Duncan Epping recently posted an article called “How do I get to the next level” which was an interesting read, that I almost didn’t do. See in the beginning of the article he stated
If you can’t be bothered freeing up time, or have a too busy family schedule don’t even bother reading past this point.
Typically I’d stop there, because for me nothing is more important than family, and dedicating time to be with my daughter, wife, extended family, and friends. I’m not interested in reading an opinion if family schedule is a consideration, because for me it is. While I am no where near Duncan’s status or skill, I think there things everyone can do, regardless of family schedule to help you grow personally and professionally.
First and foremost grab a piece of paper and pencil, scribble down where you would like your career to go in the next few years. For example maybe you would like to be in an SE role or Technical Marketing type role. I say write it with pencil and paper because the path you set today is going to take a few side roads and detours along the way. For example a friend on mine has talked to me recently about wanting to be in a technical marketing role, yet other interesting opportunities may present themselves that will help get to that position. Personally, I knew I wanted to be involved in virtualization back in 2004 when Microsoft released Virtual Server - I could instantly see the benefits of virtualization and made an effort to to get hands one with that, or similar technology in my future roles. It wasn’t until 2008-2009 that I did my first VMware deployment but I had done plenty of Virtual Server and Virtual Iron deployments prior to that. During that time I weaved through a stint in as an IT Director for two organizations. When I realized I wanted to be more hands on, I pivoted out of the management roles and back to a hands on one. Even at that, I never thought I’d end up working in an education department, but given my personal values it totally made sense when the opportunity presented itself (by the way for me it’s family, friends, health, education, work - in that order).
Once you think you have an idea, reach out to people in the community that are at companies or in positions you think you’d like to go. Benefit from their experiences in how they got there. No one else’s path will be quite like yours, but I talked to people about SE roles at VARs - a position I thought I wanted to be in, and realized it wasn’t going to be for me given the travel (I have no desire to be away from my family for any extended period of time on a regular basis).
Where I think Duncan is spot on, contribute to the community. Whether that is via vendor forums such as the VMware Communities site or independent forums such as Spiceworks, you’ll make great connections and, if you follow Duncan’s advice, learn a few things. Take on the difficult questions, go research problems, read documentation that may take you out of your comfort zone. I also often hear from people that they don’t have time to blog. My response to that is shenanigans. As a technologist, you should be documenting what you are working on anyways - why can’t that be a blog post? Obviously you do not want to share confidential information, but even if you are setting up an XtremIO, why does that have to be associated with a particular customer or business? Document the steps you took to set it up, grab screenshots prior to entering confidential information such as domain names or IP ranges and, not only do you now have a blog post, you have documentation for your organization - two birds, one stone. This process has really allowed me to create content for my blog, and be documenting what I am working on to support my employer.
So, how do you do this while maintaining commitments to friends and family. You need to put some effort into managing and planning your life. Look at all the things you do on a regular basis - are they worth it? For example I used to play in a basketball league on Saturday mornings, before kids the hour long ride to the gym and back was no big deal, now losing half a day to play basketball isn’t an option. Now the goal here is maintaining your life, since playing basketball was a key way for me to get exercise it seems a bit counter productive to drop it. The key is to replace, not drop activities with things that are more efficient. I looked around local town programs and found a pickup basketball game on Sunday mornings, which just so happened to be on my way to the grocery store, and I just so happened to do my grocery shopping on Sunday mornings. Now, rather than losing a half day Saturday to play basketball I do it on Sundays just before something else I needed to do anyways. The point here, eliminate time sinks in your schedule, don’t give up having a life, just evaluate how you spend your time.
Speaking of evaluating how you spend your time, this is a key element at work as well. As I write this blog post I am at work. How do I have time to write a blog post at work? Well I speak to my manager on a regular basis to understand what our teams priorities are, as well as upcoming work that needs to be done. While I don’t always have time to jot down a blog post, these last two days I have so I took advantage of the time to write this, and one over at www.wickedts.com yesterday. I spend less time monitoring emails by taking a version of Cody Bunch’s post on how to manage email so I am not sinking unnecessary time into reading emails as they come in. If you don’t think you can do it, you absolutely can. For what it’s worth, stop checking emails at home or while you’re on vacation - unless you’re on the brink of curing cancer, you don’t need to be working all the time. This has freed me up to spend a bit of my free time at home playing with new technologies. In the amount of time it takes for my wife to read my daughter a book at night before bed, I have been able install Ansible and get to know the vsphere_guest task. Later at night while my wife and daughter are sleeping is also when I spend time recording podcast such as a #vBrownBag session I did on Ansible+vCenter and Application Services, as well as recording Size Matters podcast.
I’ve been able to do this, as well as advance my career all while spending time with friends and family. Realize that you do NOT need to be working all the time, you are not selling your entire life to your employer, you are selling them 40 hours of your week. The rest of the time should be spent on you, if your employer does not recognize this it may be time to move on. For those managers/employers that may be reading this blog post, realize that it is literally science that employee productivity goes down around 30 hours worked, and that freedom and time spent learning, and engaging others in the community can actually increase productivity - not mention the skills, of your employees. If anyone would like to chat more about their career, how I balance personal and work commitments or just want to talk fantasy baseball, as always, reach out.