Independence Day.
David Levinson: You really think you can fly that thing?
Captain Steven Hiller: You really think you can do all that bullshit you just said?
I'll be working hard to get up to speed and prove myself, wherever I end up.

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