Today marks two important milestones for me – it’s the first time I’ve ever mentioned Pfizer on this blog and after 14 years, it’s my last day working for them. Both those milestones are significant and in their own ways, mark a pivotal point in my career. For those that are interested, I’d like to tell you what I’ve been doing in recent years and give a hint of what will come next.
There’s this odd thing that tends to happen in many peoples’ careers and I suggest it’s particularly prevalent in technology: you get really, really good at something and then it hits you – you have to stop it. Well actually, you could continue doing it, but not if you want to “progress” against traditional measures such as seniority and income. That’s an unfortunate aspect of our technology field in general and that was where I found things heading as I become an “architect”.
Now architect, to my mind, is always a bit of a funny word in that it means very different things to different people. Does it mean you sit there drawing UML diagrams all day? Or designing what projects should go into a Visual Studio solution? Or just corralling developers into some sense of a common direction? In many cases, it means architecture astronauts which in my experience, are a particularly dangerous lot and certainly not a direction I was ever going to be heading.
For me, as my role became more about architecture and less about development it increasingly focused on the longer term goals of how we implemented technology and how we set a common vision for the organisation rather than just arriving at our future destinations by default. In a place worth a couple of hundred billion dollars, that can pose some rather interesting challenges. That my tenure covered such fundamental shifts in technology as the emergence of social media, mobile and cloud made things particularly interesting.
As of today though, all that comes to an end.
For most of the last decade, my role focussed on Asia and other “emerging markets” across the globe. In many ways it was the best of both worlds – I got to live in what I (and many others) consider the best place on earth down here in Australia but I also got to work with countries that were growing rapidly and presenting some really interesting technology challenges as they did. It meant that in the one day I might be working out how we handled communications with customers in India where internet connectivity is low but everyone is on SMS then ensuring we did the right thing in China when it came to the government’s expectations of where web assets were allowed to be hosted. The local technology idiosyncrasies across the region made it an exceptionally diverse role; Indonesia almost exclusively uses Firefox (although Chrome is making headway and IE, well…). The Philippines has a massive affinity with PHP. Pakistan has serious internet connectivity problems. Everywhere has their own unique little differences when it comes to technology.
But there were two two immutable facts about my role at Pfizer and that of others in Australia who are moving on with me: I was in an expensive country which commands high wages on the global scale and I was looking after a region which whilst growing quickly, remains cheap. There’s also the fact that Australia is a hell of a long way away from everywhere – you can’t get to Asia in less then 8 hours and that makes for very expensive journeys when they’re needed, not just in terms of dollars but in time spent watching movies on the plane and not actually being productive. Add to that the fact that in the company of Asia, Australia is clearly not where the growth is across most industries, and the writing was on the wall – the role was made redundant.
There are different terms for redundancy in different parts of the world, but in short it’s the employment equivalent of “It’s not you, it’s me, but let’s still be friends”. It’s funny watching the gears in peoples’ heads work when you tell them this:
“Whoa, is that a bad thing? Should I tell him I’m sorry for him? Or wait – could that actually be a good thing? Should I say congrat…”
In my case, it’s a very good thing! To their credit, Pfizer’s redundancy package is extremely favourable to the effect that if I so desired, I could now go surfing for a very, very long time. In fact it’s so favourable that just the potential of realising this eventuality one day kept me from doing things I really wanted to much earlier lest I miss the chance to exit in this fashion and create a whole bunch of extra choices for me. Particularly last year as things started really firing on other fronts I’ll talk about in a later post, the temptation was strong and I came close… but stayed. That turned out to be a massively fortuitous decision.
So it’s a big win-win; Pfizer gets to focus their energy and their dollars in the areas that make the most sense for them and the redundancy helps me to focus my energy on the things that really excite me and offer a whole new level of opportunity. I’m sure there’ll be those that lament the decision (I hope there are otherwise I really haven’t made enough of an impact) but the path forward is now clear and I couldn’t be happier.
Things I will not miss…
Just in case you’re wondering, no, there will be none of this:
But with that in mind, there are certainly things I can happily talk about not missing when it comes to my “old” way of working in a large corporate.
