Who you know, versus what you know

I've recently been reflecting on the past, no bad thing as there's a lot that can be learnt from looking back to what's gone before, after all there's that oft mis-quoted aphorism attributed to George Santayana (yes, I had to look up who originated it!)

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

Or, the commonly attributed to Einstein

[The definition of insanity is] doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results

The general gist of this is, "learn from your mistakes" to follow the "glass half empty" school of thought, or "build your future on your past success" to follow the opposing school of thought. Whilst I much prefer the latter, the former isn't a concept that should be ignored. We all make mistakes, but the biggest mistake of them all is to fail, or refuse, to learn from them and to not do your utmost to build on them for your future success.

All of that is a bit of musing that's tangenital to what I intended to post about, which is how sometimes the people you know can be as valuable to you (in a professional context) as what you know.

How who I've known has helped me

All four of the "stand-out" moments of career, and by that I mean moments that have either triggered significant progress, or feel important to me, can be directly attributed to having known the right person. There are many others where my technical knowledge and skill has played an important part, and of course who you know makes not one whit of difference if you don't have the ability, aptitude and attitude to make the most of the opportunities people send your way.

  • My first professional role - I joined a company called Alphameric Hospitality, having been suggested for the role by someone I know, right at the very start of my career. This was my first "professional" role and was working as a QA contract resource on a cloud-based stock control system. I had a small advantage here as the company had recently gained a large contract to sell their solution into Scottish & Newcastle Retail, owners of a large managed pub and restaurant estate. At the time I was working behind the bar in a place called Old Orleans. Take two guesses who owned Old Orleans, though you'll probably only need one! Having intimate knowledge of the incumbent stock control system certainly helped, but knowing the right person probably played a larger part here.

  • Ultracomms - I joined Ultracomms (back when it was called Ultra Communications) after quite a few years working at Alphameric, where I'd progressed from contract QA resource, through to being a full-time QA Analyst, then QA Manager for the team, then into development. During that time I'd worked closely with Matt Chatterley, who'd gone on to leave Alphameric to work for Ultracomms. When a requirement came up to grow the team at Ultracomms by recruiting another developer, he put my name forwards. The rest, as they say, is history! During my time there I progressed through from Developer, to Senior Developer and then to Development Manager. Yes, back on the managerial track!

  • An FTSE 100 company - Someone I've known for many years was working for an FTSE 100 company, and as part of their role they were responsible for employee reward & recognition. Having gone to market looking for a solution, and finding the market sorely lacking, he came to me. Now, other than a final year project at University (which at that time I was still providing support, maintenance and the odd bit of feature work for) I'd not carried out any contract development work at this point. The actual "writing the code" was the easy bit, the steep learning curve came around contracts, working with stakeholders and gathering requirements. Working with project stakeholders and gathering requirements were "bread and butter" to me in the day job, but doing this with people I didn't work with on a daily basis was an entirely different kettle of fish. Character building! The product is still in use today, and supported by me, so I consider this one quite a success!

  • Intervewing with Microsoft - My other(better?)-half suggested that I interview with Microsoft as a role he thought I'd be suited for had come up. I interviewed, I didn't quite make the cut, but as I alluded to in My "Hit Refresh" moment post, it was beneficial to me in many, many ways. It highlighted gaps in both my technical, and non-technical skills and also gave me a bit of a "baptism of fire" when getting back into the job hunting / interviewing game. Possibly the best thing was the "sorry, we're not going to make an offer" call where I got given great feedback regarding what my areas of weakness (and strengths, to temper that!) are. This has led me to actively look at filling those in.

So, what next?

If only it were as easy as sitting and waiting for someone you know to land an opportunity in your lap, wouldn't that make for an easy life, eh! No, the people you know, the network you've built is something that is almost a "bonus" that can certainly help but the leg-work of getting to where you want to be has to be all you. That's why I'm learning new things (Azure, hence the posts that cover the subject matter for 70-534), considering ways to strengthen my other skills (public speaking/presenting - arrgh!) and looking for my next role.

Like everything else, it's about balance, whilst I'm not above now leveraging the people I know to get where I want and need to be, it has to be acknowledged that as well as the "who", the "what" is important.


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