The great gang at the Cincinnati .NET User Group invited me to participate in a panel discussion at their meeting tonight. I was honored to be up front of the group with Tim Apke and Ed Sumerfield, both two sharp guys with much more technical experience than me. All three of us have, as Mike Wood put it "a long history in IT" which I think was Mike's nice way of saying all of us are old farts.
The discussion was very free form and hit a lot of great topics ranging from specialization or generalization to estimation accuracy to workplace culture. Dealing with new technology was big one, as was questions about breadth of experience (outside of the strictly technical domain). The value of certifications was bandied about with a mild consensus seeming to form around them being good in the proper context: use 'em if you need to prove your chops early in your career, but don't overly fixate on them.
Hearing Tim's and Ed's perspectives along with those of the audience was a great experience. Tim and Ed are wicked smart and have some great insight into how to steer one's career along. Tim was emphatic about taking ownership of your own career. In a sidebar after the meeting he compared taking care of your career to taking care of your car. You keep your car's tires in good shape, change the oil, and give the vehicle a tune up on occasion. Same concept applies to your career. Ed also impressed the hell out of me with a number of things, not the least of which were his closing comments which was a short haiku along the lines of "own your path" but he said it way more better.
One of the regulars there (forgot your last name, Jamie -- sorry!) hit me with the last question of the evening and asked how I manage to balance work, community involvement, book writing, and time with the family. That one hit very, very close to home and got me choked up in a major way -- not what I would have preferred for my last question of the evening, but there you have it. I don't always do a great job of work/life balance, but I've made some tough choices in my career to favor family over work. I've passed up great opportunities, I've struggled with sub-optimal part-time positions, and I've left a high paying job to be unemployed at home in order to take care of the kids. My career would be in a much, much different spot had I chosen career over family.
The cons of those decisions are that I'm not some internationally recognized expert traveling around the world talking at TechEd Barcelona or running some wicked cool project in Dubai, nor am I billing out at $500 per hour while working at iDesign or some similar firm. The pros of those decisions are that I got stay at home with my daughter and son while they grew up, and I'm not traveling three or four weeks of each month while my wife and kids live their lives without seeing me. (Another con: costs of therapy for two kids when they hit teen years and figure out how screwed up they are after having had me as their primary caregiver...)
So to those of you who thought I got emotional about that question, you're right. It's really at the core of who I am, even if I don't get it right as often as I should. (That's me, too, BTW.)
Actually, forget all that. It was really allergies. Sorry.
In any case, the panel discussion at the group was an excellent evening. I hope attendees got something useful out of it!