Playing to your strengths

Your superpower is work that you enjoy doing that doesn’t feel like work to you and that other people struggle to get it done. This is where you can thrive and really separate yourself from the rest.

I noticed there are a few things that come naturally to me that I always enjoyed doing and that I was fortunate to be able to monetizeโ€”programming for example. It started out as a hobby and it naturally progressed as a career that brought me so many great opportunities I’m very thankful for.

Programming is my strength and I love doing it, but as I grew older I started to hear more and more that programmers are “just builders” and that I should evolve towards being an architect since those are the ones leading the builders and indicating to them what to do.

This analogy sounded rational and it also matched what I was seeing in the market: programmers get hired in bunches for specific tasks while managers and PMs (Program or Product Managers) were more critical, called the shots, stayed longer, and also made more money than the programmers.

So naturally, I wanted to move upwards in the industry and I started contemplating the idea of acquiring those managerial skills that are so glamorous. I started reading about what a PM does, what knowledge should be acquired to do that job, and how to progress from being a “simple programmer” to being a PM. The only problem was that the more I read about it the more I disliked it.

To me, it sounded like a bunch of meetings, unnecessary presentations, office politics, and a lot of document-writing no one actually cared to read.

I tried going with it anyway, read more about the job and I saw that a background in programming could make a PM better at their job but I couldn’t get over the realization that I would be quitting programming in order to become a great PM.

Contemplating the idea of giving up the skills to create software, all those years of writing code, learning to deploy it, DevOps, Networking, SysAdmin, all those things that out of necessity most programmers learn, was just too much for me.

I didn’t foresee the job of a manager as something I would have enjoyed doing for years. I don’t like being mediocre at the things I do so I planned to be a PM for at least 10 years but having worked with several of them before I just knew I couldn’t do it.

There are two schools of thought about competency levels: improve your weaknesses and play to your strengths. I chose the latter.

I have weaknesses that I need to correct in order to become better at the things I consider to be my strengths. I’m working on those, but for the foreseeable future, I will no longer become average at a lot of things in detriment of being great at a few things.

This post is not a rant against PMs by any means. I think their job is extremely important for the success of a project. I had great experiences working with them and I learned to respect and admire a few that I got the chance to meet outside of strictly work environments. This post is about my personal realization that I would have made a bad PM considering the things I enjoy are not aligned with what they do day-to-day in order to succeed in their jobs.

Having a purpose

I don’t know how to operate without the thing that I’m doing having a reason to be done. This way of thinking served me well over the years to help my career remain on track towards an always improving goal.

I think giving people a purpose and meaning it helps them be more productive and achieve more. It gives them a sense of belonging and that the effort they are doing is for a bigger cause. The effect is often that they get significantly better at everything.

The purpose has to be sincere. Smart people know when you are faking it and you have to really want them to succeed even if that means they may leave you someday to go pursue greater opportunities.

One of the hardest jobs I have as the CEO of Toky is to keep people motivated and wanting to continue fighting for our cause. I can’t fake enthusiasm so the only way I can convey it to the team is by finding a way of never running out of it. This, of course, hasn’t been an easy task as I felt let down, doubted myself, and got tired on numerous occasions over the years but the practice of remembering what’s our purpose helped me continue fighting.

The awesome team that made Toky successful that Oscar (my co-founder) and I were able to assemble stayed with us because we all genuinely believe in the cause. We all have the same purpose and it’s 100% sincere.

We oftentimes talk about the future and what’s next and how the things we do and learn today by solving the hard problems of building Toky will make us better professionals.

We want Toky to be the platform our team uses to succeed in life and although that means we may have to say goodbye to one of us eventually, we realize this is part of the natural cycle of life and that is my job to make Toky continuously motivating and challenging to keep our team happy so that we can compete for their talent.

Compounding effort

A tiny improvement you do today that you are able to sustain continuously over a long period of time will have an effect so big in size that it will be hard to recognize it started so small.

Writing is one of those things I’m trying to compound. Each post you read here in five minutes took me, on average, two hours to write. It really is hard for me but the potential benefits of being able to share ideas in an easy to digest way are very well worth it even if I need to do this for ten years until I am able to see results.

I know the effect is real and that it works.

Twenty years ago it was my interest in science and computers, ten years ago it was telephony, and ten years from now I’m still not sure but I’m working on it. I’m probably not going to become a writer but writing is a tool I will need for sure so here I am trying to make it work.

If you are unsure about that thing you did ten years ago that put you where you are today, be that in a good place or otherwise, I recommend you give a read to a book called Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s a great book that helped me find an explanation about why some things happen the way they do.

The idea of making these tiny efforts today is to put yourself in the position to be lucky in the future. We can’t predict it but we have a fair level of control over how prepared we are going to arrive at it. That’s the single biggest reason to do the effort today.

We may fail at the end, but it won’t be for lack of trying.