A reader faces a crisis of self-confidence when considering a higher-level job in the August 4, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.


higher-level jobHow can a programmer know that they’re good enough to work as a developer? I found this interesting perspective posted on Quora from someone who has worked in software a long time: “If I only applied for jobs I was qualified for, I’d still be living with my parents.” The person said some companies will take a chance on you. Do you find this to be true?

Nick’s Reply

First, let’s clarify something for readers who don’t know a lot about computer software jobs. In simple terms, a programmer writes the code for a software project. A software developer can code, but is involved in almost all aspects of the project, including creating the concept for a product, designing it, and following it through to production. (Of course, not every programmer wants to become a developer!)

But what we’re going to discuss applies to almost any kind of job, and it applies to your desire to do more so you can earn more.

A chance at a higher-level job

I like that quote: “If I only applied for jobs I was qualified for, I’d still be living with my parents.”

Put another way, loads of employers may reject you because you haven’t already done the job they want to fill. They want to hire someone who’s been doing the job for the last five years — for less money. But you need just one employer to give you a chance to do something new and more advanced for higher pay. So you have to reach!

There are employers that will hire you because they need help and because they believe you will be able to rise to the demands of a higher-level job than you’ve ever had.

I find this to be true in almost all areas of work, not just programming and software development. Some of the best, most highly experienced professionals I know earned their chops by talking their way into jobs they had never done before. They learned through self-study, by taking necessary courses, by doing and by learning from others. I refer to them as people who can ride a fast learning curve without falling off. Companies hire them not just because of what they can do, but for what they can learn to do.

A programmer is good enough to work as a developer if they can show they are good enough, and if the employer allows for a learning curve (and perhaps also provides mentoring or training). For the employer to take a chance putting you in a higher-level job, you must take a chance and try to justify it.

Find an employer that values learning

Peter Cappelli, a labor researcher I know at the Wharton School, has studied why people can’t get hired. He found that one big reason — obviously — is lack of skills. But he also found that there’s a shortage of specific skills because many employers don’t offer existing employees the training required to do more sophisticated work. They’d rather hire someone new who doesn’t need training.

Cappelli found that over the past 40 years employers drastically reduced their investment in training and development. I think this is partly the reason people started “job hopping.” They want to do new things. Programmers want to be developers. Customer service workers want to be be sales people. Bookkeepers want to be cost accountants.

Some of these people make a leap by finding employers who welcome them. Moving up in your chosen career requires learning, even when employers don’t value training. So you may need to get your own training.

Help an employer take a chance on you

You cannot wait for an employer to judge whether you’re “good enough” to do a more sophisticated job. Figure it out yourself first, then help the employer take a chance on you. You may invest in appropriate training, or you may study and practice on your own. Then prepare a mini-business plan showing how you will do the job you want.

Your plan might include some guesswork because you can never know all you need to write up this kind of plan. But what impresses a good manager is how you defend and support your plan. If you can explain this clearly and simply, a good manager may decide you are a good investment and may be more likely to take a chance on you. (See The New Interview.)

It’s up to you to make a commitment, then don’t let your new boss down. Do what’s necessary to come up to speed quickly and prove you’re smart, dedicated, capable and dependable. I know managers who would jump over 10 complacent software developers to hire an enthusiastic programmer who shows evidence of self-motivation and an ability to learn fast.

You may have to hear a lot of No’s before you get to one Yes. But you need only one Yes.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that any programmer can start managing a software development project, or that any bookkeeper can get hired as a cost accountant. But if you apply only for jobs you are qualified for today, you’ll never get the chance to demonstrate that you can ride a fast learning curve to the next step in your career.

How do you know you’re good enough? When you can convince that manager.

Do you ever apply for jobs that you’re probably not qualified for? Tell us how you pulled it off! Is it better to wait for a promotion than to change employers to move up? Is this a chicken-or-egg problem, since employers want to hire without offering any training?

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  1. Don’t forget that the easiest way of doing this is within your own company. With the understaffing that is so common today there are usually holes the next level above you. If you are a programmer take on some development work – of course while doing your own. Which should be a cinch if you are willing to move up.
    In all the promotion meetings I’ve sat in on, the number one asset for the person to be promoted is doing the job already. Sound familiar? The manager to be promoted is already informally managing a small group, because they are seen as leaders and everyone else looks up to them. The person promoted to the next level is already doing the job.
    And even if you don’t get promoted and have to find a job at the next level, you have some good war stories and experience to show you can do the new and higher job.

