When I first became a scrum master after being a developer, many people congratulated me on my promotion. I will confess that I was very confused by that response. I didn’t see scrum master as a ‘better’ job than being a developer, although I did see it as a job better suited to my particular skills and personality. I also hadn’t gotten a pay rise with my new role but I guess people assumed I had because career’s are commonly viewed as ladder. If I was changing my role, it makes sense that people would assume that I was stepping up another rung.
The Career Ladder Never Ends
When people think about the career ladder, they imagine that at the top sits success, just waiting for those strong enough to make the climb. But if you talk to people in CEO or similar positions, you find that they struggle with success and failure as much as everyone else. Worse, except for a few, they often don’t see themselves as at the top at all. There is always someone better. The grass is always greener on the other side. You get the point, the career ladder is never-ending and there is no magical point where you suddenly achieve success.
So how do we achieve success in our careers? In my view, success is job satisfaction.
Contrary to what you might think, salary is only a small part of job satisfaction. While a pay rise may increase job satisfaction in the short term, in the long term it becomes normalised and no longer has an effect. Much more important is getting along with the people you work with and feeling like you are creating something valuable.
Winding Career Paths
Everyone has different talents, abilities and personalities. This means that the job that suits one person will be hell for another. This is great because it means we can all find our own private niche. The hard thing is finding what that might be. The classical view of careers as a ladder discourages people from finding what they’re really good at and what they really want to do. The general expectation is that we will decide on our career when we leave high school, or maybe university, and from there it will be a straight line up.
Real life careers shouldn’t have to work like that. Organisations and individuals shouldn’t be afraid to experiment. If you’re not happy doing what you are, then find ways to try other roles out that might suit you better. Instead of a career being a straight line, I like to think of it more as a winding path through the forest. At times we might think we’re lost, but the experiences we gain on our way to find the true path will be invaluable and enriching. And of course, finding our true path is a much more successful outcome that many miles on the path headed in the wrong direction.
Once you find the career that gives you the most satisfaction, where to from there? You might want to go ‘up’, give it a try, but don’t be ashamed to realise it’s not for you and choose to stay where you are. Someone who is skilled and satisfied with their job is infinitely more valuable than someone who is promoted to incompetence and dissatisfaction. While in the short-term heading up might yield a salary increase, in the long term that benefits may disappear (when you get fired or demoted for incompetence) or cease to matter (when the salary no longer makes the dissatisfaction worthwhile).
A better option is to focus on expanding your current position. What knowledge, skills, traits can you learn that will make you better in your current position? Anyone who thinks there is nothing is either a rare prodigy or fooling themselves. From an organisational point of view it’s important to recognise employees who are the most valuable and happy in their current positions. Help them to find ways to do that job better rather than forcing them up the ladder where you could lose them and their value completely
Careers with Scrum
Now this is a scrum blog so you might be wondering what this has to do with scrum. In my opinion, Scrum is very supportive of non-vertical career paths.
Scrum focuses on the value we provide to the customer instead of placing value in the vertical hierarchy. It also centres around continuous improvement teaching us to be brave, to inspect our personal development and adapt our career to truly serve us. Our careers belong to us, not the other way around.
The cross-functional team is also a great environment for learning about and sampling different roles. I’ve seen developers wanting to be business analysts having a chance to wet their feet; some deciding to jump and others realising they were happy where they were.
Scrum provides the organisational flexibility to let people find the role where they can deliver the most value to the business, the customer and, most importantly, themselves.