Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Why We Do What We Do

For the past several months I have been struggling to figure out what I want the next step in my career to be. I am still trying to figure the details out, but I had an important revelation last night. I want to share that revelation with you.

The Back Story

For those of you who have read my back story in my post A Tale Of Open Source, you'll likely remember that I was an EMT for several years. Part of that time I spent volunteering for a rescue squad (volunteer ambulances). There were long stretches of time where it was a thankless service. Where we poured our hearts and souls into the task at hand (for free), and didn't even get as much as a thank you in return. We did it because we enjoyed helping others (and at least some part because we couldn't help ourselves).

In all the years that I did that, three particular incidents stand out in my mind that still guide me today. I don't really talk about them, but I feel that it's important to the revelation here, so I am going to tell you about one of them (the other two I keep for myself).

The Addict

We had gotten called to a half-way house for a possible drug overdose. When I got there, I talked to the patient who claimed that he was in withdrawls, and hadn't had a fix in several days. He was trying to get off the stuff (or so he claimed). I didn't think I did anything special, I just treated him like a normal person. We talked on the way to the hospital. About what, I can't remember. I dropped him off at the hosptial, said good bye, and then went home.

The amazing part of this story came about 2 years later. I got a letter from someone I didn't even remember. This person proceeded to tell me how he's been clean for 2 years, and how he wanted to thank me. Not because I did anything special, but because I had treated him like a human being. I didn't look down upon him, I didn't treat him like a junkie. I just treated him like anyone else. Apparently, I was the first person in a long time to not treat this person like a piece of trash.

That, as it turned out, was the push it took him to get motivated enough to get clean. I had restored his faith in society, but more importantly I had restored his faith in himself. 

By doing a thankless job, and by just being myself, I had helped turn someones life around. And not because I wanted to turn it around, but because I made him want to turn it around. Think about that for a second. 

I've saved people's lives before. I have two CPR saves. Today, there is a person that is still walking around on this earth because I was there (the other passed about a year after the save). And that is something I will always treasure. But the take away from the addict effected me even more than this. I didn't just help someone. I helped someone help themself. And they said thank you for it. 

Fast Forward

Fast forward to 2 years ago. I was handed the lead on a significant project at work. Within two months, I had designed the system and processes, and hired 3 developers to work on it (after doing about 60 interviews in like 2 weeks). Two months after that, we launched (well, were ready to, the business delayed). I stuck around with the team for a few more months, but eventually rolled off to do other things. That team stood over that product for the next year and a half. 

The project wasn't a business success. But for the first time in our group's history, the technological component wasn't to blame. The team did everything they were asked to do, and more. They really exceeded every possible expectation. I was proud of that team. I still am. But it wasn't until last night that I realized how significant that was.

Last Night

Last night, I was approached at a social event by one of those developers. He wanted to say thank you. Not for the opportunity or for help or anything like that. But for putting together the best team he ever worked with. And not because they are all talented (they are). And not because they are all hard working (they are). But because they felt like family. They got along so well, and enjoyed each other so much that they were a true team. They were extremely effective, because they were able to thrive off each other.

When he said that, I nearly lost it. For the first time in over 8 years, I had received a thank you for positively affecting someone's life. Forget money. Forget success. Forget parties. Forget technology. People are what is important. All the effort that I put in over the years is instantly rewarded by a single heart-felt thank you. That makes it all worth while.

What I Want To Do

Honestly, I enjoy writing code. But I only enjoy writing the code that I want to write. To me, figuring out how to solve the problem is the fun part. The actual implementation of that is... Dare I say tedious? It's not that I want to stop coding. A lot of people find very significant satisfaction doing that, and that's awesome! I am not one of those people. I'd rather tackle higher level problems, and leave those implementations to people who enjoy that. I'd rather build kick ass teams to do it, and help them get there.

So I know at least part of what I want to do. I want to impact other peoples' lives. I have done that my entire life, and there is nothing more rewarding than hearing back from someone about how you impacted their live in a positive way...