    • @Scott: This is perhaps the best way to show that you’re worth taking a chance on — do the work before you ask for the job. Of course, this works best at your own company, where you’re visible every day. I like the way you explain how to translate this for a job at another company: your experience doing the [development or whatever the case may be] work gives you some relevant war stories to tell, to show you’re already in the new game (job) you want.

      • Case in point: Walt and Roy Disney started their studio when Walt couldn’t get a director’s job in Hollywood. They knew they were good enough when Oswald the Rabbit got stolen and Mickey Mouse became a national hit.

  2. Hey Nick – long time listener and fan; first time caller :-)

    Not sure it’s germane to the discussion, but having worked in tech for 20 years I’ve literally never seen the terms programmer and developer differentiated! In the 1960s/70s, perhaps, but not recently :-)

    Genuine question: did the question writer mention their sector? Perhaps it’s a very niche thing …

    • @Jon: No, the OP did not say what sector they work in. Maybe you work in a sector where every programmer is also a developer, but I see the two terms differentiated all the time and I know people of each kind. Glad you’ve been listening in a long time, and thanks for “calling”!

  3. Envision and actually doing the job. What will you be writing and doing. How will you be handling your customers. Understand the org structure and understand the customers you are dealing with. Are they demanding or just passive customers? Create projections and understand setbacks. Ask yourself the tough questions like your customer(Boss) would ask you.

  4. I’ve also heard it’s a male/female thing – men are more likely to apply for jobs where they don’t meet all of the “qualifications” (e.g. only 75%) whereas women don’t apply unless they do meet all/most of the “qualifications” (e.g. north of 90%).

    I think this attitude explains a lot ?

  5. The 2 questions posed in this discussion are pure psychology and go to who a person really is. The first question, “How can a programmer know they’re good enough to work as a developer?” The reality is if you have to ask this question then you aren’t good enough and never will be. This question is asked by those people who are tentative in the majority of life’s dealings. They like the idea of being something more but the fear factor of failure, rejection, and the unknown hold them back. They regularly make excuses for their real inner fears. On the other hand, the person who said, “If I only applied for jobs I was qualified for, I’d still be living with my parents,” is the type of person who has that inner drive, desire, fire, and focus to attempt things they perceive will satisfy their quest for betterment. It’s really an adventure to them. This is the person who’s mindset leads them to become a business owner rather than just an employee. These two questions really are elementary psychology, yet the basis for why people act or engage in a certain manner.
    Over the course of a person’s life time, these two types of people will be encountered head-on. Those wannabe’s will gather like bees to similar minded individuals while those adventurers will gravitate towards like-minded people. The adventurer doesn’t want to associate with the wannabe unless he can use that wannabe to further the cause, quest of the adventurer.
    These two mindsets have been around and at play in the marketplace since business began. The same two mindsets also influence how a person lives their life. Sometimes the wannabe dips their toes into the water of adventure but only on a limited basis, time period, and only if they perceive there’s no real danger of failure or rejection.
    Over the past 20 years my company has addressed this issue with a variety of companies assisting them in knowing who to hire for what position. The biggest problem is when a company advances a wannabe into a position they cannot handle due to their tentative nature. This has happened and continues to be the case many times today. It’s true most companies don’t train anymore for certain positions but the sad aspect is that too many colleges and universities don’t adequately train their students either. They force a certain mindset on the students without finding out which camp the student is in.
    Recently the COVID situation has resulted in 35% of my clients stating they are receiving more applications from the wannabe’s than from the adventurers. Another 35% are not taking applications as they are revamping their infrastructure and will decide later, which of the two types they will seek. The balance of 30% indicate the adventurer is approaching them mainly because the company’s marketplace niche entices them. This camp views the virus situation as an opportunity rather than a detriment. Some of the submitted resumes are really compelling and you can easily determine the mindset of the applicant.
    We advise our clients to identify which type is best suited for the open position. Many times we advocate hiring the adventurer because even though they won’t stay that long with the company, what they accomplish and what the company learns from that association will be of great use and benefit down the line. We use the analogy of a race horse for the adventurer. Give him loose reins and he will take you to the winner circle. The wannabe will only allow you to place.
    In life as well as the marketplace, you can’t hide who you really are. The best advice is stay within your inner psyche otherwise the pain of the three fears (rejection, failure, unknown) will consume you. The data supports this premise. The best thing a person can do is avoid the noise and find out which camp they are in and build on that. This is actually a third area and comes from lack of experience. Once a person gets some life experience under their belt, they proceed down the path they feel is really them. In our capacity of advisors, we have seen supervisors, department heads and even owners realize they are in over their heads and thankfully get out before doing more damage than what has already been done.
    The only stigma associated with either personality trait comes from those ignorant to know how each compliments the other. The Horiato Alger story is good for some people but too many lives are ruined by forcing this onto people who cannot handle the weight of being an adventurer. Final verdict: Know thyself and be true to thyself.

