Measuring your value
November 30, 2016
There are certain types of work out there that you can visibly measure the work you did. When you are writing code you can measure the lines of code you wrote, or if you are more experienced the features you deployed. If you are a designer you can tell how many new things you produced, how many solutions you provide. Same if you are a builder building a house. You can visibly see the progress.
There are other types of job though that are harder to measure. For example, managing people is not something you can measure. Doing analysis is sometimes hard to measure too. Supporting people and enabling them to do more productive work is hard to measure too. The fact that it’s hard to measure though doesn’t mean they are not valuable. Quite the opposite, they are very important.
The problem is that when people used to do the A type of work (eassier to measure) start doing more B type (harder to measure) of work. What happens then is that you feel like you’ve been unproductive. You feel like the day went by and you didn’t do anything. And that’s when guilt kicks in and you have to deal with it.
I’ve been talking with several developers that moved their careers to a more managing/supporting teams role and all of them deal, still, with the same issue. How do I measure my value in a post-developer job? It’s not to say that you don’t write any code any more, it’s just that it’s less frequent. When that happens you start worry about many things. Am I still relevant? Am I competitive? Do I lose my edge? Am I letting the team down? The imposter syndrome is back, with a vengeance.
This, I believe, is one of the main hurdles when people from the A type professions move into management/ B type positions. It’s really hard to get used to the new reality. This is a really hard transitionary period that could last from weeks to months, even years. During this period it’s important to seek feedback not only from the people you are working for, but most importantly the people you are work with. Have talks with them and ask them how do they see the work you do, if they have any feedback for you and generally keep your eyes peeled.
Don't be annoying
The worst thing that people going through that transition is to jump into their team decision making process and disrupt the normality. What I mean is, just because you’ve been a designer for years doesn’t mean that you can still jump in the conversation and drive the art direction. Or dictate a solution. Even if the team is explicitly asking you to do so, it’s probably a better idea to give general pointers and not complete solutions. It’s tempting in order to feel valuable again, but I don’t feel it’s the right thing. “Give a man a fish and you fed him for the day. Teach a man how to fish and you fed him for life”
Finding balance is a long life quest. It’s not going to happen overnight. Don’t push yourself hard towards any direction, but keep your mind open and always correct your course. Listen to people, listen to your feelings and educate yourself. Try to find people that have gone through the same experiences and talk with them. More often than not all you need to hear is that you are not alone in this. Many people have gone through it, and are still going through it. Don’t reinvent the wheel, learn from other people's experiences.
Finally, don’t stop working on your original craft. Always make the time and a bit of design on the side. A bit of coding. A bit of building walls and buildings. You never stop being a creative person.
Thoughts of a developer, a photographer, a runner, a cook. All of them the same person. George is also on Twitter!