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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Entries with tag job hopping.

Transience

Agile claims to be about embracing change. While career used to be about moving up the ladder, like kings amassing gold and possessions corresponding to their power, today’s agile employee should perhaps ponder a more monastic posture of unattachedness and service.

Yesterday my family was rudely awakened to the untimely death of a dear friend, and it is those thoughts that lead me into this topic today. She had a great career, but her gifts were cut short at a young age. Not all careers lead to such a dramatic end, but none of us should assume the permanence of our position, or even of a continued upward direction.

Tibetan Buddhism focuses on the impermanence of all things. Maturing in life is about letting go so that at the end of life, one has a lean and tidy house and few attachments. If you are encumbered with many belongings at death it leaves a mess for someone else to clean up. Too many of us leave ourselves at peace with the knowledge that it won’t be our problem in our lifetime to put things in order, and we self-unconsciously shift the responsibility onto our colleagues, our partners, and our children. A testament doesn’t solve it, either: it can never cover everything — certainly not the unknowable, detailed attachments to trinkets that some loved one might silently carry — and there is the inevitable jealously that can arise between heirs feeling disempowered by an inflexible, final word.

This is where Lean complements agile. A Lean career doesn’t stand on once great artefacts such as a single landmark book or a lofty title once held in a powerful corporation. Today’s writing is transient, and position is fragile.

Daily attachment to artifacts or positions is fertile ground for this same inflexibility, and this is why it’s important to view agility as an ongoing process of letting go. Scrum encourages people to move around the code, and while there may be some area in which you excel and some code for which you might be the best maintainer, it’s important to let go of that position, defer to others, and explore other system areas. Scrum allows no internal structuring of the development team, either by roles or by sub-teams: such structures are the molasses of change. You can’t stand on your role: your role now is temporary, and may change tomorrow.

The same is true in the larger vista of career. The most recent data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics point out that people hop jobs on the average once every 4.4 years. Though I am of an earlier generation I’ve moved from computer operator, to developer, to ethnographic researcher, to higher education, through EDA, and into organizational consulting.

Perhaps the pursuit of permanence is tied to the quest for security in prosperous cultures, where prosperity is perceived as being possible or even a birthright: the American dream. Perhaps such cultures create a fear of not belonging to the endowed, and that fear drives us to seek external, concrete tokens of worth. Challenge yourself to put that aside and contemplate a monastic existence which values the day’s contemplations and ideas, and the lifting of a community, above individual excellence.

Small changes in career and stature are not change in the honorable sense of the term, but simply responding to variance. When change happens, check for a bigger picture. Nature may be trying to tell you something. If you find that she is whispering in your ear, take the opportunity to seize her hand, to embrace change, and to consider re-planning.

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