    • “It’s true most companies don’t train anymore for certain positions but the sad aspect is that too many colleges and universities don’t adequately train their students either.”

      The last position I held that did traditional training was a few decades ago. Engineers were hired after interviewing with several different managers in different areas of the company and, for the first six months or so, worked for those managers’ departments learning how they work, applying their engineering background in different ways, etc. At the end of that period, those managers decided where the new person fit best. No time was wasted in interviews asking silly questions trying to gauge “fit”. Most people were there for years and years.

      As for colleges and universities: I’m of the mind that it’s not their job to train people to be able to hit the ground running when they begin working at some company. “Learn to learn… you’ll be learning for the rest of your life” was the advice we got in school. Corporations have gotten (unfortunately) fairly successful in outsourcing their job of training to the colleges. And, later, complain mightily when they find that colleges really aren’t trade schools and aren’t turning out graduates fully versed in the latest and greatest Shiny Thing(tm). It never fails to amaze — and sadden — me when seeing job ads demanding N years of experience in a certain technology for an entry level position when there are almost certainly existing employees that have N-1 years of experience in that same technology. In fact, those internal people have probably been using it in-house for as long as ad wants—managers just don’t realize it. I was part of a round of IT layoffs years ago that were part of a push to bring in more modern technology. To a person, everyone who was let go was already well-versed — via self-training — in the skill sets they were later hiring for. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t the first time that management (mostly hired from outside the company rather than promoted from within) demonstrated that they had no idea of what was being done/used within the company’s IT groups.

      • @Rick: “As for colleges and universities: I’m of the mind that it’s not their job to train people to be able to hit the ground running when they begin working at some company. “Learn to learn… you’ll be learning for the rest of your life” was the advice we got in school. Corporations have gotten (unfortunately) fairly successful in outsourcing their job of training to the colleges. And, later, complain mightily when they find that colleges really aren’t trade schools and aren’t turning out graduates fully versed in the latest and greatest Shiny Thing(tm). It never fails to amaze — and sadden — me when seeing job ads demanding N years of experience in a certain technology for an entry level position when there are almost certainly existing employees that have N-1 years of experience in that same technology. In fact, those internal people have probably been using it in-house for as long as ad wants—managers just don’t realize it.”

        Thank you! This sums up my thoughts re so many employers expecting colleges and universities to do their job training for them. The best any college or university can do is provide opportunities for students to learn, and teach them how to learn, as well as basic reading, writing, research skills that transcend majors.

        Granted, the vo-tech schools will do more “job training” but that’s due to the nature of those fields. Once you’re an electrician, the work itself doesn’t vary from employer to employer.

        • “The best that any college or university can do is provide opportunities for students to learn, and teach them how to learn as well as basic reading, writing…..”. Something that should’ve been done in K-12, not later in life with a price tag, of say , $50,000 in debt for a worthless degree and 4+ years of life wasted. Something about “do you want fries with that order” doesn’t sound too appealing, Marybeth.

