Scott's Weblog The weblog of an IT pro specializing in cloud computing, virtualization, and networking, all with an open source view

What I Want To Do When I Grow Up

As some of you may already know, I’ve been wrestling with an important career decision for quite a while now. In thinking about this decision, I’ve had to take an honest look at what I really want to do. What brings me the most satisfaction in my career? In other words, what do I want to do when I grow up?

In looking back at the work that I’ve done for the last few years, I can tell you the projects, the customers, the tasks that have been most satisfying for me. The worldwide Active Directory migration that I helped design and install—that was a good one. I enjoyed the huge Cisco network installation I did a few years ago, at the height of the dot-com boom, for a startup. I led a POP3/SMTP-to-Exchange migration a couple of years ago that was fun as well. What do each of these things have in common? They’re projects.

“Well, duh, Scott! Of course they’re projects!” you say.

Yes, but a project has a defined start and a defined end. (At least, a good project does.) A project has a defined set of goals that must be attained in order to be considered complete. Projects don’t go on endlessly, and projects typically don’t end up being the same thing over and over again. (Yes, I know we all have stories about projects that do go on endlessly, but I think we all can say that those are the exception and not the norm.)

In addition, each of these projects are notable for another reason: they forced me to expand my knowledge, they challenged my current skill set and drove me into new territory. I love to learn—I’m constantly seeking out new technologies, new products, new integration techniques to pick up some new piece of knowledge that I didn’t have before. Each of the projects that sticks out in my memory was a challenging project, one that led me to a new level of knowledge or to a new skill altogether.

I have known for quite some time that my personality is more of a “builder” personality. I like to build things. I like to create networks, and build servers, and craft e-mail systems, and assemble complex clusters. That’s just how I am. I’ve had customers offer to hire me (which is flattering, of course), but I know that I wouldn’t be satisfied because eventually the building would stop. And when the building stopped, I’d be bored. I’m a builder.

So as I’ve taken a deep hard look at where my career is right now, and what I’m doing right now, I find that I’m not building very much. Instead, I’m maintaining. I’m maintaining backup systems, or e-mail servers, or desktop workstations, or laptops, or whatever. But I’m not building, I’m not involved in any projects, and I’m not really being challenged.

If my greatest satisfaction comes from building, from being involved in projects that challenge my skills and drive me to learn new things and expand what I already know, then isn’t that where I should be? If I can meet my family’s needs (financially and otherwise) doing that, shouldn’t I be doing that? Or is there something more that I am missing?

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