I’m at a crossroads in my career… I might even suggest it’s a crossroads in my life, it’s that profound.
I’ve had an interesting set of jobs across two different career paths in this life.
My first career was working in television and radio production and broadcast, (as well as music production) — started this in college at age 19 and kept the dream alive until I was 31. Working in media is really a labor of love since no one I knew or know now makes enough to keep themselves in the lap of luxury. In fact, the people who stay in the industry long term are reliant on a partner who is in a higher paying career in order to offset their relatively low income and average out to a living wage. I am proud to have been able to work in this field, and it certainly was fun beyond belief. I even had life risking incidents occur on the job (breaking through thin ice on a frozen lake while carrying 80–100 lbs of camera gear in -40F weather to film a show about Ice Fishing was exciting and refreshing) as well as being able to meet, shake hands and rub shoulders with some of my music idols (David Bowie, Adrian Belew, Jeff Healey, Sarah McLachlan, The Tea Party, Rheostatics, and others) was truly unbelievable. But from first hand experience I can say the financial compensation didn’t match the existential experience — not in the least.
Truthfully, the first career I had was being a student/bum — working part time jobs to simply keep myself in school and in beer, but I’m not counting that as it’s one of the vagaries of youth for that time. In this time I realize that many people actually sustain themselves doing what I considered to be something that I did to cover off my pocket money while pursuing something more rewarding — and having waited on tables and tended bar, delivered pizzas, etc… I tip generously and very rarely withhold gratuity unless the service is just awful. It’s hard work and people need to be much more aware of how hard a job it is!
There are three main factors that affect someone’s job/career satisfaction, and they all balance off to give a total net measure. It’s not exactly quantifiable, but it can isolate what are concerns as well as force a self examination to see if there are concerns you have, and drive to resolve them. The three factors are 1) financial compensation for work done, 2) how interested you are in the role you’re in and the specific tasks you do, and 3) are you being respected, recognized and rewarded for your efforts. At first glance, most people would really only strongly agree with #1 and #2, but #3 is a very important factor in that it feeds on what makes you truly happy in the environment. Generally if you’re good on all three items then you’ve achieved career nirvana — you’re in the role meant for you. If you have 2 out of 3 in which you’re satisfied — then you really are content in your role and the motivation to change or leave your job is low. But if it’s 1 or 0 — then its time to change things up…
In 1994, while working at CHRW-FM as Production Director, I did that self-assessment and honestly looked in the mirror to confront my 30 year old self. I’d achieved a high level of competency in my job, and so #3 (respect, recognition, emotional reward) was very high. The only thing I could say negatively in this category was there was no path for advancement in my particular role, so lets just say that I was 70% happy for #3. I had hit a point where the facilities I worked in were limiting me from growing my skill set — a production studio is very hardware dependent and so from that perspective I’d become the bona fide expert in the hardware in the studio, and the hardware was a limiting factor (due to age, capabilities, etc) in any growth for me, and for the department. Knowing that the funding for the station was almost totally dependent on student fees, and the likelihood that new equipment was years away… lets say #2 was low on satisfaction. Now, pay scale for my role was very low — it was almost the equivalent of a stipend (as it was a college radio station) but not a living wage. An examination of jobs in the industry for people in my role were bleak, so the decision was made to change career and get into what was at that time an expanding career in computer development.
I went back to school and extended my existing college degree into a Computer Science degree — graduated in January 1996, then got my first job contracting in a short term gig with a food service company serving Pearson International Airport in Toronto. Moved into game development with VR1, then an 8 yr career at Microsoft with Visual C++ team building developer tools. I changed roles from development engineer to Technical Program Management, and have worked at RealNetworks, Clearwire, Intel and now with Amazon — 20 years in the high tech software industry, where youth dominates the workplace.
And that last phrase is key — youth dominates the workplace. With each passing year, not only do I feel the ravages of time on my body, but I am reminded of them in the environment I work in. Good natured ribbing by co-workers and leadership (I’m pretty senior, not just in the age sense) commenting on my age is like thorns in my ass, regardless of how I know they’re “just kidding”. Looking at the picture on my badge and in my profile online reminds me of where I am in this space —many of the people I work with could easily be my children had I started to procreate in my 20’s like most people do. And that is going to become more and more prevalent with each year as the top employers in this field continue to encourage “good attrition” among the longer tenured people who are “long in level” and hire recent grads and people with 3–10 years experience over the much more senior people.
I had health issues last summer that forced me to revisit the job satisfaction activity again, and this is another key item for me. I’m very well compensated at this time, although some of the perks of coming to Amazon are going to expire shortly (my signing bonus was split across 24 monthly payments, and that ends in September) so #1 is going to become worrisome soon. #2 — I’m not an e-commerce guy, not even close. The problems that my particular group faces are challenging but not in an interesting technology way, only logistically, so that low for me. #3 — well you should be able to tell by now that is an issue for me. I’m not a great cultural fit for my workplace, and my opportunities for advancement are few. I get respect for job well done, but reward is minimal if at all.
Result — 1 in job satisfaction.
I need to consider my options now. I’ve hit an age (52) where not only does my present employer see me as old, but many others as well. My health issues mean I need to find a place that will be a little less confrontational than where I am now, but then those are few and far between. I have many years of excellent contribution left either as a Program Manager, a senior engineer or engineering manager… but prejudice is such that unless I am at a Director level or VP, its likely that I wont be seen as having great future potential for the mid management roles.
My wife is completing her RN this year, so I need to stay in my present role or one that is similarly compensated until that is done and she finds new work. We have a mortgage — 28 years left to go on a nice large house in a Seattle suburb, which again means I need to keep compensation in mind when choosing what to do next.
I don’t think I’m alone here in this situation. I’d love to hear your thoughts as my heart would love to go headlong into a new career of making my music and writing efforts into a viable new thing. But both have been very suspect in terms of sustaining an income for one, much less a family of five. I hate focusing on the cons, but everyone needs to have their eyes open to traverse the narrow treacherous path of life, right?