          • @Antonio Zoli: Agreed! I think much more should be done at the K-12 level, but that’s an entirely new discussion. I’ve noticed a huge difference in reading, writing, communication, and critical thinking skills now that NCLB (No Child Left Behind, a Bush-era law) and RTTT (Race To The Top, an Obama-era law) has changed how K-12 kids are taught, and not for the better. I’ve long believed that you can’t fix the problems in higher education unless the K-12 community has a seat at the table and we start with them.

            In the meantime, we do the best we can with what we have.

  6. This is so incredibly true. I have made two major career shifts in my career. In both cases I found the job I wanted and then kept going for it until I got it. No one gives you a job, you get it for yourself. No one gives you a chance, you seize an opportunity. I always tell my folks that no one will promote them, they need to promote themselves. Take the initiative and you will be rewarded. Always be on the lookout for that next opportunity and go for what you want. You are in control of your career.

  7. @Rick and @Alan.
    What you say may be true for that particular company and for engineering. However, it is not the case for categories outside of engineering. My company has over 300 clients, none of which are engineering, but do include retail, manufacturing, wholesale, local government, and attorneys. There is sufficient reoccurrence to state the fact there are two types of people, those who must be led and are the wannabes and those who are the adventurer type and seize opportunity. In addition, in re-reading my comments, no where did I state anything about silly questions to determine where one fits. This is your assumption and was not what I stated. Please be more specific about what you mean by silly questions and in what process are they asked; is it for initial employment, advancement, or what?
    At different conferences plus our own clients, managers and CEO’s do lament that too many colleges and universities do have their own agenda in teaching a perspective and point of view that aligns with the college president and too much also on political correctness. One of the more commonly stated comments we have heard is, “Why aren’t students being taught critical thinking?” Maybe at your specific college or university and your professional pursuit, that was the case. When over 1200 people in positions of authority state the same or variations of the same question concerning colleges and universities teaching methods, that’s sufficient to believe it’s not isolated.
    Now Alan. Your comments indicate you are the more self-sufficient type of person. What causes me concern is your statement about telling “your folks” (assuming employees) to take charge, promote themselves, and lookout for the next opportunity.” This type of thinking and reasoning is such the person who is more the wannabe, less adventurous type will cower at hearing. That isn’t you they are or how they are wired. There’s nothing wrong with you hiring the person who is similar minded as you but don’t castigate that person who can’t psychologically, emotionally, or physically perform in the same manner that you are accustomed to doing. That ends up being a detriment to you and your company. Remember there are people who do not think, react, or reason the same way you do. Your comments re-enforce my closing statement, “The only stigma associated with each personality trait comes from those ignorant to know how each compliments the other.”

    • @Tomas: Throughout your comments you seem to categorize people as “adventurous” or as “wannabes” and characterize them as simply and always being one way or the other without any shadings. The underlying theme of my article and the discussion here is that people learn, grow and change. Pigeonholing them by using some sort of “system” (there are many) does little but undermine anyone’s ability to learn both work skills and cognitive/emotional strategies for dealing with work, others and the world in more effective ways.

      The use of “personality traits” to guide individuals is an often misused and misapplied “management tool” that has been way oversold by consultants to willing HR executives. It’s a nomothetic approach. It is founded on over-generalizations. While it might be useful as a way to start understanding how a person deals with the world, it just doesn’t do justice to any individual. That’s why we have managers (for better or worse) and don’t just let “the test” plug individuals into jobs.

  8. On getting a break & taking on a job beyond one’s surface qualification… Yes I had the experience. and it also aligns to tech. That’s how I entered the development side of the computer tech/R&D business. While working as a computer operator for an end user, I applied to a software testing/QA position…when non degreed, & which entailed a relo. I think it’s the only position I applied to via answering an ad (dating myself…pre-internet) , others I was recruited into or networked into. It was a stretch by anyone’s imagination. I knew it, & they definitely knew it. But I sent it with an imaginative non-conventional cover letter Which hit the funny bone of the hiring manager. Long story short..I was hired and that’s how I entered into the wonderful world of high tech. No doubt about it, he (& the HR guy who passed it along) a break. This point was driven home via a recruiter in another nearby tech company I applied to for a similar stretch, when I let him know I had this job…He was incredulous (“They hired you!!!”) that not only I was hired for it, but it entailed a relocation. I worked for this boss for a couple of years (I was transferred) and the company for 11 where I worked my way up to Managing the department which was transferred with me) After many years, e.g. this year I thanked him & his bosses boss who approved it. It was a life changer

    Later in life I did this again when I retooled myself into being a recruiter. This time networking in, but again, I had zero experience as an agency recruiter…and a couple of partners took a chance..(admittedly into a high attrition industry that churned newbies all the time)

    I’d not forgotten my entry into the tech world and as a boss I payed it forward and gave out a # of chances myself. To people who didn’t fit the mold, who I thought could make it work, because they thought they could make it work. Once in awhile I was wrong, but I gave them a chance. Most did well.

