Forget your title and your role

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If I were to give career advice anyone entering the tech industry, it would be to forget your title and your role.

Today’s companies don’t want developers, testers, analysts, and project managers.

They want people who can solve problems, be trusted to follow through on commitments, and get things done.

Companies don’t want people who show up at work, waiting to be given their orders and told what to do.

They want thinkers, people who can take initiative, and can’t help but want to do good work.

The companies who are going to win, are those who are able to ignore the traditional titles and roles, and make the role fit the person.

Because at the end of the day, titles and roles don’t matter. It’s the people filling them who do.

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Be thankful for your Art

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Not everyone has a project they get up at 4am every morning to work on.
Most people would rather watch TV then write a blog post are create a great piece of work.

But that’s changing.

When I finished writing Samurai I was stressed. Not because I was worried about how the book would sell, or how popular it would get. I was stressed because I didn’t know what I was going to work on next.

This is nothing new. Startups suffer this when they get acquired. Directors when they finish movies. And authors when they finish books. They become vagabonds. Wandering the desert in search of their next project. And they are miserable until they find it.

So if you’ve found your passion, and you’ve got a great project you are working on. Enjoy it.

And never take for granted the joy that comes from working on it – because of course it’s not work.

The Quotable Walt Disney

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Having recently returned from Disney World, I find I am flushed with insights and quotes after immersing myself in all things Disney for the last 10 days.

Here are some of my favorites quotes from a book I recently read on Walt and his philosophies on life and business.

We allow no geniuses around our studios.

I could never convince the financiers that Disneyland was feasible, because dreams offer too little collateral.

I’ve never believed in doing sequels. I didn’t want to waste the time I have doing a sequel; I’d rather be using that time doing something new and different. It goes back to when they wanted me to do more pigs (Three Little Pigs).

When we opened Disneyland, a lot of people got the impression that it was a get-rich-quick thing, but they didn’t realize Disneyland was this great organization that I built here at the Studio, and they all got into it and we were doing it because we loved to do it.

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A word may be said in regard to the concept and conduct of Disneyland’s operational tone. Although various sections will have the fun and flavor or a carnival or amusement park, there will be none of the ‘pitches’, game wheels, sharp practices, and devices designed to milk the visitor’s pocketbook.

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I had different costs estimates; one time it was three and half million and then I kept fooling around a little more with it and got it up to seven and a half million and I kept fooling around a little more and pretty soon it was twelve and a half and I think when we opened Disneyland it was seventeen million dollars.

Everyone needs deadlines. Even the beavers. They loaf around all summer, but when they are faced with the winter deadline, they work like fury. If we didn’t have deadlines, we’d stagnate.

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If I were a fatalist, or a mystic, which I decidedly am not, it might be appropriate to say I believe in my lucky star. But I reject ‘luck’ – I feel every person creates his own ‘determinism’ by discovering his best aptitudes and following them undeviatingly.

No matter what the provocation, I never fire a man who is honestly trying to deliver a job. Few workers who become established at the Disney Studio ever leave voluntarily or otherwise, and many have been on the payroll all their working lives.

Happiness is a state of mind. It’s just according to the way you look at things. So I think happiness is contentment but it doesn’t mean you have to have wealth. All individuals are different and some of us just wouldn’t be satisfied with just carrying out a routine job and being happy.

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You reach a point where you don’t work for money.

Some people forget that you can still do good work even though you work with dollar bills. We took almost nine years to make Fantasia, and if we had to do it again I’d take a long hard look at it, because today it would cost us fifteen million dollars. At some state or other I have to walk in and tell the boys, ‘OK. Start wrapping it up.’ If I didn’t, we’d never get the work finished. But that doesn’t mean we pull back on quality.

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Everyone has been remarkably influenced by a book, or books. In my case it was a book on cartoon animation. I discovered it in Kansas City Library at the time I was preparing to make motion-picture animation my life’s work. The book told me all I needed to know as a beginner – all about the the arts and the mechanics of making drawing that move on the theatre screen. From the basic information I could go on to develop my own way of movie storytelling. Find that book was one of the most important and useful events in my life. It happened at just the right time. The right time for reading a story or an article or a book is important. By trying too hard to read a book that, for our age and understanding, is beyond us, we may tire of it. Then, even after, we’ll avoid it and deny ourselves the delights it holds.

There are some gems in there – quotes that really resonate with me (especially on the virtues of hard work, aligning talent, and putting your heart into it).

I hope this quotes do the same for you.

Stop worrying about what other people are doing

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The web can be a pretty intimidating place.
Everywhere you look you can find pockets of excellence.

Some companies are building and releasing products that are regularly changing how we work and play.

Others are creating game changing frameworks affecting how people are selling goods and services on the internet.

Or maybe you just read about a young man who conquered most of the known world at the tender age of 30.

When comparing yourself to others, it’s easy to get down on yourself and ask

what have I done for the world lately.

Don’t.

For one it’s not a fair comparison (Jobs had Woz and Alexander had an army).

Secondly it prevents you from using YOUR god given gifts and doing what you were meant to do.

Steven Pressfield says this much more eloquently than I am. But just know that all you need to do is figure out:

  • what your really good at
  • what you have a great passion for
  • and how you can make a little money to support yourself and those you love

and the rest will take care of it’s self.

Stop comparing yourself to others and do what no one else in this world can. And that is be you.

Pretend you are going to be there forever

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Wherever you are working, pretend you are going to be there for ever.

This is especially important if you are a contractor.
When you act like you are going to be somewhere forever (and that it’s YOU who is going to be maintaining this software) you behave differently.

You start to write more tests.
You don’t mind creating the occasional support document.
You clean up as you go.
And you are less likely to sweep things under the rug.
You are nicer to people (you are going to be here forever after all).
And you start to care.

Making this attitude a habit isn’t just good for the soul. It’s good for the bottom line.
Contractors who don’t care don’t get asked back.
And nowhere is the world more small than your local IT community.

So start caring. Pretend you are going to be there forever and you’ll naturally act accordingly.

Update:

Here is an equally compelling contrarian view by Jon Homs.

Are you a Samurai or a rice picker?

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Two types of people you often find on software projects are samurai and rice pickers.

Samurai are the ones who:

  • say what needs to be said
  • call BS when they see it
  • laugh in the face of unrealistic schedules and expectations
  • tackle all the hard, complex, thorny stuff no one else wants to wade into
  • are technically excellent at their craft
  • take pride in their work
  • and are comfortable in their own skins

They are usually the people you see project managers and companies fist fighting over to get onto their projects.

Every project/team needs a couple samurai.

Then there are the rice pickers.
If samurai are the pioneers, rice pickers are the settlers.

Rice pickers are the people who:

  • like to collect a pay cheque, keep their heads down, and quietly go home at the end of the day.
  • aren’t necessarily lazy, they would just rather be told what to do and not have to think for themselves.
  • have opinions but aren’t big on taking the initiative
  • generally they just like to be left alone and are quite happy sitting in the maze nibbling their cheese
  • they also form the bulk of our workforce

Now, I’m not saying everyone can or should be a samurai.
The world needs rice pickers and people to keep the lights on.

But if you find you aren’t getting the opportunities, promotions, or things you feel entitled too, take a look in the mirror and honestly ask yourself:

And are you a samurai, or a rice picker?

Thanks to Jason Calacanis for acting as the inspiration behind this post.

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