My daughter is enough of a social person that I keep considering buying her a set of Moo cards with our contact info on it so she can hand it out to the kids she meets at summer camps, school, etc. There is a school directory, but I’ve had more success hand-printing business cards (or when I want to really catch someone’s eye, a postcard) and handing that out. So sometimes I play around with the Moo site, trying to convince myself that I should just invest in a set of 50 or 100 “Let’s Play” business cards for my seven-year-old. They’re actually pretty cute.
What is less cute is that during this process, I inevitably get drawn into toying around with cards for myself. I already have corporate business cards which are nice but unnecessary in my current position and really don’t describe me beyond contact details. Then signing up for an intensive, four-day seminar in Software Product Management in mid-September (which included a group lunch and a networking reception) made my Moo ruminations much more urgent. What use was handing out something that was nothing more than my job title and corporate contact info?
Let’s not point out that I’m not brave enough to hand anything to anyone unsolicited. In my Palace of the Mind, however, I envisioned myself as sociable, gracious, and articulate at these occasions and even in the classroom.
Suddenly, I’m confronted by the front of a Moo card with several blank lines, each one with a pale grey suggestion of what you should fill that empty space with. Okay: name at the top, that’s easy; it’s a nice name: easy to parse out and spell or say. But then comes my job title. And then I have to wonder “who am I?” because my official title of “bioinformatics systems programmer” isn’t particularly accurate or informative. It’s about as compelling as my shoe size.
Well, the naked truth is that I’m a Web Applications Developer. But beyond that, filling in the lines of the Moo card to make a sort of haiku about who I want people to remember me as becomes a real challenge. I show my husband my attempts and his reactions range from “ew” to “*shrug.*” Having worked alone or as a consultant for so much of my career, my soft skill set rivals my hard skill set and hard skill buzz words move so quickly anyway that it’s the soft things that I want to be remembered for: my knack for designing systems out of vague or off-the-cuff requirements; my agility in the face of feedback; my dedication to both my bosses and my end-users.
Then there’s the dark underbelly of soft skills: my delight in dealing with my end-users (even when they’re reporting bugs or user errors); my joy in helping my coworkers; the thrill of data coming together to make a solid narrative of information; the secret passion for planning and organizing.
But these soft skills are the things I long to put on the Moo card in efficient, evocative four or five word phrases. I am not my tech buzzwords: I am so much more, but I doubt my ability to ever articulate that in a job interview.
Because the sad news is that I can’t stay where I am forever. Our current government contract has two years left, after which we may or may not be renewed–if a renewal is even offered. But even then, I don’t think I can stay forever–not thirteen years in the same place where where I have no hope of an actual promotion, where I have no hope of working with someone in the same tech stack and exchange ideas, where software is a hair-on-fire end to the means, not something to be beautifully crafted for its own sake so that it’s durable and resilient.
And so, with two years to go, I have time to invest in who I want to be: to find a path. Do I want to double down and be a coder’s coder, the kind who is isolated from stakeholders and clients and has her velocity measured and compared in sticky notes? Can I branch out and find a programmer/analyst position? A position as an analyst alone? I’m not so in love with coding that I couldn’t be happy churning out user stories and flow charts and other artifacts. Product management eventually? Project management? My current project manager is so competent, she inspires me.
The answer taunts me from just around an unseen corner. The only truth that’s staring me in the face is that I can’t move on to a job where I’m pigeonholed as a coding robot that lives in isolation and executes minute tasks that have already been described in excruciating detail. I have to be a stakeholder in my own project, contributing more than just lines of code but ideas and interact both with the project owners and the end users. Tall order, but like my husband says, “you only need one.”
And maybe that’s the perfect closer for my Moo card: Lisabeth Cron ~ Web Applications Developer ~ [contact info] ~ “You only need one…”