Driving to the office – I actually don’t mind driving, but routine is what gets me. I worked a lot from home in mornings and evenings and usually travelled the 30 min journey after and before peak hour, but by the time I made myself presentable, shut down what I was doing then fired back up again in the office and repeated the whole thing in reverse at the end of the day, there was a one and a half to two hours burned. Well not entirely – listening to podcasts on the drive has been enormously beneficial – but it’s not exactly productive time.
Conference calls. If you don’t understand why, check out conferencecall.biz, I’ll wait. See what I mean? I’d frequently spend a couple of hours a day on the phone and I’d always be dealing with bad lines, incorrect conference codes, dogs, roosters (yes, you know who you are!) and other things that kept me from actually producing things.
Email. Now of course I’m never getting away from email entirely, but there was rather a lot of it:
That was as of last weekend and between conference calls and emails, a huge amount of my time went on talking about doing stuff as opposed to actually doing it. In fact a few years back I ran RescueTime for a while and found I was in Outlook for about 2.5 hours a day. That’s just in Outlook and it doesn’t include the time spent in other apps in order to deal with the stuff that came in via Outlook! Maybe that’s what people do when they “progress”, but it’s never quite the same as actually creating something that’s a tangible outcome.
What all of these things have in common is that whilst they were required to keep the corporate technology wheels turning, they meant that what I actually produced was enormously incommensurate to the effort I put in. That can be a bitter pill to swallow for results-orientated people, which brings me to the next phase…
I’ve known about this exit for a few months now and what’s surprised me is just how many people I interact with online didn’t know I had a “normal” job. All that blogging and speaking and other things I’ve produced have happened late at night, on weekends, on vacation (most of my speaking has been done out of my annual leave) and basically whenever I could find spare moments amongst the commitments of a demanding job. I’ll write more at a later date about how I multi-tasked myself to do all this, suffice to say it has been a lot of hard work.
So where to next? Let me talk about how I’ll be working next and I really love this graphic from Jacob Morgan’s “The Future of Work”. I find myself standing where the half-grey, half-green bloke is right now (although in fairness, Pfizer did some of the grey bits better than the image suggests):
There are a few things in particular there that really resonate with me and will drive my future direction. Working any time and anywhere, for example. The reality is that I’ll always “work” much more than your classic 40 hours a week anyway because I love most of what I do in the technology world and frankly the line is often a bit grey between work and play. I’d like to go for a surf during the day and take the kids to school and work when it suits my other activities. Sometimes that will be from the base of a mountain after a day on the snow.
What really clicks with me though is the ability to “create your own ladder and become a leader”. The description above is pretty apt on both the past side of things and the future. In fact the reality of it is that by you being here reading this and possibly having been following me via my public presence, you’ve seen this happen anyway. Becoming a public identity and carving out my own niche has been enormously empowering and that is very firmly the direction I’ll continue to head in now. My success will be directly tied to my results, not to which row I sit in on an HR spreadsheet. Many people are very comfortable with the certainty of a corporate career and that’s just fine, but it was never really my cup of tea.
Identity and profile
I read back through my first public blog post ever the other day – Why online identities are smart career moves posted in 2009 – and it really hit me just how much of a turning point that was. It was a recognition that an independent identity beyond the one you have in your place of work is valuable and it also set me on a course that has given me fantastic opportunities in my post-Pfizer world. I’m going to wait until a later blog post to talk specifically about what I’m doing next, but let me finish this post right back where I began nearly six years ago:
The thing is though, building an online profile is not an overnight process and I don’t know if I’m still going to be as enamoured with my job (or my employer as enamoured with me!) in two years, five years, ten years; whatever! It takes a lot of time to build a public identity and waiting until you actually need one is just not going to work.
The next phase is well and truly taking shape and it’s all because of this. Profile, relationships and reputation have lead to fantastic opportunities that make this a very easy, very rewarding transition.
I’m enormously excited by what’s happening next. The experiences at Pfizer have shaped that future and exiting in this fashion is the best result I could ever have hoped for. I’ll follow up with another post as the dust settles on this outgoing phase of my life, I’m enormously excited about what’s coming next!