Not a job

3 minute read


My previous post What I like in a job came to the conclusion that I like working remotely, I like working with people, and I like building stuff. Having given it a little more thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that What I like in a job is the wrong way to phrase it. It should be What I like in my professional life.

The difference is that job doesn’t give me agency, the ability to shape it. Professional life acknowledges that there are many strands to a career, and the job you do is just one of them.


People are a two-edged sword. Some are wonderful. Some are … less than wonderful.

The prime thing that has generated this change of heart in my professional life is that I’ve had to work with the less than wonderful sort, and I don’t really have the time or the patience for that.

Sayre’s law states:

"Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low."

and I’ve found that to be true in both Australia and the United States.

That is why one further decision I’ve made for my professional life is that I will never try to get back into academia again as a full-time faculty member. Whether it’s nature or nurture, the people in academia seem to live Sayre’s law.

Most in academia are not vicious and bitter politicians. But those who aren’t often don’t have the influence to counteract those who do. Sometimes it’s the easiest to reciprocate in this way.

But politics is people

The usual comeback I get is that all workspaces are political. And that’s true.

However, in the commercial world, decided what is the right thing to do is much clearer: it’s all about the $. If the product will make more money using option 1 versus option 2, it’s option 1 every time. If supplier 1 will cost us more than supplier 2 for the same product and delivery times, it’s supplier 2 every time.

The place in industry where politics is usually limited is in the decisions that don’t make much of a difference.

The biggest “political” decision I can recall being aware of was on a new product development and the decision on which operating system to use. This wasn’t a clear choice, because there were lots of parameters:

  • Licensing cost per device.
  • Knowledge about the operating system by the development team.
  • Available support.
  • Available drivers.

The choice came down to between an embedded Linux variant and Windows CE. The development team favored Linux; senior management favored Windows CE.

What eventually swung the decision to Linux was none of the parameters I listed above. When preparing the review presentation for the project, I had to interact with the legal team. In passing, or so I thought, I mentioned this as something we needed to decide. It turns out, the legal team had recently had a poor legal experience with Microsoft. So we added that to the presentation, and what seemed to be a technical decision was made primarily based on legal’s experience.

Which people?

I need to stop writing now, but the bottom line for this post about Not a job is that I need to figure out which people I want to work with or for.

And that will be the subject of another post or several.