ambition and advancement

Years ago when I worked for Sun Microsystems I had the opportunity to talk with many of the executives. I was consistent in asking one question from all of them and the question threw everyone of them when I asked the question. It was a simple question….. “are you happy doing what you are doing”. Granted, it is a very personal question that I truly have no right to ask. The answers ranged from an indignant yes to an honest some days yes and some days I just want to grow potatoes. The question was one of those open ended questions that asked much more than the question. It asked about their general state of mind. It asked if they are a leader worth following. It asked if their job was something worthy to aspire to. It also asked if our relationship was at a point where I could ask the question. The ones who answered the question with indignation quickly communicated that I was below their status and had no right to talk to them as a peer. The ones who mulled the question over typically turned it back on me and asked if I was happy with my job. Some used the phrase job, some used the phrase what I am doing. The ones who used the phrase job quickly implied that I worked for them and that this was a business relationship. The ones that asked what I am doing usually followed up with two or three other questions and stopped me from asking more questions about them. Only one asked me how they could make it more fun and improve the group as well. I was willing to follow this person around the company and work in whatever group he managed. The only reason that I stopped working in his group was that he quickly became a VP and was in charge of a world wide group. Working for him would have required that I travel 20 out of 30 days and that makes it difficult to start a family. My wife and I agreed that it would be rich and rewarding financially but we would not be able to raise kids.

The second question that I typically asked was how they got to where they are. The stories that I got were very interesting. Some said that it was hard work and ambition. Others said that it was luck and picking the right projects. The ones that said luck were able to expand on the projects that they worked on and how it enabled them to take the next step. They could also name two or three key people that made them successful. The ones that said it was hard work could rarely name a person or two.

I am trying to apply these same tactics to the technologies that I am trying to learn and understand. Is there a project or customer that is using this that will drive me to a better understanding? Is there someone inside the company that I can turn to with questions to troubleshoot issues that I am having? Is this a project that is trivial or considerable and worthy of research.

Right now I am at the level of understanding all of the Oracle products and being able to ask the first question about all of them. I am at the level of being able to explain why something should be used and why it should not. I am at the level of being able to describe what resources are required to make something work and what questions need to be asked before they move to the next step. What I need to get is an understanding of the details, like how difficult a database upgrade is or how hard is it to import data from a different format. In this series of blog posts, I am hoping to document the learning process and detail the what, how, why, and deeper level details of the technology layer of Oracle products.


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