People ask me all the time, with quite a bit of anxiety, what is it they need to do to stand out and even to just survive at the new job they just started? There is so much to focus on, so much competition, so much to learn…how in the world do I stand out?! In the last growth economy, just having the degree, or that natural ambition, or the smarts, was enough. Companies were overwhelmed with demand, products and services were easily sold, the business was there, and all the employees had to do was be there and do a pretty good job and they would have a stable, challenging, exciting, and fulfilling job for years. Companies measured subsistence by the year, not by the quarter, and certainly not by the month. It’s no wonder new workers who came up in the .com boom never really understood the term net value, heck, whether or not most workers Produced a thing, it didn’t make much difference and they could coast along for years in an Operations seat, with an Operations mindset, loving their job and seemingly insulated from stress.
Times have dramatically changed, Operations can almost be a dirty word, these days it’s all about the Production, and you better have the definition ‘Net Value’ plastered on your bathroom mirror to remind you each morning why your employer is inviting you in for another wonderful day of work. How can I stand out? Are you a Producer? Are you Producing? Are you adding tangible, real, measurable net value that can quickly and easily be traced to improving the bottom line? That is where your focus needs to be! You can be focusing on ethics, doing the right thing, building a better world and learning your technical craft…I hope you focus on those without exception, but at the end of the day, if your company isn’t making a net profit, than you won’t have a chance to do any of those things.
When I tell folks that they need to be ready to produce, and remember I’m speaking almost exclusively to techies, they commonly don’t understand…”But I’m not interested in being a salesman…”, “I don’t know how to sell…”, “I’m just getting started, how am I supposed to drive business”…”I’m a coder, not a businessperson”, etc. The concept of having to be a PRODUCER really scares people, they think that is someone else’s job, they think the term means direct selling, they think as long as they know how to code better than the person at the next desk over, they are in good shape. But don’t fool yourself, these days, every CEO, CIO, IT Director, App Dev Manager, and on down the line absolutely must see production from each and every member of their team. And sadly, often they don’t even know how to translate that production into real net value. It’s up to you! You don’t have to sell, you don’t have to bring in more clients, you don’t have to be directly responsible for shipping more units…but what you must school yourself on from the first day you start a new job, is exactly where the revenue is coming from that supports the company, that supports your division, that supports your team, and that pays for your job. It can be a dicey question to ask, bosses are sometimes hesitant to give up that information in the level of detail you need…but persist, the more you know about where the profits are coming from, the more you can focus on that with every hour you put in.
Simply knowing the core source of revenue might very well be the difference between you impressing the boss and you wondering why your position is being eliminated 6 months down the road despite your incredibly well constructed perfect code. Well constructed, efficient, clean, fast code is as useless as bug riddled hacker garbage if it doesn’t get close to helping money come in the door in the relatively near term. We all need the shiniest new development environment. We all need the very newest server infrastructure. It’s frustrating as heck to have to wait on any of those tools that could add so much efficiency to the company’s offerings. It’s frustrating, we could do better with more, we all agree on that, if you could just take that 6 months and build that great new tool, boy oh boy would it add value down the line, no doubt about that, everybody would love it, it would really make a big difference…BUT…does that tool directly contribute to the revenue stream in some pretty obvious and pretty direct way now? If not, it really will have to wait. If not, it’s not a very good idea to push for it, complain about it, or be frustrated about it…you’ll earn the “Operations” mindset title in no time, instead of the “Producer” title you want and need. Hey, be the hero, build it anyway, but don’t even think about building it on the company clock during the time when core revenue driving tasks have to be sacrificed.
You’ll be amazed at the clarity that comes to your applications’ construction, development, and maintenance efforts once you take the time to wrap your head around the fact that no matter how specific your technical task, and how amazing your code is, you are working for a company that can only afford to pay you if they are generating net profitable revenue, and doing so each and every single quarter. Are you bringing direct and obvious value to the mission of net profitability? If you don’t know the answer to that question, than it’s likely that your boss doesn’t either! Make sure that both of you know without a shadow of a doubt that the answer to that question is YES!
If you have any specific questions about what you can do to be the best employee you can be, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org anytime with any career minded questions.