2015 In Review: The Year I Threw Away my Job Title (among other ridiculous things)

It’s been a little over a year since I started this blog, and I’ll admit I haven’t been the greatest with regular-writing. My head is swimming with ideas. But now that I think about it, perhaps the fact that I’ve been too busy to get them down on paper is just part of the reason I'm writing in the first place.  Anyways, I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on how much my career has changed over the past year, and share the lessons I’ve learned along the way. As you might recall, I left my job at NASA for a few reasons:

  1. My startup company: I wanted more time and flexibility to support it.
  2. Small business: I wanted to learn how to run one.
  3. Engineering: I didn't believe I was cut-out to do it.

All reasons for leaving stand true (sort-of). But after a closer look at 2015, I see my reasons were much more complex than I originally thought. I get it now, so let me share.

  1. I didn’t pick the wrong major, I just had the wrong job. How I discovered the 3 types of contributors in an organization (and figured out which one I am)I love the idea of engineering. I’m a super-nerd. I also love NASA. So why couldn’t I stand working there? After leaving NASA I realized that it had nothing to do with NASA itself, but rather, the nature of the job I held (coupled with the work environment). Through some recent reading I discovered the reason, and it has to do with the type of contributors (or workers) in an organization:
    • Type 1, The Technical Contributors: these are the front-line workers, the people that thrive and enjoy detailed tasks that require focus, and in some cases, repetition. These are the experts that might be satisfied for years studying one topic. These detail-oriented contributors are absolutely critical to the success of an organization, but goodness knows I don’t fit here. This is where my job at NASA fit, and this is why I didn’t.
    • Type 2, The Transactional Contributors: these are the organizers, the people that get $h*t done. This is me to a “T”. Strong communication, organization, and time management skills make these individuals key to moving projects ahead, coordinating activities, meeting deadlines, and ensuing things keep moving, but they’re once-removed from the details and not so capable of planning far ahead.
    • Type 3, The Transformational Contributor: these are the visionaries and “big picture” thinkers. They’re critical to setting the pace and inspiring the organization. They’re one step ahead, but don’t have time to manage the details. This isn’t me either, but I think you get the point.
  2. Once you figure out your “type” find a job that fits the nature of the work you're suited for rather than just selecting a particular industry. Let me explain. This is the mistake I almost made, and I dare say it’s revolutionary. I used to tell my friends “I’m just not an engineer”. Like my tagline says: “engineer by training, entrepreneur by nature”. I had the answer to my career questions all along, but just hadn’t identified why until now. I never regretted getting my engineering degree, goodness knows I loved my electromagnetics class. But career != college degree (!= translates to ‘does not equal’ in non-nerd languages). This is misconception that needs to be changed. It’s not about finding the “perfect major", it’s about finding the perfect job function. Where do you fit in an organization? How do you work relative to others? Wouldn’t it be revolutionary if we structured career programs around the type of work a student excels at first before pushing them into a major? And perhaps make the "major" something more like what it really is – a specialization. Aha! We’ve made it, my big point – let’s go!
  1. What you do vs. how you do it: job titles don’t cut it.You have a choice with social media these days, and I’ve been fascinated looking at various LinkedIn and Twitter profiles to see how people define what they do. Some people are straightforward: “Electrical Engineer”, “Lawyer”, “Nurse”, “Professor of blah blah blah”. Ok, that’s your title, it gives me a vague idea of the industry you work in and (maybe) how much you get paid, but it doesn’t tell me how you work. Others describe their jobs differently: “Detailed-Oriented Problem-Solver”, “Hands-on Technician”,  “Team Builder”, “Visionary Leader”, “Big-Picture-Thinker”. Thank you Simon Sinek for explaining so beautifully the “What”, “How”, “Why” Golden-Circle-thingy. Not only could we apply this to how we describe our work, but I also see an analogy to the 3 types of contributors I mentioned above. Are you more oriented to understand why something works (Type 3), how something works (Type 1), or what it does when it works (Type 2)? Food for thought, at least.

Having digressed (a lot), allow me to get back to the story of this past year. When I started at USA Firmware, my title was “Engineering Manager”. Ok, fine, but for a small consulting firm, the title and role seemed unfitting. What happened next was incredible (and part of why I love small companies). My boss came to me one day and said: “I see you’re good with people. You’re a great communicator, you build strong relationships, and people love you. On top of that, you’re organized and always on top of things. How about we shift your role more formally into Sales and change your title to Sales Manager?” My point being, he recognized my skills first, and didn’t look at my resume to see if I had taken a sales class (which I haven’t, by the way). He looked at my natural skills and talents and adjusted my title and role. He knew that’s how he would extract the most value from me, and coincidentally, that’s how I’d be most happy.  If we could harness this mindset in our education system who knows how much more productive and satisfied we would be in our careers. But anyways….

Beyond that what else has happened in 2015?

Work-Life Integration

I have another blog post drafted on this one because it deserves its own blog. This is perhaps the greatest thing that has ever happened in my career.  It has increased my productivity, motivation, job-satisfaction, health, and general well-being more than I would have imaged. With my new role in sales,  my boss gave me the “thumbs up” to work remotely.

BEST THING EVER.

I wake up in the morning and check my emails, take time to cook a real meal and exercise. I wait for the rest of the world to get to work, reply to my emails, then move-on with my day. I drive all the time – every day somewhere different, meeting new clients, new companies. I’m challenged, I have autonomy, responsibility, and as a result, am incredibly driven (pay attention bosses-of-the-world! Read Daniel Pink’s book Drive - it explains a lot of why this works so darn well). Mind you, this isn’t for everybody. I give credit to my homeschooled-upbringing for working so well in this free-spirited environment, but that’s for another blog post!

What’s in Store for 2016?

Millennials have a bad rap for fleeing from one job to the next, but you know what? I'm sticking around for a while. This past year has been liberating. Believe it or not, I went through a dangerous cycle after I graduated. Being in the wrong job was de-motivating. I actually dropped-out of organizations and decreased my involvement in activities. And yet, as soon as I was finally able to use the skills I’m blessed with in my new career, I was motivated to get out there and make a difference once again. I've joined boards, applied for leadership programs, and have a list of new speaking engagements lined-up for 2016, and I can't wait to get started!

So, to all you readers, thank you for your patience with this one.  Maybe you'll "drop" your job title in 2016 like I did and focus on how you work rather than what the work is itself. And maybe it'll turn-out great for you too!

I promise I'll try to keep writing regularly - happy 2016!