Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Ropes, Pegs, and Ladders

I've figured it out. It took me a long time, but it finally happened. I'm not a peg: I'm a rope.

Huh? Hear me out. You see, most companies have ladders with holes for the rungs to fit into. Holes of different shapes and sizes: square for engineering, round for business, octogonal for management. If you work at a particularly good company, there are multiple ladders for each type of position, with differently-shaped holes that slightly different pegs can fit into. That keeps really good "individual contributors" (gak, I hate that phrase) from becoming really bad managers.

So, back to me (which is, afterall, what this is all about...). I'm a rope. Don't get me wrong, I have my pegs: I'm a good software architect. I'm a competent manager. I'm pretty good in pre-sales environments. I'm good presenting to customers, executives, and others. I'm also good at product management.

Ouch, my arm hurts from patting myself on my back. Seriously, I'm not the best at any of those. I've had far better managers than I manage. I've worked next to better engineers than I. They fit those holes better than I do.

Every company of great ladders I've worked with seems to have a few people who don't fit their holes perfectly. These people tend to become the go-to guys in a lot of different situations. They are good at working with customers, with other organizations within the company, and with engineers themselves. They are very technical, yet able to make the lay-person understand the techno-babble. They also have a strong understanding of the business behind software, leading to better technical decision making. Because of these skills, they get called on to perform a lot of different tasks.

Unfortunately, while every company I've worked for has these people, no company seems to want to recognize the need for these people. Organizationally, these ropes are "out of it" because they don't fit perfectly in the engineering, product management, sales, consulting, support, or any other organization, yet they are incredibely valuable to all of them. They are the ropes that tie the ladders together.

So, even though it may not look at good to my future boss, whoever he or she may be, I proudly declare: I am a rope. I can accomplish aspects of all of the above at the same time, handle communicating to customers and to other organizations within your company, and, by so doing, make your product more successful.

I look forward to the day when companies realize that not all people in the organization belong on ladders and that crossing the organizational divide is not to be feared but to be embraced.

Until then, will you hand me that chisel over there? I've got to shape this peg...

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