Riding back on the corporate bus after a long, fruitful day at the main campus, the young developer next to me struck up a conversation. He was intrigued to find out that I was a former developer that had "crossed-over" to product management.
It was a pleasant enough exchange. Like most chats, however, I end up playing them back in my mind and wishing I had brought up various points or couched an opinion different. In particular, this obviously bright guy asked:
"How do I keep growing my career?"
I think I mentioned something about magic eight-balls. Or maybe I suggested garlic cloves. But, upon further reflection (in light of Kin), I do have something more definitive on the topic I wish I would have shared.
First and foremost, I applaud this dude's approach. When I think back to my early 20's I was equal measure (1) too cocksure to think I needed any advice from anybody or (2) too self-conscious to ask direct questions from strangers. The fact that this guy is engaging those around him and soliciting this kind of information is fantastic. Yes, you'll get lousy advice about magic eight-balls every once in awhile. But you'll never discover the nugget of wisdom if you don't beat about the bush.
The second advice that I have for anyone, not just developers, is learn how to tell your story. I've talked about the importance of storytelling and the necessity of fostering storytelling cultures in software. Regardless of your profession, you have to be able to communicate ideas. And I'm not talking about the big things like negotiating a pay raise or justifying a big strategic bet. It also plays a factor in those little moments: the hallway conversation, the desk drive-by, and the email you're about to send. The information age has placed even more of a premium on being an effective communicator than in the past. As digital mediums continue to extrapolate essential things from an exchange, like body language, it is vital that people compensate accordingly.
Further, we don't really know something until we are able to communicate it to others. As a recent Forbe's article states:
"When we enter professional life, we immerse ourselves in the jargon and principles of our chosen field and obediently follow precepts laid out by our respective priesthoods. Yet we rarely put serious effort toward expressing ourselves in a language that can be understood by those outside our tribe. Then we wonder why our efforts and achievements fail to resonate."
A curious mind, one that is willing to seek out answers, is a tremendous asset. Combine that with the ability to articulate what he finds and this developer is poised for a bright future.