Monday, April 13, 2015

Is it a job or a career?

Every so often I'll be having a conversation with someone who is not in the technology industry and the conversation will turn to the fact that people in the software industry are "always on". They note that we don't work a typical 9-5, that we're often working nights and weekends either checking email, coordinating with someone about a project we're working on, or simply writing some code.

I would venture to guess, at least from the engineers perspective, that this has a little to do with the fact that a large number of software engineers are in the industry because it was a hobby before it was a job. A lot of us decided to write software as our day job simply because we could get paid for doing something we were already doing in our free time. But that's tangential to the "always on" appearance we seem to have.

I'd like to posit that it's not something unique to the software industry but points to the difference between a job and a career. In fact I would argue that the difference between a job and a career has nothing to do with what your role is or what title is currently listed on your business card (or if you have a business card at all).

The dictionary definitions of job and career don't seem to vary very much. A job is a place you get paid for work you perform. A career is an occupation you've had for an extended period of your life. Really, you could say that the dictionary defines a career as a job that you've had for a long time. But I think those definitions miss the point. There's more to a career in my opinion, or at least a successful one.

Many people have jobs that they go to day in a day out for the majority of their lives. They work long hours, nights, and/or weekends. They stay in these jobs for many many years earning a paycheck and checking out when they're not in the office. This may be a very satisfying job but to me this is not a career.

To me, a career starts with a job that you want to be at. Not just because that job pays or has the ability for you to "turn off" when you get home. Instead, it's a job that gives you an opportunity to grow both as a person and in your field. A job that stretches you both mentally and (if you're lucky) physically. A career is challenging, causing you to navigate uncharted territory. A career is something you invest in and at the end have been changed by. 

I don't think a career is about whether you're "always on" or able to "check out" at the end of the day, it's about whether or not you're growing, changing, and being challenged.

If you're in a job that you thought was a career, what's stopping you from the career you want?

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