Your Career in Software
Are you a Producer?
by Brian Connors
People ask me all the time, with quite a bit of anxiety, the following question:
What is it I need to do to stand out, and even to just survive, at the new job I just started?
There is so much to focus on, so much competition, so much to learn ... how does one stand out? Just a few years ago, simply having the degree, smarts, or natural ambition was enough. Companies were overwhelmed with demand. Companies measured subsistence by the year, not the quarter, and certainly not the month. New workers who came up in the .com boom never really understood the term net value. Whether or not they produced a thing, they could coast along for years in an Operations seat, with an Operations mindset.
Times have changed dramatically. Operations can almost be a dirty word; these days it's all about Production. Are you a Producer? Are you adding tangible, measurable net value that can quickly and easily be traced to improving the bottom line? This is where your focus needs to be! You can be focusing on ethics, doing the right thing, building a better world, and learning your technical craft. I do hope you focus on those without exception, but at the end of the day, if your company isn't making a net profit, then you won't have a chance to do any of those things.
When I tell folks they need to be ready to produce, and remember I'm speaking almost exclusively to techies, they commonly don't understand. "But I'm not interested in being a salesman! I don't know how to sell. I'm just getting started - how am I supposed to drive business? I'm a coder, not a business person!" The concept of having to be a PRODUCER scares people. They think it's direct selling, it's someone else's job. Don't fool yourself. These days, every CEO, CIO, IT Director, App Dev Manager, and on down the line absolutely must see production from each and every member of their team. Sadly, they often don't even know how to translate that production into real net value. It's up to you! You don't have to sell, you don't have to bring in more clients, but what you must school yourself on from the first day is exactly where the revenue is coming from that supports the company, your division, your team, and you! It can be a dicey question to ask - bosses are sometimes hesitant to give up that information at the level of detail you need - but persist. The more you know about where the profits are coming from, the more you can focus on that with every hour you put in.
Simply knowing the core source of revenue might very well be the difference between you impressing the boss and you wondering why your position is being eliminated six months down the road despite your well-constructed, perfect code. Efficient, clean, fast code is as useless as bug-riddled hacker garbage if it doesn't get close to helping money come in the door in the relatively near term. We all need the shiniest new development environment. We all need the very newest server infrastructure. It's frustrating as heck to have to wait on any of those tools that could add so much efficiency to the company's offerings. In fact, if you could just take that six months and build that great new tool, boy would it add value down the line, no doubt about that. Everybody would love it. It would really make a big difference. BUT ... does that tool contribute directly to the revenue stream in some pretty obvious and direct way now? If not, it really will have to wait. If not, it's not a very good idea to push for it, complain about it, or be frustrated about it ... you'll earn the Operations mindset title in no time, instead of the Producer title you want and need. Hey, be the hero, build it anyway, but don't even think about building it on the company clock during the time when core revenue driving tasks has to be sacrificed.
You'll be amazed at the clarity that comes to your system construction, development, and maintenance efforts once you take the time to wrap your head around the fact that, no matter how specific your technical task, you are working for a company that can only afford to pay you if they are generating net profitable revenue, and doing so every single quarter. Are you bringing direct and obvious value to the mission of net profitability? If you don't know the answer to that question, then it's likely that your boss doesn't either! Make sure both of you know without a shadow of a doubt that the answer to that question is YES!
If you have specific questions about what you can do to be the best employee you can be, don't hesitate to reach out to me, using the contact info below. Of course, most of my time, like yours, has to be focused on creating net value and profits for my company, but I truly enjoy helping young techies. I'd be happy to share my experiences and advice with you any time for free - just ask and I'll get back to you as soon as I possibly can.
About the Author
Brian Connors is I.T. Division Manager at AllSearch Professional Staffing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (410) 560-1702, or at his LinkedIn page.
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