  9. On how do you make a move up or laterally, into a role for which you aren’t qualified or to where you expect you’ll be blown off? Putting aside the monster egos, competitiveness that comes with some of that, unwillingness to share expertise and the like…that surprise surprise you find in development shops…it’s done all the time. That sounds like I’m saying it’s easy..it’s not. But it’s doable/

    As Scott mentioned.. the best way is from inside. The old saying comes into play. Do the job you want. In the example, the programmer would do some designing. Show the boss you can design..
    This is an oversimplification…but there are 2 ways to do that. 1. Be aware of what’s going on around you, see a need, take the initiative & do a job/task etc that’s technically beyond you. BUT not at the expense of what your day job is. Managers hate butterflies who flit around doing “neat” things..at the expense of doing what they’re supposed to be doing. So it usually means investing in some of your own sweat equity.

    Are there projects just laying around? In all the time I worked and was a manager, I NEVER lacked for useful work, or as a manager had a surplus of resources or support for ideas. For example in the development shop, there were a lot of tools and at times whole internal systems that evolved simply from the developers building things for themselves…technically unfunded. So yes there’s always stuff to be done.

    2. The second way…is to tell someone who can give you a shot. A team leader, or your boss. They can’t read your mind, and as I said, they likely could use some help. If you’re trying to reach higher or deeper, just helping out with lightweight design work for instance, will free up time for more experienced people. If you’re good at it, it will be noticed, primarily by peers. And peer respect builds street cred and pave a way up.

    Now if you’re fortunate enough to work for the right boss, he/she will grow you…by assigning you some tasks at the next level, so you can show your stuff and learn new skills. That’s a win/win

    But how do you break in from the outside? In the world I lived in..The developers didn’t suffer mere mortals. For example application developers who decided they wanted to join the world of Operating Systems development (or as Nick exemplified perhaps a book keeper who had dreams of being an accountant)..This world was populated with goose stepping computer scientists, famous in their own minds…with high standards. They weren’t impressed by resumes or interviews.. they needed to see it to believe. I’m exaggerating a bit, but not too much.

    So a good way to get there, is obliquely. First get in the company so you can leverage a move inside. For example, I ran a peer group to development (in my eyes, not their’s…). We tested and effected Software QA. I hired a lot of people with engineering aspirations who didn’t have a snow ball’s chance of applying to development. But in the conduct of their work in my team, they were in a position to show their stuff to the developers they lived with. Including designing test systems. They worked with them day to day. They could and did gain street cred and transfers would be worked out. I knew what they wanted when I hired them. And I had no problem with people passing through. Good QA people and QA experience made great developers. Nor did this bridge get built overnight..but they did get built.

    Did likewise for tech writers who I also managed who moved into hardware and Software engineering.

    And note, initially in my world, Programmer and designer/developer were the same. The culture was you
    built it, you owned it, including maintaining and fixing it. Over time support was split off so the high priced help was not burning up development cycles fixing bugs and the baggage that went along with it. And true there were some engineers who loved cutting code..and had little desire to get wrapped around the axle of design. But generally developers were programmers and vs versa. Big picture and design creativity was eventually invested in architects. Who cut no code.

    • @Don Harkness: I love your examples of muddling through incredible career changes. This happens far more often than people might think. What stops people from trying this is the shopping-list style of recruiting employers have become accustomed to. If you don’t have what’s on the list, don’t bother applying, we don’t want you! This hurts employers and workers alike because it presumes people don’t or can’t learn or change. And that’s bunk!

      Meanwhile, HR proclaims in its recruitment advertising that it wants “creative people who can think out of the box!” No, HR does not. HR wants square pegs that fit into square holes only, and that fit on the fat part of the compensation curve.

