What Drives Me and What I Want to Do
I've been thinking very hard the last week about what I want in a job. I've had 5 intern/externships all at very different companies. From Product Management at Deutsche Bahn, the German national railway, to State Street Bank, to Software Engineer at NextJump, to Management Consultant at Altman Vilandrie, back to Product Management at Disney Parks and Resorts Online almost everything about the opportunities has been different. As I am about to embark on my search for the right opportunity after MIT, I wanted to distill the core aspects I am looking for in a job.
- I want a challenging work environment
- The industry/work doesn’t matter as much as being pushed to learn something new and improve
- I want an all-consuming project that I want to stay late for and to be proud of
- A group of super smart peers to work with and motivate me to improve
- A team that complements each other and provides unique perspectives
- A boss that provides constant growth challenges
- Somewhere where I can add unique value and make an impact
- Somewhere I can take responsibility for my work
I want to work on hard problems. I want something that is a challenge. As a management consultant, when you walk into a new company it's like a giant puzzle. You have only a few weeks to put the pieces together. Often the job you were hired for is not the actual problem, so you need to find out why you were hired. In product management, you need to understand what people are looking for and what your team is capable of building. You need to break apart the aspects of what makes a product successful and then build the pieces up into something new.
I need a constant stream of challenges. I don't want to feel comfortable. I want more. I despise when people say "Not my area; I don't understand it" Well, put the work in and understand it! This is part of the reason I've taken such a broad arrange of classes at MIT. I don’t want to stop learning. I always want a new adventure. Complacency is deadly.
I want to take pride in my work. It doesn't matter if it's a product, report, code, or new process. I want to feel like I've really nailed it. It is the best I can do. And I'd prefer if others felt like it was really good work as well. It's that feeling you get when what you have built is used and beloved by people.
I want to reach perfection. Now of course this is impossible (it's like infinity, you can't reach it). But each time I repeat an action, I want to do better than last time. I don't want to drop the ball. Instead when sustaining I want each cycle to run better than the last one. I can only improve by studying what I did and how to improve it. One book calls this "deliberate practice." This counts as a challenge to me.
I want to understand how the world works. I want to ask WHY. I want to get to the bottom of the problem. Economists look at incentives. I look at those as well. What is that person's incentive to do an action. If their actions don't align with their supposed incentives, then you haven't figured out the why. Keep looking.
I love the joy of discovery - When you've just thought of something new and the answer just "clicks". That feeling you get when you've cracked the case, came up with a perfect answer that considers all the possibilities; when your answer seems water tight. That feeling when it all seems clear - that's why things are that way!
Responsibility and freedom
I'd prefer to be able to contribute at a level where I am integral to the work product. What would the work product have looked like without me? It better not be the same. Instead, it should really be much better. I want to add value.
More than just adding value by being an extra pair of hands, I want to add unique value. I should be able to contribute in a way few other people can. That is how I can add the most value and get the most satisfaction from what I am doing.
Naturally, this means I want a job where I can contribute my vision and viewpoint.
My work has to reflect my honest view point. I don't just want to do someone's back office tasks. I need to be able to believe in what I do.
That does not mean at all that I can just push my view with fiat power. You are never in a position where you don't answer to someone. As a manager you answer to your manager. As the boss you have to answer to your investors. And investors still have to contend with government regulating their company.
I want people to push back. I want to have a discussion. I want to talk about it and possibly convince me. I want to be convinced. That's how I learn.
Though at the same time I don’t like it when the decision is made according to the HIPPO (highest paid person's opinion). I'm fine presenting my view to my boss and justifying my decisions and then discussing it, but I don't like it when the boss drops in and decides something without fully understanding the reasoning and background.
Designing by team is fine, designing by committee isn't. What's the difference? A team works together most of the working day. A committee meets once a month. Only a team can do something truly inspired. A team can collect input and goals from a committee, but must do the trade offs itself.
I want a job where people trust me to meet my objectives without day to day supervision. Now when you are just getting started you need day to day help. I will get my work done. I've never understood why companies try and block websites such as Facebook. Trust your employees to get their work done.
