Career Advice from Patrick McKenzie

Patrick McKenzie is the best writer on the topics of software and business that you've never heard of.

Career Advice from Patrick McKenzie

I first came across Patrick McKenzie when he was writing online about selling bingo card software in the mid-to-late 2000's.  He is my generation's Joel Spolsky, writing extensively at the intersection of software and business.

"[E]very great developer you know got there by solving problems they were unqualified to solve until they actually did it."
-Patrick McKenzie at Kalzumeus

Don't Call Yourself A Programmer, And Other Career Advice is one of my favorite articles of his.  Superficially, it is about career advice for junior developers.  However, it is chock full of insights that apply to software developers–including Access developers–at any stage in their careers.

It's a long read, but well worth the time.

Career Advice Excerpts

Here are a few highlights from the article:

"Communication is a skill.  Practice it: you will get better.  One key sub-skill is being able to quickly, concisely, and confidently explain how you create value to someone who is not an expert in your field and who does not have a priori reasons to love you."
"Most software is not sold in boxes, available on the Internet, or downloaded from the App Store.  Most software is boring one-off applications in corporations, under-girding every imaginable facet of the global economy."
"Profit Centers are the part of an organization that bring in the bacon: partners at law firms, sales at enterprise software companies, 'masters of the universe' on Wall Street, etc etc.  Cost Centers are, well, everybody else.  You really want to be attached to Profit Centers because it will bring you higher wages, more respect, and greater opportunities for everything of value to you."
"Most jobs are never available publicly, just like most worthwhile candidates are not available publicly (see here)."

Table of Contents

Here's a table of contents of sorts for the article.  (Did I mention it's a long read?) I've taken the liberty of highlighting the topics that I found most interesting and/or that are most relevant to Access developers:

  • 90% of programming jobs are in creating Line of Business software
  • Engineers are hired to create business value, not to program things
  • Don’t call yourself a programmer
  • You are not defined by your chosen software stack
  • Co-workers and bosses are not usually your friends
  • You radically overestimate the average skill of the competition because of the crowd you hang around with
  • “Read ad.  Send in resume.  Go to job interview.  Receive offer.” is the exception, not the typical case, for getting employment
  • Networking: it isn’t just for TCP packets
  • Academia is not like the real world
  • How much money do engineers make?
  • How do I become better at negotiation?
  • How to value an equity grant
  • Why are you so negative about equity grants?
  • Are startups great for your career as a fresh graduate?
  • So would you recommend working at a startup?
  • Your most important professional skill is communication
  • You will often be called to do Enterprise Sales and other stuff you got into engineering to avoid
  • Modesty is not a career-enhancing character trait
  • All business decisions are ultimately made by one or a handful of multi-cellular organisms closely related to chimpanzees, not by rules or by algorithms
  • At the end of the day, your life happiness will not be dominated by your career

Don’t Call Yourself A Programmer, And Other Career Advice | Kalzumeus Software

Cover image created with Microsoft Designer

All original code samples by Mike Wolfe are licensed under CC BY 4.0