I was having a tough time convincing Sumeet to start thinking about next steps in his career. Not that he was a lazy, laid back chap with an attitude. Sumeet was a guy with sharp intellect, a degree from a top engineering university, an engaging curiosity, and huge amount of stamina to put in hours in whatever he was doing. He defied the convention of the intelligent to be lazy. He defied the convention of the well educated to think that they know it all -he remained curious.
I saw in him potential for doing bigger things. So I was chatting with him.
“Please don’t start with ‘how do you see yourself with x years from now’ stuff. I have told you that I don’t see myself at all years from now” Sumeet said peremptorily.
I was prepared for this. I asked, “You write beautiful code. Today you are writing it on one platform, tomorrow it will be on another platform. Today you are writing your code in one domain, tomorrow it will be in another domain. You are a great code writer. Do you wish to be doing that always?”
“Why shouldn’t I? I like writing code.”
“Sure you like. That’s one reason why you do it so well. The other reasons are your intelligence, knowledge, curiosity, and zeal of going to the bottom of everything”
“No, you aren’t getting it!”
Sumeet looked genuinely puzzled. Soon enough a sheepish grin appeared underneath his stubble. I knew his mind was working furiously. I enjoyed the wait.
“Wait! Are you alluding to my yawns which appear even before it is noon? They are because of my late nights watching recorded TV episodes”
“Not quite. You also play games and keep cracking higher levels while you keep yawning”
“It’s OK to play games?”
“The point is not about your games. Let’s say you are of 28 years now. When you are 35 or even much before that you will have lost some of your curiosity and passion to get to the bottom of everything and to build everything up well”
“Why? Can’t I retain all that I have?”
“Look. There is only so much one can do all by oneself. After a while what you are doing so well today will become a routine for you. It already has. That’s the reason for your yawns. Aren’t you just coasting along?”
“But I can always crack tougher problems by myself”
“They don’t get much tougher for someone like you at the level of an individual, unless you are working on something audacious like finding theory of everything or unless you are on a quest to find who you really are and why”
“I am not convinced. There will be enough challenges ”
“When you have mastered writing code at individual level next challenges will come only from code written by tens or hundreds of coders. Sorry for the word. Hundreds of people can’t be good writers. And today you need so many of them”
“I hate to be a manager” I think he tried to second guess me.
“If you wish to handle technical challenges several orders of magnitude bigger than what you get to handle at individual level now, you will have to get inputs from others, learn, develop ideas, influence others, and build and execute. Whatever you call doing all this, it is inevitable”
I continued, ” It may happen sooner or later, I mean hitting your wall. That’s for sure. The question is, how are you going to deal with when it does happen. Saying that I will cross the bridge when I come to it will not work because by that time you would have changed for worse. You would have changed because of lack enough challenges which put your abilities through a stretch. Even now you are finishing day’s work fast. Then you wait for others to catch up. By that time you would have seen some of your colleagues falling behind. You would have seen some of them shifting to new jobs, bigger roles, and handling complex challenges. You would have gone through such comparisons.”
Sumeet was in a deep thought. His sheepish and impish smile had gone now.
I added, “There is nothing wrong to continue to like coding. The question which someone abundantly gifted like you must answer is whether it is going to be enough even if it pays you well enough”
“By the way, there is shorter name for -to get inputs from others, learn, develop ideas, influence others, and build and execute. I call it leadership ” I finished.
Sumeet said, “I see your point. I will need to think about it”
Did Sumeet continue to stick to pure coding? How did his career develop? We will need to catch up with Sumeet’s story for answers.
But I think we must ask ourselves such questions. If we don’t and if we aren’t on a lookout for ourselves, sooner or later we are bound to hit a wall of boredom or frustration or despair or victimization or being unsung or being left behind, or any combination of such feelings. Don’t we owe it to ourselves to do much better?