I wasn’t sure what motivated me any more

Non-tech post, feel free to skip it. I’ve had two conversations with people recently that have meant me talking about my job. Not bad conversations, not important ones, but they’ve been working away in the back there trying to figure something out.

The first conversation was with an old colleague of mine. He moved on several years ago and we bumped into one another at the supermarket. He asked how I was doing and I told him I was with the same employer, but that my role had changed. He was with an employer that made him happy – and that was really good news because the last time we spoke he wasn’t very pleased with where he was. We talked for a few minutes and then he said

“yeah, I’m just a developer, I don’t really want to do more than that – it’s just too much stress”

I hadn’t said anything about his role or talked about his wider career aspirations. But his tone was almost apologetic, as if I would obviously expect him to be working up to something. We said goodbye and walked off, but I was a little upset that he felt I would ever consider him, or anyone, “just a developer”. And it made me question how he must view me.

The second conversation was only yesterday, and it was with my boss (so it’s going to be light on detail). But the topic flitted about and touched on the organisational structure of our part of the business and peers and line managers and he asked how I’d feel if my position in things changed down the line (I wish that was me being vague – but it was more of a half thought spoken aloud). And as he and I have a good working relationship I was pretty blunt

“I do what’s required to do my job, it really doesn’t bother me who I line into while I do that”

Now that’s absolutely true, but the fact that I needed to say it made me think about what the alternative responses could have been if I wasn’t me. My boss is the head of software development, feeding into someone else could – from an org point of view – look like a step down.

So there we go. One conversation about my place in things, and one about how I see others position in terms of progress. Both bothered me because they spoke to my drivers when it comes to technology, I need a job because I need a roof over my head, but what makes me decide that I do this job, at this place. And to be honest? I struggle with the answer to that question.

I know what I’m not

There are several stereotypes that I was able to immediately remove from the equation.

I’m not a 9 to 5’er. Don’t get me wrong – my daughter’s schedule and making sure she sees me at night means I’m out the door when I need to be – but I have no issue working at home or odd hours or joining a call on a different timezone if I feel it will help move things forward, I do what I need to do to do the job, but I also know that sometimes that’s taking a step away from the desk rather than forcing myself to work when my productivity has plummeted.

Some people are motivated by the next rung of the ladder. And I think that’s what worried me about the conversation with my colleague, his tone assumed that if he wasn’t pushing for that next title then what was he doing with his life? When I was younger that might have been a little more how I saw the world – but burning out has meant that I’m happy to take on responsibility at a more considered pace. I want to always just be the wrong side of challenging, keep that growth going.

I’m a dev – my title may not say it any more, but I’m always going to love the puzzle solving side of code. It’s too enjoyable to ever give it up. So is that the answer? I just want to work on all the shiny things? Okay so I love the learning, but I do that for me – regardless of work. I learn at home, at the coffee shop, evenings and weekends, and sure that bolsters my ability to walk into any random conversation at work but I’d do that regardless of where or who I worked for. With power in the cloud and subscription based licencing I have access to the same services and processes that were exclusively “enterprise” when I started. So it’s not access to the shiny.

Okay – so what does that leave?

I realised this morning that while I was working through this list – it was all “tech”, my idea of progression was around being able to do more tech, bigger tech, shinier tech. But as I’ve said I do that regardless. That’s me. So what is it about the job that means I want to go back through those doors? If it’s not the tech itself, is it the impact that’s motivates me?

And I think it is, I think maybe my motivation is starting to lie more in the outcomes of the work, rather than the work – which is why I’m struggling to find a clear answer, because I struggle with the more people orientated side of my work (I refuse to call it “soft” skills – because people are hard work!)

I get a huge enjoyment out of finding out about how things work, fit together, have different uses. But I enjoy it because where I am at the moment means I’m able to turn up to meetings and give that benefit to the team and get them excited about how they can use it. I still code a little, but it’s the “starter for 10” that lets our team see how they change what their doing to get the win faster, or to give them the spark that lets them see a new way of working.

Part of my role now is to “aim higher”, I’m not thinking about code, I’m thinking about the platform and how the teams work within it, to identify bottlenecks and opportunities and pitch at how our developers can fix these problems. Not me – them – and that’s exciting! Because that’s going to lead to ideas I can’t possibly imagine and a dozen different ways of solving a problem so we can find the best one to move us forward.

And no, I’m not a ladder climber, but I will grab any opportunity to be able to make a bigger difference to the people I work with. Any chance to give them more autonomy over their own design, to get them interested in asking why first and then how. Because if just one of them “gets it” and realises that how can drive a team, but why can drive a business, then they’ll get the same excitement I do about being able to make that difference.

And there it is – that excitement, that buzz, that feeling of being able to make more of a difference to the team than I was able to make last week or last month. I get that from this role, and it’s not always the case that you can have that kind of input. And while I think I can keep making things better for the team I work for and keep clearing the path for their ideas then I’ll keep turning up.

I’m fiercely independent. I’m always happier getting something done myself. So I can understand why the idea that my motivation lies in the progression of others is so difficult for me. I need the team to give me a reason to be better at my job. Their results are my win – and that’s really not a comfortable position to me in.

But at the same time the simple pleasure I get from someone else’s win that I was an enabler for? Using their effort to push me further? Maybe that’s just selfish enough to be okay.