My Year in Review

Last years New Years resolution was to learn to play the piano. While I can’t say that I’ve succeeded, I made an honest effort for a good part of the year, and am at least closer to the goal.

Other accomplishments:

I learned some things this year too. For instance, I’ve come to believe that for me at least, the conventional wisdom about career advancement is dead wrong.

Ever since I started working full time people have been telling me how important it is for me to go back to school – and I believed them. Men I trusted and looked up to all told me that it was essential for continued career development. Going back to school has been one of my “gotta get on this” priorities for a decade now. And in fact I started taking classes at UMUC shortly before I left my last job.

But I started to realize something during my last years at Raytheon: I didn’t want the jobs that a degree could get me. Sure, Raytheon discriminated against me for my lack of a degree. Sure, if I had got my Batchelor’s I could have moved up into middle management. But I didn’t want that! Being held back at that job wasn’t the universe’s way of telling me to go back to school; it was the universe’s way of telling me to get the hell out of the aerospace/defense contracting industry!

A year and a half working in Ruby and being a part of the cutting-edge software development community has taught me that in this segment of the industry, paper is nothing, and reputation is everything. Every minute spent studying for a degree instead of blogging, contributing to Open Source software, presenting at user’s groups, etc., is wasted time from a career perspective.

I danced around this conclusion for a while, because I was hesitant to completely throw out conventional wisdom and I wondered if I was missing something. But I can’t avoid it any longer: the fact of the matter is that getting a degree would do nothing for my career now, and could very easily harm my prospects by taking precious time away from valuable community-building efforts.

So: going back to school is now officially off the table for the foreseeable future. One less thing to stress about.

That doesn’t mean I don’t want to go back to school. I’ve always loved to learn, and I’d really enjoy an opportunity to spend some time on in-depth study of a variety of topics. But my official policy going forward is now: I will not go back to school until someone pays me to do it. That doesn’t just mean footing the bill – I mean paying me to take time away from writing code so that I can study.

Which brings me to another realization: the secret to success is not to bargain and compromise for the things you want. It’s to arrange your life and your ecosystem so that other people want you to do the things you want to do – so much so that they will even pay you to be yourself. This is a lesson I think I’ll be unpacking and expanding upon for a while, and I think it’s going to have some interexting implications for my life.

My goal for 2009, simply stated, is to become rich and famous. No, really. At least for certain values of “rich” and “famous”.

To wit:

  • To increase my gross income to $120,000 a year.
  • To become a (more) prominent figure in the software development community (I need a better way to quantify this one).

I’ll be writing more about the details of how I intend to accomplish these goals in coming days.

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