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Passionate for your work or your company?

by mel starrs on February 7, 2007

in The Profession

Kathy Sierra is one of my regular reads on management and productivity.  She has a blinder of a post here which everyone should read.  I agree with virtually everything she says.  In particular I like her two opposing lists. 

I think we’ve all met a few of these characters in our time (the overkeen career engineers):

Passionate about the company:

* The ultimate team player who goes along with the group rather than voice dissent

* Works late nights and weekends because “everyone needs to pitch in on this project”

* Defends the company to anyone, anywhere that criticizes or questions its products, policies, or practices

* Puts responsibility to employer above responsibility to customers, without question

* Questions, but does not challenge the status quo

* Is well-liked because they do whatever is asked, enthusiastically

* Accepts (and uses) phrases like, “this is what corporate needs us to do.”

* Cares a lot about his career path in the company; focused on getting management recognition.

But wouldn’t we all prefer to work with what Kathy calls ‘mavericks’ in the ‘Hollywood Model’?:

Passionate about the work:

* Scores well on the 4-question test:
– keeps up with trade/professional journals
– knows who the key people in the industry are
– would spend his own money, if necessary, for better tools
– if they were NOT doing this as their job, they would still do something related to it as a hobby

* Works late nights when, “I’m just one-compile away from this awesome refactoring that’s going to make this thing run 40% faster.” In other words, they work late when they’re driven by something they know they can do better on.

* Defends the quality of his own work (and, in the Hollywood Model, the work of his team).

* Puts responsibility to his own ethics and values–especially related to quality of work–over responsibility to employer.

* May not be extremely well-liked, but is highly respected and tolerated because he’s known as one who, “cares deeply about doing the best possible job, and is very good at what he does.”

* Does not accept, “this is what corporate needs us to do” when it conflicts with quality and ethics. Must be given a damn good reason why a corporate decision is worth the downsides.

* Does not care about upward mobility in the company. Cares about doing fabulous work and possibly the recognition of his peers in the industry. May strive for professional recognition.

Kathy probably is glamorising the ‘maverick’ and no doubt some will argue that the first list is much more stable, predictable and safe, making life much easier for management.  Working purely within the second list can be exhausting, for all involved. In reality, I think a bit of both lists exists in most companies.  There are times when it’s appropriate to be a maverick and times when it’s good to know when to quit.

I still prefer to work with those in the second list though…