The word "career" is loaded with so many expectations.
Over the past year and half, I've really wrestled with the significance of this word. I started my career knowing that I definitely wanted to learn and grow as a developer of technology. I was always striving to learn how to develop in a new language or learn a new facet of how the sausage gets made, so to speak. To that end, I spent a good ten years dedicated to developing web-based experiences. I was pretty confident that I could do this — and more — and so I embarked on a new phase of my career.
I decided to transition away from the familiar world of entertainment and execution into strategy and an industry I've never worked in before. While I've enjoyed the fact that my technology background has allowed me to dip my toe into various industries, it's been truly eye-opening working in the financial services industry. The amount of regulation we are subject to (and that I must now be aware of in my day-to-day work) and the volume of outsourcing (across all kinds of functions) is pretty staggering. I've also come to find that I miss the good ole days when I knew what I was doing from one day to the next. Being in a more strategic role means that as strategies change, so does what you are doing; there's definitely less exposure to that volatility at the developer level (or at least, maybe you don't feel the ambiguity as ultimately someone is always telling you what to build).
That said, I recently created a small web application and I felt like I was back in my element. I created the app for my husband to be able to update his podcast feed on his own; there are definitely services that do this but since we have the means, I figured I would build this myself. It's nice to have a compact finished product; this reminds me of a previous job I held where I did get to make a lot of decisions on product direction but I was also directly involved in building the interface to support those decisions. Today, it takes a village to get anything done at work. This is great when it works but frustrating when it doesn't. It can definitely trigger a feeling of impotence when you go to work day in and day out but have little output to show for it.
I'm not sure if those feelings are a product of the company I work for currently or a reaction to not being in control of everything. Either way, feelings of dissatisfaction at work made it sort of challenging to me when my high school alma mater reached out to solicit me to attend their Career Day presentation this year. While I wasn't feeling particularly accomplished at the time, I decided to attend Career Day because above all, I think it is important to give back.
I went to a very very small private Catholic school in a pretty residential neighborhood in the Bronx. I went to high school on a full scholarship thus my inclination to want to give back when I have the opportunity to do so (either with my wallet or my time — I get that they are both valuable in different ways). I remember, however, that our school was always handicapped having been so small. While so many of the kids I went to college with had been able to take AP Computer Science in high school, we didn't even have that as an option. And that's just scratching the surface, there were a number of clubs or activities that were not feasible for the organization to do well, so they just never happened. Yes We Code, Code.org, Girls Who Code, and other such organizations didn't exist yet.
And so, despite all the odds, I ended up going to New York University and graduating with a degree in Computer Science. What I realized, in thinking about Career Day, is that no one can take that accomplishment away from me. And while my day-to-day role is different, I'm still a facilitator for technology — and that's something I'm still passionate about. Now, I'm not limited by the extent to which I can build something; I can lead teams to build extraordinary things that I would've never been able to do on my own. Maybe I'm not doing those particularly extraordinary things just yet, but feel good about my prospects to get there one day.
All that said, I started thinking about why I still want to work in the tech arena, given some of my current frustrations with the tech industry practices in general, and what I was going to impart to the young women I would be speaking to at Career Day. I ended up sharing all the different industries I've worked in and the different experiences I've been exposed to by virtue of working at those companies. I also highlighted the fact that technology is ever-changing. This means that there is always something new to learn so, perhaps to their chagrin, the learning doesn't simply stop after high school and college. I've always enjoyed the fact that things are evolving because it does allow for some really interesting things to happen (or unnecessary things like co-watching commitment rings…).
The last thing I emphasized for the young ladies I met with was the dire need for them in the technology industry, and also so many positions of power in this and other industries. Women's issues will never be addressed by large organizations in their product design and other decisions they make if women do not have seats at the tables where these decisions are made! This is probably the biggest reason why I decided it was important for me to be at Career Day. I'm hopeful that the world they enter when they graduate will be a little more welcoming to them in their careers.
After all my talk and heavy thoughts around how to convey my career interests when I'm not necessarily the happiest at my job, many of the sophomores at career day probably couldn't wait to get out of there and go the movies or hang out with their boyfriends or whatever activity they had planned after half a day of school activity. That said, for the ones that were engaged, they seemed to want to know how I knew. And how they would know what's good for them. I ended up telling them, and essentially telling myself, that they need to pick a direction and go. You make a decision to head in a direction and you devote yourself to it and exhaust it as much as you can. When you feel there's nothing more to do, you can move on and pick a different direction. Definitely going to take my own advice and try to exhaust as much as I can out where I can professionally while I figure out what I think the future holds for me.