Today, I’m going to keep plugging away with another mid-week post in the developer to consultant series. To recap, I’ve talked recently about how you need to start by figuring out your positioning and then about how that positioning should orient around problem solving instead of laboring. Today, I’m going to build on that momentum. I’m going to talk about the positioning mistake you’re almost certainly going to make and how to avoid it.
The Positioning Mistake
You’re going to try to position yourself around a tech or tech stack. “I help people with blockchain” or “I’m a Ruby on Rails performance expert.” Now, this isn’t as bad as the generalist career approach, to be sure. But it’s really not where you want to go, either.
I’ll get to why in a moment.
But first, let me just say that it’s completely understandable why you gravitate toward this. Our industry pushes you that way with an aircraft carrier’s worth of momentum. You should be a generalist and compete with 18,000,000 other programmers to be “the best” and get hired at SiliconPrestigeTech. Not for you? Well, fine. Then get better than everyone else at some tiny piece of technical real estate. Everything in your experience pushes you this way.
Indulge me for a moment. I’m going to force one of my parables on you to demonstrate the absurdity of this situation. And then I hope this will serve as your compass to navigate your way out of the generalist quagmire.
I once wrote a post about what it would be like if contractors behaved like programmers. This is going to be a bit like that, but doctors are knowledge workers, so it illustrates the point a bit better. And I’m going to emphasize a different set of specifics.
Walter White, His Doctor Recruiter, and His Doctor Manager
My wife and I have been watching Breaking Bad again over the last month. It’s not a spoiler if I tell you that the main protagonist, Walter White, receives a cancer diagnosis (it’s the premise of the show). Lung cancer, and an aggressive form at that. So let’s imagine Walter in a world where doctors acted like programmers.
The first thing that Walter would need to do is to hire two people for his “diagnose and treat my cancer” project. These would include a doctor recruiter and a doctor manager. The doctor manager would sit with Walt, listen to his symptoms, and lay out a roadmap of what comes next. Now, this doctor manager “isn’t medical” so he would need to enlist doctors to perform the actual diagnosis. But he’s “medical adjacent” enough to at least know which doctors to call.
Of course, he’s too busy and important to make those calls, so he enlists the doctor recruiter to do that, explaining that he needs someone with at least 7 years of CT scan, 5 years of X-Ray, 6 years Sputum Cytology, 4 years of Biopsy, with strong Bedside Manner skills a plus.