I thought I wanted a career, but it turns out I only wanted a paycheck.
I read that quote, it was taped to a cash register at Espresso Royale, back in July, about a month into my job as a technology trainer at the university, after having spent seven years producing web sites full-time.
Tomorrow marks six months into this job, and I’m beginning to work through the transition. Here are some ideas I’m starting to grasp—or at least wrestle with.
Work can be easy and it can be slow-paced.
Compared to starting and running an Internet consulting company for the last three years, and managing multiple web site productions for the last six or seven years, this job is a snap. There are far fewer deadlines and there just isn’t a lot of complexity or change in the work.
Plus, my role is far narrower than it was. I don’t need to be concerend about managing client relationships, doing accounting and other paperwork (which I stink at anyway), doing sales, writing proposals. And, I have far more time to produce far less.
However, just because it is easier, doesn’t mean I’m less concerend about doing it well. I like teaching most of these short technology courses, and I’ve been able to create some new courses by drawing on my background. I want to increase the quality of the overall program, and since I am not in a management position, one way I can do this is by example and contribution.
Do I want a career or simply a paycheck?
So, I don’t have an answer to this one. I have had a career in the field of web production. I am no longer actively participating in that field, though I don’t really feel like I’ve grown rusty yet. I have been keeping up on industry news and have continued conversations with colleagues who are still active in the industry.
In a skilled trade, people would develop their careers roughly by becoming an Apprentice, then a Journeyman, then a Master. And they would live by their trade. It seems like switching to a different trade would be foolish after a point.
Yet, that is what I have done. And it seems common these days, doesn’t it? People reinvent themselves. They change careers several times in their lives, right? Some do, anyway.
I think I would rate myself a fairly advanced Journeyman web producer. I have built or led development on hundreds of web sites since 1995. I’ve specialized in web site usability, information architecture, project management, writing for the web, and semantic markup. I have mentored a handful of developers and designers, a few of whom continue to work in the field.
I am not sure what it would take to be a Master, and unlike former times, I was able to study under many Masters, without their knowledge. Names? In no particular order: J. Nielsen, D. Norman, E. Meyer, J. Zeldman, the pros at Adaptive Path (I found Peter Merholz’s blog years ago and later discovered some cool things that jjg was doing), L. Rosenfeld, P. Morville, and as I think, so many others.
What would possess me to make such a drastic move away from my career in web production? Desperate measures follow desperate times, so it goes.
So, at this point I’m much closer to a career in web production. But, if I spend a few years doing technology training then it might start looking like a career in technology training. Which would I like more? At this point, I prefer web production as it is more dynamic and challenging work.
But I don’t dislike what I’m doing now. It helps that I have a good supervisor, a steady income that can be budgeted (unlike the variations in income as a self-employed person), and benefits for my family. Oh, and tomorrow I get to start using vacation time. I haven’t had a vacation in about four years.
Which is to say, right now I’m working for the paycheck.
Early last month, Andy Johanson retired from the university. He had worked here for nearly forty years.
Forty years in the same building, the same office. Incredible. Seriously, I’m in awe.
My work history shows much more frequent changes. I worked for four or five years at the MSU Writing Center, a year or so at the LCC Writing Center, three years at University Relations here at MSU, then three years in my company. And now, I’m half a year into this position.
How does someone stay in the same type of position for so long? Granted, Andy’s job itself must have gone through substantial changes as it is in the computing field. Still, how did he last forty years? One piece of that picture that impresses me is that he didn’t seem in a rut or all that burnt-out. Maybe he is just good at hiding it, but I’ve seen other people who’ve worked in university or state jobs for a long time, and God forbid I should ever become so cynical and detached.
At the risk of people at MSU reading this, I’ve already applied for a different job, though it didn’t work out. I saw a position open at a company in Ann Arbor, Michigan for a Manager of Interface Design and it really matched up with what I want to do. It involved managing and mentoring a team of interface designs for a company whose products are delivered via the web. When I’ve had the opportunity to, I have really enjoyed managing and mentoring web designers and developers, so that would suit me. And, it would involve not only interface design, but also getting to the root of the information architecture of their products. The company called and let me know that they had already decided to promote someone internally to that position. They asked if I was interested in an interface designer position. I’m not. If I move, it will need to be into a leadership and management position, I think.
I’m trying to quiet my spirit and accept where I am and my changed role, at least for the time being.