Are You Where You Should Be Mid-Career If You Are A Technologist?

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Wednesday, 9.50pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The biggest mistake that you can make is to believe that you are working for somebody else. Job security is gone. The driving force of a career must come from the individual. Remember: Jobs are owned by the company, you own your career! – Earl Nightingale

Do you ever wonder if you are at the right place in your career – whether you’ve made the right choices along the way?

If you have, you’re not alone.

People have wondered about this for a while.

Which is why Living with technology: Issues at mid-career by Lotte Bailyn is an interesting read.

It caught my eye because it had the name Edgar H. Schein associated with it who, you will remember, is sort of a granddaddy of organisational development.

It’s a study of the MIT graduates from 1951, 1955 and 1959, over 2,000 in all with 22 women – so it’s skewed in all kinds of ways.

But here’s what matters if you have a technical background.

Unless you’re an academic or working in a firm that highly values engineering you’re unlikely to be in a good place if you’re still working an engineering role.

That is, if you’re an employee in a firm.

If you’re independent then things look better for you.

The image above shows how things tend to go for technical people working jobs by the time they reach mid career.

The first distinction is whether they are still technically focused or whether they have moved to more of a human focus – management in other words.

They might have also stopped trying to climb the career ladder and focus on other things that are important to them – like family.

The second distinction is whether they are high or low performers.

For high performers the route to follow if they want to stay technical is academia or professional engineering where their experience and doctorates will count for something.

In non-engineering companies they will not be recognised in the way they might want to be.

In those companies the high performers stop doing work and start ordering others around instead.

What matters is your place in the hierarchy – the higher up the better.

The corresponding roles for low performers is working as a technician or doing low level supervisory or line management roles.

That, then, is your unfortunate lot if you put work first.

If you don’t – then there are a couple more options.

If you’re good at what you do you could be kept on for your expertise – as a consultant to add value that isn’t in house.

If you’re less of a performer you might still be a useful pair of hands attached to a brain that can help out some of the time.

If you look at this image from an employees point of view it looks pretty depressing.

And actually, that’s the point.

As the quote that starts this post says you are in charge of your career – what you do at work is just a job.

If you aren’t recognised for what you do, or worse, you’re prevented from showing what you can do then you’re in trouble.

And need to spend some time thinking about what you could be doing.

The responsibility, however, also rests with employers.

The fact is that all the people in the various quadrants have something to contribute – but you have to be able to accommodate them.

And if you’re in a position where you make decisions about this kind of thing it’s worth remembering that the people this study is based on graduated sixty years ago.

This type of situation should be obsolete – but it’s still the norm.

Even that last quadrant – “part timers”, which to be clear is something that I put in and isn’t in the book, could be seen as dismissive and disrespectful of the work someone does.

I suppose if you were a good employer you would try and work with your people to help them figure out where they are, where they want to be and what would make them happy.

Or you could complain about how hard it is to get good staff.

Either way the world moves on.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

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