When I realized the mistake I had made, it permanently changed the trajectory of my career.
Where It All Began
About two years after being out of college, my wife and I decided we wanted to relocate back to Houston, in order to be closer to family. Of course, a new city meant finding a new opportunity.
After an extensive job hunt, I joined a staffing agency and started a 3 month project working on some fun tech. It was my first experience with a staffing agency and was sold on their commitment to keep me working from project to project.
My first day on the contract, the manager sat me down to go over the project and to let me know that they only had a budget for the 3 months, so at the end of that time the project would be concluded.
Fair enough, let’s have some fun…
The 3 months passed fairly quickly and we were able to not only build out a POC, but was able to get it ready for production. In short, it was a successful engagement.
The last week of the project, the manager called me back into his office and let me know they wanted to extend my contract for another 6 months! This was a very exciting moment for me, as it was one the first tangible results that I had received from work that I put into a project.
Always a great feeling to be recognized for your work…
This is how the project went for the next 3 years. That short 3 month contract lasted well over 3 years before it wrapped up. I was fairly proud of myself that I was able to bring in that much work for the staffing agency.
So when the contract finally concluded, I had a scheduled call with my recruiter to go over the next move. I was in my early 20’s and thought I must be one of their best developers being able to do such an amazing job that I brought them 3 additional years of income. Ahh… to be young…
The day came for my phone call, and I can still remember my excitement and anticipation of the call.
Well, let’s just say the call was nothing like I had expected.
To sum up the very brief conversation, it went something like this: “I’m sorry, we don’t have anything else for you. Best of luck to you.”
I was truly shocked and really at a loss for words. I had spent over 3 years being loyal and working hard for this company, to simply be cut loose at the last minute without much thought.
It was shortly after that, that I realized the enormous mistake that I had made…
Careers in my parents’ generation (and even today in many industries) were quite a bit different than they are for software developers and engineers in today’s world.
As you began your career, you would look for the company that you would spend the majority, if not all, of your career at. Moving up the corporate ladder as your value and loyalty for the company grew during your time there. The longer you were at a company, the more money and time they would invest in you to make you an invaluable asset to the company. It was a two way street.
It was like this so much that my parents expressed concern that I was only at my first job for a year and a half. Not to mention I had moved to start a 3 month contract. What would future employers think if they saw such short stays at these different companies?
Whether I knew it or not, that mentality was instilled in me and it had something to do with the level of loyalty and commitment I had demonstrated to the staffing agency.
While showing loyalty to a company and obviously operating at your highest potential is important, I missed the one mistake I was making that would alter the course of my career:
I had been so focused on being a “good and loyal employee” that I had given up ownership of my career path. I had faith that the company would have my best interests at heart.
The reality, especially for people in the software industry, is companies no longer have to continually invest in growing their employees’ skillsets. As their needs shift and the technology changes, it is sometimes easier to simply restaff the development department instead bringing the entire team up to speed on the new direction.
Instead of spending those 3 years retaining ownership of the path of my career, I left it in the hands of the staffing agency and just focused on the work ahead of me. If I had spent that time working on my career, I could have found myself in a very different and definitely less stressful transition at the end of the project.
So here I was 3 years later with little more than a new entry on my resume. While I should have been actively trying to grow it that entire time.
How to maintain ownership of the course of your career
So what SHOULD I have done? Where did I go wrong?
While there are many different answers to that question, there are 3 fundamental things that I should have been doing during my time on the project.
- Constantly Learning
In any industry, but especially in the tech business, you can never stop your quest for knowledge. Things simply move too fast and it is too easy to get left behind in your aren’t continually learning.
And while yes, tech blogs and books should be a mainstay of your education, it is also important to branch out to other topics: finance, marketing, self-help, business trends, etc. The broader your knowledge base, the more opportunities you will see come your way.
- Building a Network
Working on growing and strengthening your business network should always be at the forefront of your mind. Even if you have no intention of leaving your current role any time soon, a solid network is important for many reasons:
- It gives you a pulse on what is going on in the industry outside of your current project. - Those connections can lead to new opportunities when you are either in need or when something special becomes available. You never know what opportunities might be passing you by.
- It can open up opportunities to play a larger role in the community. This could mean becoming active in User Groups, participating in panels, speaking at events, interviews as a subject matter expert, etc.
- It can simply be fun. It’s interesting meeting new people and learning about their projects. I’ve met some incredible people and many of them have become close friends.
The list goes on. Building and growing your network should be something that is always a high priority in your career.
- Take Initiative
The world rewards action takers. It’s as simple as that. You will find the more you are willing to step out of your comfort zone and take the initiative to further your career, the more opportunities will seem to find you.
Taking the initiative can take on so many forms.
Just doing the first 2 items mentioned above is taking initiative.
Understanding that you need to have ownership over your career and actively build on that is taking initiative.
Being willing to share your knowledge with colleagues and beyond is taking initiative.
Regardless of what taking initiative looks like to you, simply putting it into motion consistently will completely change the course of your career.
Avoiding My Mistake
One of the biggest things that I’ve learned over the years is that this one concept can be a very difficult thing to maintain.
It’s very similar to trying to maintain a solid exercise regiment. It takes building habits, staying consistent, and having discipline.
If I look back over my career, I can point out more than a few times where I got comfortable in the contract I was working on and didn’t actively maintain ownership over my career. In essence, I feel off of my regiment.
The result? Every single time one of two things happened:
I had a contract come to an unexpected end and was left scrambling to find my next project. I realized what I was doing, started working on my career again and was presented with some amazing opportunities that came as a direct result. It’s amazing what a little attention and consistent work on your career can do. It will catapult you to new positions and opportunities that you never thought possible.
Want more help on how to get into the driver’s seat of your career? Developers Road has been created to help developers like you do exactly this.
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