2011 to 2015: Working out who I am, professionally
These years were a flurry of work, work travel, frequent flyer points, airport lounges, hotels and training sessions all over Australia. These little Joomla and Wordpress websites were now a big business. I was no longer working on my own. I had a team. I had meetings. I had presentations. I had infrastrcuture to support, a team to manage and a product-set to protect.
And up until this point I hadn't done any of those things particularly well.
Now that this thing had a business backing it, I needed to do better. That meant moving from fixed servers to the cloud. Streamlining site sizes for speed and SEO performance. Providing sellable inventory and growing that inventory. Providing a platform that wasn't just for a select team of people to use and update, but that hundreds of every day people could use and update as part of their jobs.
This was when we moved from a collective attitude "let's just get it done" to having to be more serious about reliability and getting things done "right."
There's an old saying; there's three ways to get the job done. Fast. Good. And Cheap. You can have it done Fast and Cheap, but it's won't be Good. You can have it done Good and Fast but it won't be Cheap. You can have it done Good & Cheap but it won't be Fast. But you cannot have something done Fast, Good and Cheap all at once.
I am yet to meet anyone in any business who understands this. Because their "industry is different because..." Or their company" is the exception because..." Our customers have expectations and we can't let them down because it's hard out there and good sales reps are hard to find and harder to keep. I'll give you a small tip; every industry think's it's different. Every company thinks they are a special case. It's "hard out there" for everyone. And everyone is having trouble keeping their sales teams together.
I explored project management methodologies to try and make sense of how to get things done Fast, Good and Cheap. I tinkered with Agile project management, but no one seemed interested in a philsophy that doesn't include due dates. And besides it all just sounded like a load of buzzwords and fluff to most of the people I was working with. I tried Hackathons to fire up our digital people, but everyone wanted to be paid overtime to participate. I tried pizza. I tried extra in-person trips to see the team. I tried "10% time" to work on things of interest. I tried project management tools and techniques and hangouts and group calls and tutorials, but when it came down to it, everyone still required everything to be done Fast, Good and Cheap. There was nothing I could do to sugarcoat that. I failed in every respect. Failed to inspire a team who just grew to resent me. Failed to deliver a Fast, Good, Cheap product to the company. Failed to gain the trust of the broader business in what I was doing beause Fast, Good and Cheap is impossible. And failed myself because I had so much trouble standing up for myself and saying no. Because the few times I did, I either got over-ruled or chastised.
I learned so many valuable lessons during this time. I had an explosion of technological learning. I started to understand what all that PHP code meant. CSS was finally making sense. Servers didn't seem liek a strange, volatile land anymore. The cloud was something I understood and worked in. Backups weren't just a thing you like to get done - they were vital. Security was paramount. But as my technological learning increased, my interpersonal skills degraded.
I'll be honest, I was a smart, capable guy with training and experience in what makes people tick. But I lost my ability to deal with people and their emotions. I just wanted to get the work done. I wanted to do the best possible work I could. And that meant that I needed to hand over a part of the job that I was failing miserably at... and that was all the people stuff. I kinda sucked at it. In some ways I still do. I mean, I love tech people. I love developers. I get on well with them and understand them. What I don't understand and don't do well at is corporate politics and the art of "greasing the wheels" in an organisation. The fine art of writing an email that has so many corporate buzzwords and platitudes, but doesn't actually say anything at all. You know, that fine diplomacy thing where nothing gets resolved because everyone needs to not offend each other.
My biggest lesson in this period wasn't all the acronyms and products and technology. It was the lesson about who I am, professionally. I finally understood that I can't be everything to everyone. That isn't sustainable for anyone over a long period of time.
I learned that I had strengths:
1. The ability to find the right solution.
2. The ability to see the solution that someone really needs, rather than what they are saying they want.
3. The desire to do great work that is sustainable.
4. To future-proof things as best I can.
5. To drive something from it's start to its conclusion.
But I learned that I had weaknesses as well:
1. I have no patience for office politics.
2. I don't like being the "face" of anything. It makes me awkward and uncomfortable.
3. I often would let my attention-to-detail suffer in the desire to get the job done.
4. I have often let honesty be a weapon I have used to make a point or score a win.
5. I say yes too often, and commit to too much at one time.
This is an interesting set of characteristics to have. Especially given that today's workforce demands that we are good at everything, all the time, without exeception and that we should hide away and even cover-up our weaknesses and mistakes.
Perhaps that's my point-of-difference. I know who I am. I know what I'm good at. And I know what I suck at. And I'm not afraid to publish on a website of my own what those characteristics are, because honestly about one's self is the beginning of professional honesty.