Build Your Career: Agile Careers 

Agile Careers

"Cope" Coplien

Jim ("Cope") Coplien is an old C++ shark who now integrates the technological and human sides of the software business as an author, coach, trainer, and executive consultant. He is one of the founders of the software pattern discipline, and his organizational patterns work is one of the foundations of both Scrum and XP. He currently works for Gertrud & Cope, is based in Denmark, and is a partner in the Scrum Foundation. He has authored or co-authored many books, including the Wiley title, Lean Architecture for Agile Software Development. When he grows up, he wants to be an anthropologist.

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Growing Others

Much of what passes for career growth is about individual aspirations and assessing one's place in the pecking order. But those with the greatest careers focus on seeing the fruits of their efforts blossom in others.

In the end, career has two consequences: to create value for the world around us, and to support and influence our colleagues. The bottom line is usually people, whether through the indirect contributions of our products and services or the more direct gift of our own time and presence (see Two People at a Time).

Many of us feel we do a great deed by giving our colleagues what our job requires or by being helpful. It’s one thing to be the light or water for a plant, and quite another to be the earth where the plant takes root or the trellis on which it leans for support and climbs skyward. Gardeners come and go, but the soil and trellis persist for at least a season of its development.

Bad colleagues (and consultants) position themselves as the primary sources of light or water for a plant to create a dependency of I-have-water-and-you-don’t. Creative people can always find alternative sources of water and light. Being the soil or the trellis creates an even stronger dependency, of course, but with the adventure of commitment for at least a season — a period together in a department or project. That kind of commitment takes trust and, if an increase in value ensues, it builds trust.

From a pragmatic perspective, growing others is about amplification. Giving someone your product or supporting them with your service is like selling fish; giving of yourself is more like selling fishing poles. Of course, don’t neglect your responsibility to generate value, but keep the bigger picture in mind.

Larry Constantine once relayed a challenge he received from a friend years earlier: Given the choice, would he rather have contributed something of long term significance but remain unknown and unappreciated or would he have preferred to become widely recognized but have done little of consequence?  Years later, Larry denies the premise that this is an either/or choice — but those who seek fame first diminish their chances to have both. The trellis hides behind the rose.

This attitude points to a deeper love either for other people, or for ideas themselves, than for one’s own career. It’s an attitude with roots in feeling secure and is a posture more easily attained from a position of accomplishment. As such, the opportunities to broadly grow others increase as one’s own contributions increase.

The usual view of career is that one rises through the Maslow hierarchy of needs. Gainful employment lets you meet basic physiological needs; a higher-paying job affords one a residence in a more secure neighborhood. This security affords one the opportunities to “belong” to some community, either within or outside of work. Accomplishment and a secure identity increase self-esteem, and ultimately one attains the pinnacle of self-actualization.

Choose to regard your vocation from a collective rather than individualistic perspective. Agile focuses more on the result (“working software”) in community (“individuals and interactions”) than on what sets one apart. “Belonging” is a birthright of agile rather than something earned. Group potential outshines the social ideal of achieving individual potential. Self-worth and actualization precipitate naturally from supporting  your team — but not vice-versa.

It’s about the Thou rather than the I. It is you, directly, rather than your product or service, that creates the greatest value in others. Invest in another individual’s career.

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