      • that old sports analogy fits : I can’t guarantee you’ll succeed, but I can guarantee you’ll miss 100% of what you don’t try.
        I don’t know about other professions..but the shopping list approach actually ignores what should be sought. people who reach.
        Think about it, in theory..hardware and software engineers live in R&D worlds. It’s debatable as to whether the “R” is really there, in most cases if it is, it’s a small r. But the development part is usually a big D…an exercise in doing something not done before. by oneself, in the company and even anywhere. If you can articulate exactly what’s needed,…it’s not development..it’s replication.
        The best people you can have, are those who can comfortably move outside their comfort zones, quickly, and work with ambivalence & flat out unknowns. Because that’s what it’s all about, You’re building teams that can do things not done before.
        those shopping lists are like saying “we want people who want to be comfortable doing what they’ve done before…& here’s the list. When their attention should be on people who are saying…I have some of that, can learn what I need to know..and while I’m doing it I think I can take you into new territory. See I’ve done this before.

  10. On Training: For most of my tech life..training was “smart people figure out what needs to be done..fast” Train yourself. As I noted I walked in cold, with just the barest what at that time was high level coding..right into close to machine level coding. But the time we new hires were offered training, we already knew who to code.

    But..training was offered. Training is one of those things management claims is valuable and important,
    and from watching it happen multiple times..thrown under the bus at 1st sign of fiscal problems. I’ve seen training departments destroyed just about overnight, including years of content development, people etc.

    In one company, per self assessment. the engineering Department ordained that new hires would go through a 6 week rigorous training program..basically an onboarding step..before they’d be released to their assigned teams. The program was developed by engineers, taught by engineers, very well received by the new engineers. It was excellent. Then shot. Not due to budgeting, but mainly what I call the “Why Isn’t Johnny Coding” syndrone. Upper management has the attention span of less than a year.

    Not once, it’s not an original thought, saw the same exact thing happen again in a different company.

    I built and managed an overseas software lab. Along with a lot of recruiting. THE common question I’d get is about what training we provided. I was working for one of those aforementioned companies & would explain that “real men trained themselves”.

    Training at least in the tech world..has always been a good investment…a good idea…but an endangered species.

    • I hear you Don! My company only gave us training when they decided to switch over to new(er) technologies; not as a regular part of one’s job. We could’ve learned other tools, etc., that would’ve helped everyone had we been given the chances to study them. I got laid off there, and because of the company’s training stance, I found out how behind I was in approaches and tools that everyone else had been using regularly.

    • @Don: In another comment, reader Jon noted that he’s never seen a distinction between programmer and developer. Just wanted to note that your experience suggests the distinction is not universal — or wasn’t at one time, anyway.

  11. One of the beauties of a free market is one can vote with their feet and move on. This site has mentioned more than once to find employers who value your contributions and treat you with some semblance of respect. If an employer won’t allow you opportunities to advance, then find other opportunities and walk away. Same for dead end interviews with dullards. Just walk.

  12. Hired nearly 40 years ago for a job I didn’t think still existed, but immediately on finding out what they were interested in read the two books in the department library on it.
    However, there is a third type; those who are ready to apply for a job they don’t know how to do, but not to learn how.

    • @Dale: You remind me of a consulting job I once took at the urging of a friend who turned it down. It was doing systems analysis and design (at H-P) for a software project that had already failed once, epically. I knew nothing about systems analysis. I checked 4 text books out of the library and speed-read them over a weekend, then showed up for a meeting with the manager whose team needed the software to do their jobs. (So this was an internal project.) I’d heard she was a firebrand so I never used the new jargon I’d picked up. Instead, I riffed on what I’d learned using common terms like “how to make it work the way you need it to work.” I did 9 months on that project, interfacing between business users and the software developers who were brought in to create a new software application that the IT department failed at. I learned that “systems analysis” is first and foremost three things: Listening carefully to what the user needs, translating clearly with the developers who are building it, and keeping both parties aware and involved in each step of the process. The users loved “testing” the code every step of the way and the developers were relieved that someone was making sure the users were happy every step of the way. By the time the application was delivered to the biz team, they knew exactly how it worked because they were involved. The first iteration blew up because IT asked for a spec, disappeared for a year and built it, then delivered it. The users rejected what they didn’t recognize.

