Lars, head of engineering for a small software company, was talking with Antony, a recent hire. Antony had worked for Lars for about a year and had taken advantage of Lars’ open-door policy.
“I appreciate all the effort you and everyone else puts into leveraging my and everyone else’s strengths. I’ve been through all the training, and taken all the assessments, and answered all the questions. However, I still have the same question I started with: how will you leverage my passion when it’s not something you need?”
“That does seem a puzzle,” Lars agreed. “I could tell you that I’ve yet to come across someone we’ve hired that hasn’t been an asset. But, there’s a first time for everything. Maybe you’re that first.”
Antony now looked even more downcast than he had at the start of the conversation.
“I doubt that is the case, however,” continued Lars. “Tell me what brings you joy, and let’s see if we can’t find a way to put that to use.”
Whatever lights you up, your organization needs it
“Well, what I really love is numbers.”
“Software is nothing but zeros and ones, so we certainly have plenty of numbers. But, if that was enough, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. So: what is it about numbers that you love?”
“Sorting them, dissecting them. Cracking them open and discovering the secrets they’re hiding.”
“Data analysis, then?”
“I guess? Not dry statistics, like being an actuary or something. I love uncovering the stories they’re hiding.”
“Ah. When I said we have plenty of numbers, I made a joke about code, but I wasn’t joking. We have no end of data about just about everything.”
“All that sales data isn’t that interesting to me. Nor is our financials.”
“It’s not just our sales and finances that produce numbers. We have copious statistics about every aspect of building our product. Checkin frequency, numbers of builds per day, lines of code, defect rates…if you do it as part of your job writing code, we probably have data about it.”
“What do you use it all for?”
“Not much, today. But, I’m sure important stories are waiting to be heard.”
“What kind of stories?”
“What are we doing well? What are we doing poorly? Inefficiently? Where do we spend effort needlessly? What is slowing us down? What are we doing more often than we need to?”
“I am frustrated by several things about our build system. Maybe I’m not the only one?”
“Almost certainly you’re not. The data can tell you.”
Whatever brings you joy can be applied in innumerable ways
“I guess maybe what I love is not so much analyzing data as finding stories. Thinking about digging into our build data led me to ask myself what I’d do if the data doesn’t have enough detail. My immediate answer was to send a short survey to everyone on the team. Then, go talk with people who want to provide more detail than the survey allows. Finally, bring that all together into an explanation of what’s going on, and suggestions for what to do about it. That’s all finding a story.”
“More than finding a story. You’d be investigating and reporting a story. Helping it grow into a solution. We can always use more of those.”
Antony’s expression was no longer dour, Lars noticed. Hopeful, maybe, Lars thought.
“Would you like another way you could apply your love of finding stories to help your team?” Lars asked.
“Talk with your colleagues about what they’ve accomplished each week. Transform those bullet points into stories about the value they’ve produced.”
Antony’s face grew bright, and a smile was taking over. “I love that idea,” Antony replied. “We all hate writing status reports. I’d love to help them write news bulletins instead.”
Whatever you love doing, your teammates will thank you
“How do you feel about our sprint demos?” Lars asked Antony.
“They’re pretty boring. Who cares about adding one more menu item, adding encryption at rest, or another backend API? Even referencing the user story is still ‘blah blah blah.’”
Lars gave Antony a moment.
“Oh!” Antony exclaimed. “Just like I could help my teammates tell the story of their week, I could help teams tell the story of their sprints.”
Lars grinned. “Yes, you could. And everyone would thank you for bringing some excitement and interest into the demos.”
“I guess I could even help accounting and recruiting and teams like that tell their stories.”
“Yes. They also have more data than they know what to do with. And no one is getting kudos for their absorbing and arresting presentations to the team.”
Whoever you are, the world is clamoring to have you in their lives
Antony now radiated joy, Lars was happy to see.
“I was starting to think I’d either have to resign myself to work I don’t enjoy doing or find another job,” Antony said. “I didn’t understand how a love for numbers—or even finding stories, as I now understand to describe it—could be anything my team needs, let alone the rest of the company.
“Now, though, I’m no longer worried about either. Everything I do involves data, and everything I do tells a story. Stories are how people learn and understand. And that’s something we all can use more of.”
“Once we start to understand what truly lights us up, and how to apply it, opportunities are everywhere,” Lars agreed. “I’m glad you’re starting to grab onto them.”