Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Dread of Generalist

I am a generalist and I am scared. I have a new job working back to back with shamelessly good specialists. I am dreaded not to keep up.

For a long time I was wondering what is better: to be a specialist or generalist? On the one hand, specialist is the best in his narrow field. When you need a build, sorry, DevOps expert, you hire a specialist. You need to solve a Machine Learning problem, you hire a Machine Learning expert and not some all-around guy! In addition to having those jobs just for you, being a specialist might pay a lot. When a company is at need, it will pay obscene amounts of money for a specialist to do "this thing right now!" Just look at 2K bug madness. In case you are old enough to remember this stuff.

On the other hand, specialist is limited in career choices. Once you have invested all that time being Windows kernel expert, will you really move to be a PHP beginner programmer? I guess not.
Generalist on the other hand, can switch fields at will. I did that. I've ran Linux since 1996, then moved to work at Microsoft. I've worked in storage then moved to access and security, then returned to storage and now moved to security. Wait, what????

On the other hand, from the money point of view, generalist can (usually) grow to be a bigger manager than specialist. Again, usually and if she wants to. It is generally easier to see a bigger picture when you are a generalist, which is a good starting point for a manager. Actually, the truth is that the company will not easily give up on specialist to turn him into another run-of-the-mill manager. However, in either case, from the money perspective, being a manager pays off. 

Taking all of this into account, I decided to be both :) Since I am a generalist by nature, my plan was to work as a generalist till I get to a point where it is hard for me to find a new job. Then I will specialize in something. Most probably some kernel. There are not much of kernel specialists and they are always in need. In addition, it is relatively hard to become one. The best part is that everyone expects the kernel guy to be over 50, not communicative and not to fit in.

Well, the problem with my plan is the new places, like the one I'm in right now. Once I get to a new place, my impostor syndrome fears are multiplied by the generalist vs. specialists fears. Will I keep up? How could I ever match up with this guy that knows so much? Can she ever see me as her professional equal and come for advice?

Usually it works out just fine. I also have my methods and cheats. The best one is to be always right.
It is actually easier than it sounds. You just have to talk ONLY when you are 100% sure that you are right. In all other times: shut up.

Another cheat is to learn at night. This works especially good when there is a problem found towards the end of the day. A meeting is set for tomorrow morning and everybody goes home. Then you read about the issue and everything you can find for as many hours as you could. At the morning meeting you definitely sounds like a specialist (which is the goal).

I have a few more cheats in my sleeve, but I always wonder if this time I will be exposed. If this time, people will look at  me and say: "He does not know this! He is not as good as we thought he will!"

I know that it sounds preposterous, but I always fear that this time, it might happen … 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Work-Life Balance is a Scam

Your company cares about work-life balance? Maybe it is you who make sure that your life and work are balanced? Does work-life balance means "no emails on weekends", or maybe "no meetings after 17:00?" Is this: "leave your work problems at work be at home 100%?"

It sounds good. It is also a scam. There is no such thing as work-life balance. Work is a huge part of your adult life. Your working days mostly look like this (with varying hours and time slices):


Granted you do get a work-free chunk of life before joining a work force and following retirement. However, most of your premium quality life, where you have money, health and independence, looks like the above picture. This is basically the reason the companies are saying: “We care about you very much and want you to have a fulfilling life. Do not spend all your time at work, so: No emails on weekends, no work on vacation, leave office at 18:00, etc.

Some of them are sincerely worry about you. They want to create a place where you are happy and will say to your friends: “This is a great place to work with a very good work-life balance!”

What is the problem then?

The problem is that it is the same as saying to somebody: “This crossfit thing is hard. You get tired and sweat a lot. We don’t want you to be hard on yourself. We suggest a laid-back crossfit! It is the same as regular crossfit, but really easy and you do not sweat.”  Well, this does not work! The whole point of crossfit it to be hard, so you can create a better version of yourself.

The same thing is with work-life balance. You do not get a refund on the time you spend at work! There is no scientific evidence or any major religion that once you die, you get to meet a clerk with a spreadsheet, who says: “You have worked really hard and had a very good work-life balance. We return you back for another 10 years! As a bonus, you will be 20 years old!” Not going to happen. Work is part of your life. How does “Life-Life Balance” sound?

I do not suggest to work all around the clock. There are things in life apart from work. Personally, I (very) rarely miss a dinner with my family. I get to games, events and holidays of my kids. Family is clearly a first priority in my life. However, I am blessed with a flexibility to work at almost any location and I use it. I work at any moment that I have time. If I can and it does not conflicts with anything else, I work at nights, weekends, vacations and sick days. Why should I spend my time watching endless TV series one after another, read rumors, watch “funny” videos, update Facebook or read talkbacks? I prefer to use my time for something worthwhile.

