At the bottom of Success

Date:   Tuesday , August 01, 2006

One of the most revered learning in my 17-year career, which I deem essential for success, is getting into the depth of any subject. Since college days it’s been the beacon throughout my career. But I’m afraid younger generations today are void of profound knowledge. The future, that youngsters tend to forget, lies in the in-depth knowledge of their specialized area.

A techie’s competency is empowered with his domain knowledge. For example, if you want to start learning C, and then programming, you will have to get to the depth of C, like pointers and structures. Understanding the underlying concepts is the right way of getting into the depth of the matter and it is bound to make you a better programmer.

When I entered the field with an electronic engineering background, it was imperative for me to understand the details of my subject. I took the initiative of taking a step further by delving into the nuances of C programming language and UNIX operating systems. Nowadays, you come across employees of two distinct types—the first type does not get into the depth of the matter to analyze the applied details. The second type of employees are not spending enough time in a single organization. Like how wine gets better with age, the techies should understand that a good investment of time in a particular organization is necessary for progression in your career.

Only if you invest a good amount of time in a particular organization, can you go beyond testing the surface of any project and make a career impression. My quest for knowledge resulted in my appointment as a trainer for the new batches at the very start of my career. ‘Achievement,’ I said to myself then, ‘comes alongside understanding the applied details and validating them appropriately.’

Remember, the time spent in getting the subjective-focus right will be your forte for the rest of your life. There is no con to focusing on depth as it is bound to get you the strength. The sudden boom in the market amidst opportunities galore is targeting techies with the “switch jobs at the drop of a hat” syndrome. But what if 2003 were to repeat itself? That will separate the real paddy from the chaff. Your in-depth knowledge and strength will let you stand the test of time.

Achieving balance is very important for career accession. The first four years of any techie’s career should be spent in understanding as many areas and technologies as possible. Your mind is fresh and you are capable of absorbing a lot more information. Once you have progressed, then you can choose an area of specialization.

Initially, techies need to align their goals with their company goals. You will have to flow with the business. Based on your performance, your company will decide to support your next shift within technologies. It is unwise to prematurely take action on your likes and dislikes, especially if you are an average performer.

The Big Picture
Depth alone isn’t enough; one needs to have an understanding of the bigger picture. Call it the swan mechanism, where you paddle your feet under water but on the surface you look calm and composed observing nature. A good techie should know how to attain balance in his profession like the letter ‘T’. He should dig into the depth of his chosen area while he constantly looks around for emerging trends.

In my life, as I attempted to seek a holistic image, I took the initiative to speak to my company and move ahead in my industry—C-to-UNIX-to-MAINFRAME. Later on, I went ahead and seized the opportunity to work on something as new as COBOL and was under subjective glares from my colleagues. “It is the touch-me-not of technologies,” they said. But for me it was the future technology. Ten years into the industry, I did not want to repent for having missed some great technology. I applied the concepts from mainframes to modern operating systems. The comparison and contrast between the two areas broadened my horizon.

Career progression
Every career needs a step function—an opportunity that will operate as a platform to help you move ahead in the industry and in your career. While you work in any company, you should give yourself a push after a period of two years, to move ahead, on to the next level of operations. In my case, when I joined Oracle, I had to go through a coincidental yet mutual, step functioning. I was working passively on the Internet processes for almost two years, when suddenly the market cycle went up and people started to divert their attention towards our products. This was considered as a step function for us and I had to handle it proactively. If I hadn’t performed at that crucial time, it would have resulted in an average performance for both the company and me. Performing proactive step function changes at various points of time in a career is what distinguishes top performers from the rest.

Change is one thing that you should constantly continue to challenge yourself with. It makes you tough and strengthens you. Often, you are going to pick up challenges and manage the change.

The mentor
Mentoring is a challenging job. Since my early days as a trainer till today I have learnt the art of mentoring, consciously choosing the right reasons. Often in the metric stream of teaching, where your wisdom in the subject matter is limited, there is possibility of committing a mistake. Avoiding a prescriptive methodology will lead to a knowledge sharing atmosphere. It is like developing a cult mechanism, where you ask others to do exactly what you do and not necessarily in equation to the solution. Cult mechanisms should be avoided during mentoring. Most times in classrooms today you have to go beyond the topic that would engage students or trainees. Providing clear answers to the questions is what makes a good mentor. This clarity allows the techie to build the right aptitude. I definitely don’t get prescriptive when I mentor. I just remain a good sounding board. That is the key to being a successful mentor.

As a mentor one should notice people’s exponent factors. When I interact with people, I make a note of their prime exponent factors and try to apply them to my way of functioning. That arms the self with several positive factors and adds a more holistic outlook to one’s personality. A good techie never stops learning.