Remaining Relevant in Your Tech Career: When Change Is the Only Constant
2019, pp. xvii, 91, PDF
More information in the catalogue of the German National Library.
Stackowiak guides the reader in his book Remaining Relevant in Your Tech Career through the less technical areas of technical jobs which nonetheless decisively influence career success and lasting relevance.
If you would want to summarize the book in one sentence you could probably do it best with Sun Tzu’s maxim of knowing yourself and your enemy in order to succeed in battle. You would just have to replace „enemy“ with business and technological contexts and „battle“ with career.
The book Remaining Relevant in Your Tech Career is divided into six chapters preceded by an introduction and followed by a summary. After starting the first chapter with more general topics of how to stay relevant and how the business context changed in time, the second chapter focuses on the importance of understanding a company’s culture. The third chapter delves into politics inside a company and how to identify and make use of networks. The book continues with the importance of diversity in decision-making and the significance of developing the right skills and finishes with how you can „own your future.“
Stackowiak introduces the topic of his book by outlining his own career path. By briefly describing each stop in what is presented as a successful and fulfilling career, the author draws a picture of personal evolution and constant adaptation. The consistent success and the long endurance in the technology field is ascribed partially to the „belief that the most fun in this type of a career comes from leading change and not waiting for others to drive it“ (p. xi). This could be also considered as the motto of the book.
Chapter 1: What Have You Done for Me Lately?
The first chapter starts with highlighting a depressing truth: no matter how good you are, you can still become irrelevant if you don’t invest time in keeping in touch with the changes around you. For staying relevant you need to track changes and learn new technologies, even though they might be inconsequential for your present job. Non-technical skills and making your accomplishments visible in your organization are of no less importance. The author points out that you also need to be aware of changes in your company and know how to position yourself should an opportunity arise. Although the individual has many degrees of freedom, the organizational culture he is embedded in can facilitate or impede some of his actions and plans.
Chapter 2: Why Business Culture Is Important
The author starts the second chapter by introducing types of business cultures (based on the work of Kim Cameron, Robert Quinn, Geoffrey Moore, and others). These are classified along two categories: flexibility (flexible vs. stable) and focus (inward vs. outward). Combining the two categories results in four types of cultures (cf. pp. 17-22):
- collaboration-driven (flexible, inwardly focused)
- innovation-driven (flexible, outwardly focused)
- process-driven (stable, inwardly focused)
- solutions-driven (stable, outwardly focused).
The reader learns that not each culture can communicate with any other culture (cf. p. 21), the solutions-driven culture (a typical department with such a culture is Product Management) can mediate between an innovation-driven culture (e.g. Research Lab) and a collaboration-driven one (e.g. Product Development).
Stackowiak underlines that matching the culture to your own values is paramount for obtaining job satisfaction. For this you must know your own values first and be able to evaluate a company’s culture. Since the company’s culture changes, evaluation is also an ongoing process.
The author considers the comprehension of the current company’s culture a prerequisite for understanding its politics, which are dealt with in the third chapter.
Chapter 3: Political Considerations
The third chapter starts by pointing out, that politically motivated decisions are just as logical as the type of decisions which technical people consider „logical“ although the motives which define the political logic differ from the one technical people consider normal.
The author discusses how you can identify existing networks in a company and how you can create and expand your own network. Not being politically connected to the relevant places is considered a sign that changing the company might be necessary. An important advice given is that „You should not take organizational and company politics personally.“ (p. 36)
Chapter 4: Why Diversity Matters
The fourth chapter presents diversity as something desirable which can both lead to (more) successful projects and provide opportunities for the individual. Groups which lack diversity are viewed as more prone to take bad decisions than groups which are diverse.
By mentioning the case of artificial intelligence algorithms which replicate the biases of their creators (p. 45) and by referencing some of the tendencies and prejudices we are prone to, described by Daniel Kahneman, Stackowiak underlines the idea that diversity matters. And since it matters, building the right teams is considered a very important task. In these teams the individual can learn from others and can distinguish himself by taking an (informal) leading position which can lead to a formal leading role.
Chapter 5: Developing the Right Skills
In an ever-changing world staying up-to-date and recognizing or even anticipating trends is important for career success. While some skills – like presentation, communication and writing skills – are always in demand, for some abilities you have to know what your goals are, you have to „develop your own career plan“ in order to do the right steps and get into the „right projects“ (p. 60).
In the sub-chapter A Changing Mix of Skills the author makes the prediction that technology-oriented roles will become more business-focused in the future. According to this prediction enterprise architects which are described as having to focus primarily on technology and data architecture and only to a small extent on business architecture as of today, will have to focus to a higher degree on business and to a much lower extent on technology and data architecture in the future (pp. 63-64).
Chapter 6: How to Own Your Future
The last chapter of the book deals with creating and promoting a personal brand, analyzing one’s own strengths and weaknesses, networking via LinkedIn and keeping your interview-skills up-to-date because „You will not own your future until you take control.“ (p. 78)
The chapter ends with a short summary of the book.
Robert Stackowiak gives in his book advice on how to effectively and proactively cope with change in the tech industry and how to successfully further your tech career. With its relatively enjoyable writing style, the less than hundred pages are easy to read. You will probably need a few years of experience though – preferably in a large(er) company – to understand all the advice in the book. If you would want to summarize the book in one sentence you could probably do it best with Sun Tzu’s maxim of knowing yourself and your enemy in order to succeed in battle. You would just have to replace „enemy“ with business and technological contexts and „battle“ with career.
Remaining Relevant in Your Tech Career could have been a great book if Stackowiak would have taken the opportunity to be more self-reflexive and personal and not so „career-oriented.“ The author demonstrates throughout the book a very individualistic world view where each and every one of us makes his own luck: „[…] you can either lead change or be its victim“ (p. 65) and „You will not own you future until you take control“ (p. 78). Putting aside the obvious exaggerations of these two cited statements the most important question is: how much „career“ do you want? Irrespective of the answer, understanding people, business culture and politics will be helpful: either to get ahead or to stay out of trouble.
Robert Stackowiak has extensive experience in the tech field having worked for over forty years in several large American companies (among others IBM, Oracle and Microsoft) in various leading positions. He is the author and co-author of several books and is currently working as a self-employed consultant.
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