The Job Experience, Tech Support: Year #4, Part 1

I’m An Expert And So Are You

jh

Padawan, Knight, Master

None of us start out as professional bad-asses.  We enter our fields, some shakier than others, and begin the training process.

Hopefully you have a core knowledge set which positions you for success.  Luke used to bullseye whomp rats while flying his T-16 prior to starting his Jedi training. I messed around with computers in high school and got a BS before joining SoftwareCompany.  It’s the same idea for most of us.

Still, when you initially join, you feel unsteady.  You’re a neophyte, after all — it takes years of hardening to progress down the path to Pro.

Math says that at the beginning of Year 4, I’d already been training for three years.   One thing that I learned from all of the books I had just read about career progression in the San Francisco Library was that doing something for three to four years, 40+ hours a week, makes you an expert in most cases.

I thought about this for a while and realized I’d done it.  I guessed that for every year that passed, I was actually working 50% more than the 40-hour a week average, meaning that my 3 years in the industry effectively counted for four and a half regular years.

My analysis pre-dated Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule  (a concept which states that once you’ve put in about 10K hours into a field, you probably have an elite level of skill) but it was the same general idea.  If you’ve logged those hours, you’re elite, or close.  Well, had I logged them?

(60 hours per week) * (50 weeks per year) * (3 years) = 9000 hours

 

Yep, just about.  Add in some extra time for the ground level computer-science education I received in college, and I’d made it to the magical 10K mark.

I’m a Master at what I’m doing for SoftwareCompany.  Hard to believe, but true. If you’ve put in 3-4 years at your job, it’s more than likely that you’re one yourself.

Clearly Darth Maul has put in his 4 years.

Darth Maul definitely put in his time.


Masters Possess Power

Realizing that I was a master was only half of the empowerment equation.  The missing piece?  Knowledge that my employer needed me.

I took a step back and thought about my yearly evaluations with management.  My performance metrics were always high.  I was consistently in the top 20% of my team in the numbers that mattered the most: case closures and customer satisfaction.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there could be no doubt that not only was I an expert, but I was also valued as a reliable, extremely productive member of the team.  In other words, despite market conditions and occasional layoffs, my employer ultimately depended on me.

I hadn’t really framed things in these terms before.  Prior to this period of education and reflection, I worked from exactly the opposite position:

I need the job.  They don’t need me.

When you feel that you need the job, you’ll do anything to keep it.  Me and my coworkers were dumping tons of unpaid overtime into the system as a result.

But now I wasn’t so sure.  I asked myself if I really did need the job.  From the perspective of my 40K of student loans and my monthly rent, yeah, I did.  On the other hand, I didn’t need this particular job.  Even though there was scarcity in the employment market, I started to believe I could find alternate work.  My confidence went up because I was just starting to view myself as a highly competent employee instead of a green newbie.

I flipped the statement on its head:

I don’t need this job.  This job needs me.  (I just need a job.)

It felt right.   One of the books I’d read at the library explained in great detail how much it costs to hire and train a replacement employee.  The total loss was, minimally, a full year of compensation for the individual in question.  So my company would lose over 70K if I left.

Total revelation.  I had more power than I realized.  Sure, I was a peon, but I was a peon that farmed fields and unclogged irrigation ditches.  When the livestock started dying, I’d dispose of the body properly, avoiding the impact of putrefying stink and disease.  I was a peon that showed up for work every day and took care of things with minimal direction or complaint.  In other words, I was a pretty awesome slave, from the perspective of my employer.

I was like a broke man at a casino who feels around in his pockets and realizes quite unexpectedly that they’re full of chips.

Some of those chips were about to get cashed.

Unlimited Power!

Take that, Job!

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8 Responses to The Job Experience, Tech Support: Year #4, Part 1

  1. Dwayne Hoover says:

    Oh man, you totally owned Mr. Data!!! I am loving this series 🙂

    • livingafi says:

      Hi Dwayne
      I will say that at the time, it didn’t feel like I owned him (Mr. Data) — In fact, going into that meeting I was pretty sure I was going to get fired on the spot. I wasn’t even super happy when I realized that things worked out — what I felt was much closer to simple relief. I’m very glad you’re getting a kick out of these posts.

  2. Wow, that was only year 4! I guess I was lucky to have significant variety in my projects for the first 4 years, I felt like I was just hanging on by my fingernails while I learned what the heck I was getting paid to be an expert at. Getting a PE license my 5th year helped coalesce my self confidence and I did something similar to what you describe the following year, after one of the most miserable years of my life. Middle finger lightsaber, I could definitely use one of those, mine was more of a slow steady wimpering until my manager finally confronted me and I felt like I had nothing to lose (except a job I could barely drag myself to). Looking forward to Year 5!

    • livingafi says:

      Hi EV
      Yep, only Year 4 and it’s still not over. I had to split it into parts because it’s so unbelievably long. I know what you mean about hanging on by your fingernails — that’s how I felt year 1 and 2 for sure, before I started making real improvements in skill levels and efficiency. It takes time. Glad you corrected your own Year 3 issue. When work is THAT bad, it colors every aspect of your existence and feels like there’s no escape. And of course there IS an escape but when things are going that poorly you’re usually blind to the solution.

  3. I generally agree with you on the alcohol. I keep trying to find a balance but I’m not sure there is one. Whatever it is, I’ve definitely been consuming too much the past couple weeks.

    My version of the job experience would be terribly boring reading, but this is entertaining and enlightening, so keep it up 🙂 I imagine it’s cathartic for you as well.

    • livingafi says:

      re: Vitamin A. I’ve come to the conclusion that some people can find balance and some people can’t. Personally I’m not so good at it and my life runs better when I stay away. But GC, listen, I’d love to read job experience posts from you or anyone else. I find this stuff incredibly interesting — even when it’s not. Such large chunks of the human experience are invested in jobs, even kind of boring ones, and I feel there’s always value in learning what life is like for other people. BTW, just finished up Year 4 and pub’d it.

  4. Bank says:

    I quit a job in year 4 of my career, walking away from more money than I had ever expected to make in my life because I couldn’t get along with a new manager (immediate cause) and because the amoral nature of my position became impossible to square with my values (underlying cause). It makes a great story now, but at the time I thought I was going to throw up from the stress and cry from the relief.

    Really loving this blog. I have spent far too much of my workday following your progress. Keep up the great work.

  5. StockBeard says:

    Woohoo! I’m reading this series like I’m watching some sort of very cool TV show, totally awesome that you stuck it to Mr. Data 🙂

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