Agile Careers


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 recently released Wiley title, Lean Architecture for Agile Software Development. When he grows up, he wants to be an anthropologist. 

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Your Priorities


You’ve just found a bottle on the beach. You rub it and a magic genie appears.  But because it’s just an old Danish beer bottle you get only one wish — but it can be for anything (but no meta-wishes). What do you wish for?

Or you’ve completed a series of interviews for a new job, and you’ve just received a job offer. Tell me what your eyes scanned the page for when you opened the offer letter.

You probably know where this is going —  once again into the job / career dichotomy. But the two are linked, after all. And each of them addresses different Maslow levels of your value system (see Do Your Best, an earlier installment in this series).

Money is likely one answer that many people would give for the opening questions above. Come on now, be honest with yourself. But this answer is probably more common for recent graduates than those further along in their career. Why?

Rationalizations ensue: We argue that a good starting salary is the base that establishes what you will be making in 20 years (it’s not true). Those senior folks who don’t seek money are hippies or are financially complacent; maybe they’re rich from years of work and now they are seeking something else from working. And there are those who use their salary as a measure of stature — we’ll leave them alone with their thoughts. Money is more about feelings than about other facts

There’s a deeper answer. Start with the fact that money has no value in its own right. It is only a socially agreed token of exchange for goods and services of value.  Few people garner money for its own sake: paper money makes a lumpy mattress, and the metal stuff is heavy and cumbersome. There’s not much enjoyment having it sitting in the bank, particularly given the way things have gone with banks these recent years. No: money is our means to some other end.

Now, that’s O.K. But I wonder if we too often fail to take that next step and honestly consider: What is my deeper motivation for money? For many, it is the need for a feeling of security — feelings rooted in a childhood where there was never enough food on the table or where it was difficult to keep a roof over one’s head. But for most of us, money is a means to something beyond: to save for retirement, or to afford that cottage on the lake or summer house in the Swedish woods.

Do you want that cottage or that summer house because it’s a way to get away from your job, to spend time with your family? That’s kind of interesting — to take a job on the basis of making enough money to get away from your job. That job may take you away from you family more than a less-paid one. We too often hide these trade-offs from ourselves.

Some harbor an illusion that you work now and that life starts sometime after age 65. But those who most enjoy their retirement are those who keep their minds and fingers busy in the fun of their business long after their salary stops. And, it’s funny, those are many of the same people who seemed to know really how to live throughout their earlier years.

Seek to optimize your overall work life value. Make your job enjoyable, perhaps by using it to reach out to others or to create greatness in the world. The world tends to take good care of those who have that outlook.


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