I have the distinct pleasure of helping people plan and build their careers. In my current organization, one of my primary goals is to recruit and hire talented software developers to add to an already talented and energetic team. In this role, there is something that has me baffled:
A snippet from the great Paul Graham post (and book), “Hackers and Painters”
When I finished grad school in computer science I went to art school to study painting. A lot of people seemed surprised that someone interested in computers would also be interested in painting. They seemed to think that hacking and painting were very different kinds of work– that hacking was cold, precise, and methodical, and that painting was the frenzied expression of some primal urge.
Both of these images are wrong. Hacking and painting have a lot in common. In fact, of all the different types of people I’ve known, hackers and painters are among the most alike.
What hackers and painters have in common is that they’re both makers. Along with composers, architects, and writers, what hackers and painters are trying to do is make good things.
If this is true, then why aren’t composers putting on a resume, “Wish to expand my career toward Composer Management”? Why aren’t painters asking for more “Painter Leadership” courses from the market?
I truly feel that comparing developers and painters is apropos. What alarms me is the rate at which organizations, especially large organizations, bastardize the career aspirations of artistic and expressive craftspeople by giving them one narrow path to advance, management. Many organizations can’t fathom a career path that doesn’t include leading others and amassing direct reports. Now, as a result, many developers can’t fathom it either. Sad.
If we think long and hard about what we are doing by encouraging this mindset, I argue we would never do it. As organizations, we typically take the best and brightest producers and “elevate” them to a non-producing position. (This is typically followed by a giant sucking sound whereby these people’s souls are ripped from their bodies.)
Don’t get me wrong. Leadership and management IS a noble career aspiration. I’m arguing it is not the ONLY noble career aspiration, and if you’re the type of person who wants to build things and be expressive and creative, then it might not be the path for you.
With all this said, as organizations we should work at giving developers an alternate career path. One where they can be dynamic, brilliant, and celebrated artists.