Choosing a career path; which way do I go?

Should I get an MBA or an MCSE?” What an odd question. At least these days it seems odd. But, my how things have changed. Ten years ago, I regularly fielded that question from students in my technical training classes. I answered it so much in fact that I still remember my response almost word for word. I’ll give you a hint, it started with “Well, it depends.”

I like giving that answer just about as much as people like hearing it. I really don’t like giving an ambiguous response. I like to be able to definitively answer questions, to settle an issue.

And, I can give a purely logical answer to this question. I can give an answer based on ROI, projected market conditions, the life span of the education, etc. But we’re talking about people and their preferences. Logic and ROI are a little less well defined in that realm.

The Real Question

Although the questioner may have thought he was asking a simple, straightforward question, his real question goes much deeper than that. What he was really asking was “What direction do I want to take my career? Do I want to stay technical? Or go into management?”

But really, those are the wrong questions to ask. Those questions are really shallow proxies for more substantive questions. What you should be asking yourself are questions like these:

  • Where do I find real enjoyment?
  • Do I enjoy working with others? Or do I prefer to focus and get a job done?
  • Where do I find real satisfaction in my job? What about in my spare time?
  • Do I look forward to the next release of the product?
  • What would others say I’m really good at?
  • Do I get frustrated easily with others?
  • Do I really like to help to bring out the best in others?

What makes you happy?

These questions will help you get to the heart of the matter. Some of us love technology for technology’s sake. And that’s OK. Others of us use our skills in technology as a means to work with other people. And some of us find fulfillment equally in both areas.

None of this is to say that a “people person” cannot be a great technologist, he can. Nor am I implying that a “people person” will automatically make a good manager. He won’t.

My point is that rather than looking outwardly for the best career path. Look inwardly at what you really like doing, what really turns you on, and do that.

The Same Answer

So, all of these years later, my answer is still the same: it depends. Find what you enjoy and go with that. Life is too short to be stuck in a job or career that you don’t find rewarding. But don’t loose heart, whatever you decide, you can always change your mind later.


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