But at the same time I want the responsibility of delivering. With freedom comes responsibility. If I commit to delivering something I will work overtime to get it done. I'll strive to meet the goal. But don't treat me like a child.
Certainly you get this as you move up in a company. I realize it might take a few years to achieve this. It's a challenge to find an entry level position like this.
I want coworkers who are smarter than me. That is how you learn and grow. Like the carrot that always out of reach, my coworkers should set a bar that I need to reach for. This is a challenge to me.
I want to be part of a team of super smart people. A team I can rely on to get stuff done. A team that provides a series of unique perspectives that I didn't think of.
I want a place that cares about my development by clearly and honestly measures your performance and tells you how to improve. I want a place that lays out a clear growth plan about the goals one has to hit to move up. This provides something to strive for. While you can attempt to benchmark your performance against others, sometimes an external point of view is needed.
But I also want the opportunity to mentor others. I really like "taking someone under my wing" and helping them learn what I've discovered. I want to seem them go out there and use what they have learned to succeed as well.
Workplaces become no fun when you can't trust your coworkers. I f you think your coworkers are not treating you with respect and honesty, the workplace quickly unravels.
Nuts & Bolts
Since solving challenges and enjoying adventures is so important to me, I'm willing to put in long hours for a product/project that I really believe in. I want a project that I want to stay late for. But at the same time I don't believe in long hours for long hours sake. Rearranging text on a slide is only important if you are improving it.
At MIT, one of the things I got a challenge in was sustaining a schedule taking 7 classes. I had to be almost ruthlessly efficient in how I planned out my day. I liked this challenge and would prefer a situation that keeps me busy and challenged.
Recognition plays a part of this as well, and it's the same as any employee. You should feel like you are valuable. I've often found that your compensation roughly correlates with how important you are to the company, and since I want the greater responsibility and impact this works out great. While I've set a minimum level of what I need to live comfortably, compensation can be used as proxy for responsibility and impact, which I value highly.
At least now, travel is an adventure for me. It helps me understand more about how the world works. Even a drab downtown convention hotel is part of a 70s approach to urban planning that is totally out of fashion today; part of a change of preference in young professionals.
For looking at a home base, I think I am urban person. I want to live close to the action. Although in some ways I enjoyed having a car this summer, I still prefer being in a walk and transit friendly environment. I would prefer to be near other people like me for companionship.
In a workplace, a non-diverse environment is more comfortable. But I think you often lose stuff by being in such an environment.
A workplace needs to provide the tools I need to be efficient. Provisioning a PC with two screens shouldn't be problem. Same with having work email on your cell phone and dialing in from home, if needed. I hope the value I provide offsets these extra expenses.
A companies HR department is a good insight in the companies' culture. How fast do they get back to you? How are their emails and letters formatted? Consistently? How is a hiring decision made? How long does it take? I need to take this into account.
Putting it all together
Now some of the things I have written may seem fairly cheesy. Certainly most management platitudes seem the same way. But it's only when you think about them further that you realize it is easy for companies miss them. In particular I've pulled these from what I've liked and not liked about my previous experiences. A fair amount of reading between the lines may be required.
And certainly I won't find the perfect job. Every job has its ups and downs. But I want to pick something which has the most of these characteristics. And many of things, such as advancement, are not relevant at start ups, meaning I'd have to find some way to substitute them.
Some of these are even contradictory. On one hand I want to be a small fish in a big pond in order to be able to learn from peers. But exerting my vision is more appropriate towards being a big fish in a small pond. This is a trade off I need to make.
Certainly some of these trade offs will change based on what state I am in my career. In 10 years this list may look completely different. And I hope it does. At that point I will be a different stage in my life and looking for different things.
Nothing above should be construed that I can't or won't change to what the job requires. Certainly I've already come a long way from where I was entering MIT. I consciously picked internships outside of the traditional fold most CS people follow. I've come to realize and appreciate why popular jobs are popular. And I will certainly continue to change and adopt, but I wanted to write from what I've found makes me happiest.