Education vs. Compensation

981 words  |  
Categories:  Life, Work Commentary
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As my fifth year at Message Systems comes to a close, I’ve decided to move on to a new adventure in my career. I’ve been interviewing with a wide variety of candidates for the last couple weeks and I keep confronting the same struggle every time I get an offer: Do I take a position where I’d earn the most and have a lofty title, or do I take the job with lower compensation, but where I can learn cool new things?

When I first set out to find a new job, I thought I could get both. Hell, I probably could. But the more interviews I do, the more I realize that I wouldn’t really want to work for a lot of the places that I could get both from. So I spoke with my — incredibly talented, successful, supportive and tolerant — wife about it, and she told me I should prioritize the stuff I truly love about working: culture, learning and creating.

And I think she’s right. As expensive as it is to live in the San Francisco bay area, I don’t have to worry about shouldering that weight on my own. I don’t have to keep upping my compensation at each position I take. As long as I make enough to pay my bills and put a little away for retirement, money is no longer the primary concern for selecting a career move.

Which is weird for me, considering I was on food stamps less than a decade ago.

Food Stamps Save Lives
Bit of a tangent, but this is why I support social security funding. I was on assistance for a little over a year and now I pay 10x more taxes per year than I ever took out.

So here’s what I want

I want to learn better industry-wide practices for the technology I already know. While working at Message Systems, I was the sole programmer in their entire marketing department. I spearheaded the company’s transitions to the Drupal and WordPress CMSes. I lobbied with our Creative Services Manager to get us to get all of our web properties responsive, and then executed that project when it was green lit.

Those projects and many others like it were all laid down end-to-end (and in many occasions overlapping each other). That didn’t leave my team a lot of time to iterate and learn every single best practice.  Because of this, I’d love to work around other developers, especially if I can get some code review from veterans in my craft.

I want to pick up new technologies like Angular, Node.js and MVC frameworks. I’ve been able to tinker with these in small sandbox projects so far, but I don’t have much practical experience yet. Most of my education in the last few years has been on agile scrum methodology, developer management, and SEO / CRO strategies. I’m glad for these new skills, but I miss working in the trenches.

I want to build more intelligent and inspiring friendships. Being around the brightest individuals in the bay area, the country, or even the world is a great feeling. I’ve met a lot of awesome people since moving here almost 5 years ago, and I want to keep that going. I crave a work environment that cares about their company’s culture and wants people like me to be a part of it.

Silicon Valley Coder Group
Gavin Belson: “It’s weird. They always travel in groups of five. These programmers, there’s always a tall, skinny white guy; short, skinny Asian guy; fat guy with a ponytail; some guy with crazy facial hair; and then an East Asian guy. It’s like they trade guys until they all have the right group.”

And here’s what I don’t want

I don’t want a flashy title. A few years ago, I thought that ambition was a virtue in itself. Climbing the corporate ladder is everyone’s goal, right? Well, I hit the senior manager level and I think I may have bounced off of it. I can’t say I’ll always feel this way, but now I don’t think I want to be purely management. I’d be fine with taking on a similar role to what I had at Message Systems, but I definitely want to be more hands-on.

I don’t need a crazy valuation. Sure, it’d be nice to earn the compensation necessary to finally stop renting. It’d be really nice to finish paying off my last remaining student loan early. I’m sure it sounds stupid, but I learned this from watching Silicon Valley. If I think of myself as a brand, like I have been trying to do, taking a high valuation (a big bump in starting compensation at a new company) could set me up to fail. I think I’d rather be brought into an existing team and given some ramp-up time. I can shoot for a better valuation later.

I don’t want a quiet corner where no one bothers me. There have been times in my career where I just wanted to blend in and be a cog in the machine — productive, reliable and that’s it. Now I want to be a bigger part of that machine. I’d like to be noticed, corrected when I do something wrong, listened to when I make suggestions, and accountable in the best and worst times. Once in a while I’ll want my headphones on and my coder tunnel vision in full effect, but I think I have more to offer and gain from collaboration.

Nathan and Caleb from Ex Machina
Sometimes I’m not sure which of these guys I’d be… (Ex Machina)

And maybe I’m wrong…

but that’s okay. I’ve changed what I want every time I’ve moved geographically or switched jobs. And every time I’ve been able to learn and find joy in what I do.

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