      Which is a long way of saying, there are a lot of things you’ve never done that you can probably do if you study a bit, listen, communicate clearly, and respect and manage the expectations of the people you’re working with.

      I never again did that kind of project, but it was a gas to figure it out and do something completely out of my wheelhouse. I believe it was that experience that gave me the guts to write a book, start a web publishing business, and leap out of my comfort zone. As you note, you have to “learn how” on your own time.

      • Nick, what you really did was some research. You read some books…which it appears anyone could have done before you appeared on the scene.
        I noted when I arrived on the job as a software tester I’d really reached. It may sound odd to say, but my advantage was I didn’t know what I didn’t know. The company (NCR) was pushing 100 years old when I arrived, limited software experience..but they had this really marvelous library (two in fact, one that was a conventional library & one technical library). They had zero on software testing, but was lush on hardware testing, so I read some of that and adapted it to software, & in so doing appeared creative to the softies. I say appeared..as there’s very little original thought..I just took a path different from brute force trial and error.

        Over the years it’s been my observation that the majority of professionals don’t seem to research their professions…or simply read. Including managers. Hence “NIH…Not invented here is rife.
        In my travels I ended up managing a technical library (before it was shot) and a librarian. Which drove the point home. The librarian was not an engineer..or programmer… but a professional librarian. And damn good librarian. She educated me on how she could help, and how little the techies asked for it. But those that did were very impressed. Say for example someone could tell her …I need to find out if there’s any info available on printer drivers..I’ve never done one..She’d come back with a report on sources and a summary that pretty much was a how-to gleamed from her research.

  13. My first job came from a college internship that I “learned” into. No one knew how to get the job done and I figured it out. After 18 years of successful growth and promotions in that company, I ventured out to a new endeavor that took me way beyond what I thought possible.

    One of my bosses gave us a plaque that read ” Ancora imparo “. I’m still learning. Michelangelo’s musings at age 87.

  14. On reflection there’s a parallel to the writer’s question.. Where one is already in a company…doing something in their profession…say programming software….and you’re given/assigned to a task that has zero to do with your skills/qualifications and professions.
    It happens. a “why me?” moment.
    Why. If you’re an optimist you can assume someone from ahigh thinks so well of you, that he/she selected you for your ability to do “anything”. Or you can assume someone from ahigh needed a warm body to do something they considered they considered busywork or no importance to them..and didn’t want to burn resources that could be applied to in their view better use. So they’ll take resources from something they don’t give a flying thud about.
    For example. I lived in the software world, managing teams who tested it, wrote about it, finalized the release of it etc. And a Director..(bosses boss) reached down and assigned me to represent my local engineering organization in a team evaluating the entire hardware line for electronic leakage/emissions. Because a government agency lowered the bar on how much was tolerable. If an electronic device Bled too much discharge your radio might have some static, tv go nuts etc.
    The point being I, or any software person wasn’t even remotely qualified to muck in that. In a world to your amazement lived engineers who specialized in the design of pins..at the end of cables.
    This was non trivial. This wasn’t instead of my regular job, it was in addition to it. And it went on & on & on requiring me to commute between MA & NC ..until a new boss was hired..asked me what I did for a living..heard this task, and said “that’s bullshit”. That’s a shit job. You’re done ..which was right as it was about done.
    That was all background. The moral of the story is in your working life, you can be handed something that keeps you up at night. About all of the points made about bidding for a job seemingly beyond your ken, applies to when you’re given a job seemingly beyond your ken. It’s nothing I’d ever bid for…didn’t like it, or enjoy it, but did it, and learned a lot in the process. The byproduct was making contacts in Headquarters, Mfg, hardware engineering that normally would have been out of my sight.
    I wasn’t a star performer, but not stupid either. And made me acutely aware of and appreciation for
    people who have demonstrated they can retool themselves, move out of comfort zones and deliver what’s expected.
    It’s not a challenge or unusual for someone to excel in their chosen fields..doing what they enjoy. But doing a good job on something you loathe…that’s someone who likely will be an asset to your team.