We’re here to talk about careers in software, but let’s speak briefly about our friends in sales. What makes a great salesperson?
We’re not talking about the kind of sales rep who is pushy and deceives you about their snake oil. We’re talking about the kind that is a great listener and helps you make the best decision with confidence. There’s a set of fundamental skills that makes someone a great communicator, but that doesn’t mean they’re successful and plug-and-play: you can’t just drop them in any organization and expect them to not flinch. Any sales job is a multi-year commitment to getting inside the head of their buyers. How do they build momentum in their careers without reinventing themselves each transition? They build momentum by picking companies based on which customers they serve, not which tools or process they use.
Why do we expect software employees to be any different?
No two companies are the same. What’s interesting about product teams is how far abstracted away they can be from the customer at the other end of the organization. Of course, great product teams are intimately familiar with who they’re serving, but at bigger companies you might not notice that behind the layers of languages, frameworks, and acronyms where you complete your tasks.
Your backlog is ever-increasing. You’ll only get further from it over time. This means you aren’t just there to solve problems, but to decide which particular ones are most worth doing next. How do you decide?
The customer! The customer is the forcing function that the rest of the organization is structured around.
Stop pretending that the tools you work with are more relevant than the audience you’re serving.
In software, it’s so easy to get trapped in a world of craftspeople that you start assuming you’ll be just as successful at one company as the next if the technologies and methodologies match. Even a similar culture won’t hide you from this inconvenient truth. In sales, it’s just painfully obvious whether or not you connect with the audience.
The job search is more a matter of communication than knowledge. It’s often more about experience with specific people than experience with specific ideas. You may not be able to compete with other candidates who have more experience, but you can out-communicate them. Lead with your depth of insight into the customer and how you’ll be able to steer this company’s ship in the right direction. They have enough coders in their application pool, but they don’t have enough creators that can solve the problems most worth solving (coding competency largely becomes a mere check mark at this level).
Stop chasing down every single employer that vomited out a job posting with your favorite technologies on it, and hone your focus on companies with more familiar audiences that you’re willing to invest years into. You don’t have to become their digital marketer, but you can compound your advantages interview-to-interview if you start focusing on the intersection of your favorite technologies AND your favorite people.
You want momentum. You want to gracefully swing across companies more like Tarzan across tree vines. Getting stuck between jobs really really sucks. It can takes months (even years) to find a proper job again if you drop from those vines and lose momentum with no employee-market fit.