You do not consider your job being worthwhile for spending your free time on it? Well, you probably have another problem then…

As for me, it is my life and I am not going to spend it.


I am thinking about starting a new branch of religion where disciples do get a refund on a work time. Join now! Get a refund!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Your Employee is leaving–When not to be happy


The answer is not: “Wait with the celebration until she leaves the building.” I assume here that you have actually wanted her to stay.

The answer is also not: “NEVER! I am always unhappy and always let them know that!” Employees leaving is part of the regular state of business. Lets be frank: do you plan to retire from your current company? All the 60+ guys please put your hand down. If you don’t plan to retire, do you only expect your employees not to quit the job before you leave?

Your employee is resigning. Should you ever be happy about it? Sure! Here are real examples from my experience:

  1. She is coming and explaining that her husband/son/mother is getting a job abroad/moving to/terminally ill abroad. In other words, she has to move to another country overseas. She is really bummed about it and she wants you to find a way for her to continue working remotely. Both of you consider it for a while, but then decide that it will not work out. You have to say good buy.
    As sad as it sounds you should be happy in this situation. True, you have just lost a great employee, BUT she wanted to make it work, she wanted to continue working for the company. She has left as your friend.
  2. There is this guy, who has come to your office saying that there is a startup company that offered him a dream job. He wants to stay here, but this is a one in a lifetime offer. He might even has come to you before asking for promotion, but there are no opportunities in the company yet. You talk about it and it does sound like a dream job, so you end up convincing him to take the offer. 
  3. There is this developer that wants to do something else. Not something that the company is doing. He wants to be a Web developer, but you run an embedded project. You have tried a couple of different projects, areas, modules, but nothing is working out. There is just no such thing as a web development in your company. You talk with the developer for months about it and in the end both of you decide that take different paths. Bummer? Sure! Did you depart like friends? Absolutely!

All those cases mean that you will have to hire another developer/QA/etc. You will train her, guide her and help her a lot. Until she will be an equal member of the team. Bummer? Yes. Should you be happy about the old employee leaving? YES! You should be happy!

Your job as a manager is to develop your people (well, this is one of your many jobs). Sometimes, you have to let them go to develop them further. In all those cases there is a common theme. You have been a part of the process. Moreover, you have build relationships with her. Good relationships that she would come and open up with her problem. She felt close enough to discuss a very sensitive issue with you. You had a decency to look for the best solution for her. Not for you. People notice that and appreciate that. You just earned a friend.

So, when you should not be happy when your employee is leaving?

When it surprises you!

This is the worst thing that can happen to you as a manager: your employee surprises you with resignation!!! Oh, they will have a good reason, they always do. Don’t believe them! Happy people don’t leave jobs they love! Especially, when the group/product is new. People don’t cheat on their honey moon. You did not see it coming? You should have! It is your fault as a manager!

It means that the employee was unhappy for a while, but you did not notice. She felt insecure or far enough not to mention it to you. Did you have a one-on-one meetings? Do you talk about personal stuff on those meetings? How do you make sure that nobody else is slipping between the cracks? Are others happy? You acn take it as granted: people don’t leave just because. They leave because they don’t like it here. If they like it here, they will go a long way to stay. Not the short walk to leave.

Surprised? You should not be happy…

Monday, January 04, 2016

Resolutions for 2016

I did not write resolutions for many years. I have stopped writing them as from celebration of yearly successes, they have become a depressing history of failures. Once I have noticed that I copy "learn enough French to understand a news site" for the fifth time, I understood that things are not working.

Why return to it? Few reasons:
  • Goals are important. Writing them down is even more important. 
  • I want to write more. Writing my resolutions will provide me at least 2 posts a year: resolutions and then excuses why I did not make them :)
  • I want to focus. Writing a few big goals will do just that.
  • Visualize progress. Years fly by. I am already almost 41. Writing goals and achieving them, exposes a progress in life.
So, what are my goals for this year.

  1. Do 2 fun days with each kid in separate. Those could be half days, if it will be enough.
  2. PhD:
    1. Publish 2 research paper
    2. Finish all the courses 
    3. Pass to stage 2
  3. Continue with leaning down and get to 80kg (or six-pack with a little more).
  4. Write 15 blog posts and 12 posts in LinkedIn. Blog posts should be different from the LinkedIn posts.
  5. Learn something new. Professionally.
  6. Sketch or draw - 8 pictures.
I have a bunch of other resolutions (be calmer with my kids) that cannot be measured. Thus, they are not on the list. Only those that are important for me and I can measure them made the list.

Well, good luck to me.