“So what are you looking for in your next role?”
Much like “So what is it you do?”, this is a question that tends to make digital workers wince a little whenever they’re asked it; a certain amount of hand-waving tends to follow as if we’ve never been asked it before, or never expected to be asked it again. Do recruitment consultants feel the same wince when they ask it, given how essential the answer is to them? Shouldn’t we be ready with a more useful answer?
Perhaps the problem is that few people’s life motivations are driven by the minutiae of technical work- Maslow’s Hierarchy doesn’t exactly have a level for “using Framework X”, but deals rather in the abstract of self-actualization. For most of us, particularly as we get older, that actualization consists of external experiences- in my case, the chance to spend quality time with friends and family, getting out into the countryside or onto the water, travelling and exploring the beauty of the world.
Does this help answer the question? While there may be beautiful novels, paintings and photos sharing the beauty of the mountains, as far as I know it’s never inspired rugged and elegant code. But it can of course help with cultural fit, in placing a developer somewhere where they can make wider contributions to the company’s activity.
Something I’ve done for a long time — even longer than I’ve worked with technology — is study foreign languages. There’s an interesting idiom in French of the “Violon d’Ingres” — from the virtuoso painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, who could also play the violin at an outstanding level; it means a passion or particularly important hobby. At the risk of mixing metaphors, it can also mean “having a second string to your bow”. For me, language — both English and foreign — plays that role. My A-levels were Maths, Chemistry, Physics and French, and my degree was Electronics — studied in Southampton, Karlsruhe and Paris. A few years back, when looking for an additional mental challenge, I also studied Japanese for a couple of terms, because it exercised a part of my mind and interests that I’d not been able to incorporate into my career. It’s in a similar vein that I enjoy reading well-written fact and fiction in various languages, and the occasional chance to write essays and technical guides myself, both absorbing and sharing information.
Language learning — and indeed languages themselves — have changed a lot since I first started studying French in primary school. There was no word for “World Wide Web”, “Internet” or “Email” in my vocabulary until around the time I entered university. When I studied for the TEF recently I didn’t buy a lot of books, I logged into Duolingo and bought several issues of Sciences et Avenir on my iPad as reading practice. Site and apps like Duolingo, iKnow and similar are an incredible enhancement to the learning of languages and an area I’d love to get into — I’m not sure there are many developers around that could check their work in five languages — but all forms of online learning interest me. I’ve previously worked on financial training tools, for example, and while it was far from my domain of expertise, creating the tools was extremely interesting work. Ultimately, the whole domain of sharing information and learning is very much “my thing”.
So — there’s a few ideas about the sort of sites and tools I’d like to work on — but on what platforms and technologies? To be quite honest, I’m not sure I care! Yes, I’ve worked with PHP, JS and MySQL for 15 years, so I’ve got some pretty solid skills in those areas, but I’m also inherently a lifelong learner. I taught myself those key skills, and because I believe in doing things properly I taught myself to do them well and never stopped studying. On the side, however, I taught myself enough Objective C (it was a while ago!) to create the prototype of the Bletchley Park iOS app and enough Node.js to work on the network data collection daemons for LINX — my key skill isn’t a particular language or framework, instead it’s adaptability, rigour, the ability to learn and to fill in the missing skills, processes and tools on client projects.
That’s not to say I don’t have an affinity for particular tools — I’ll choose Symfony and Angular when appropriate, for example, but I don’t define myself based on their use. So the “right project for me” is one where I can both learn and share what I’ve learned, and solve problems which some developers might consider “not their job”, whether they sit anywhere in the full LAMP/JS stack or in the domains of DevOps or project management. This means that my skills and mentality are particularly well suited to small to medium teams where they either need a multi-skilled, adaptable worker to handle a variety of tasks, or a synthesist to fill in the gaps and smooth out the processes before getting back to high-quality, hands-on work.
In the future, of course, there are new technologies I’d like to work with. I’d really like the chance to work with iOS professionally (Swift, while not flawless, is an intriguing language) and in the shorter term expand my skills in JS frontend frameworks. Pending an opening in those areas, though, I’ll keep doing what I’ve done for years — solve client problems with high-quality code and the ability to effectively fill whatever gaps need filling in skillsets, communication and tools.