Sunday, 27 September 2020

What do I want from a job?

I've been asked a few times recently what I would actually like from a job. What motivates me, what excites me, and so on. This is a question I ask my own line reports regularly so it's with some sense of my own hypocrisy that I've stumbled through my answers. It's probably a good idea to actually think about it.

This post is for me to collect my thoughts. It isn't about the most perfect job ever. It is a collection of thoughts about how my working life could evolve in the nearish future.

Important things

Being things I think are very important to me.

Problem solving

Most important to me is problem solving - and the space to be able to explore different solutions to problems. I was a mathematician at university, so I see the world as a series of problems to take apart, analyse and solve. For most of my career the medium I've used for this is technology but that's not as important as the problem itself. Basically, if I've not got a problem to solve and some space to solve it I'm not going to be happy or engaged. These days that probably means any role needs a strong strategic element.

As a Completer-Finisher, I suspect I won't be entirely happy if I don't have some hand in delivering the solution however so far I've not been able to test that theory.


One of the main reasons I do the job I do now is to be able to improve the lives of the people who work with me. I've written many posts along these lines on this blog and if I'm in any senior role, this is pretty much non-negotiable (I'm an INFJ / Advocate personality type). I need to be able to help those around me, and not just in a "soft" way through mentoring and the like. I want to be able to move people around so they can learn and grow, have the authority to sort out their pay when there is a problem, be able to make changes when people are upset, negotiate leave when they have life events, and so on.

This is important enough to me that the only real alternative is to go completely the other way and be absolutely clear that nobody is my responsibility at all. I'm not sure that would actually make me happy and would require some careful thought.


I've worked with (web based) technology throughout my career and this is where my core "technical" skillset lies. I'd like to remain fairly close to technology - it creates important opportunities for change in organisations, society and life in general and yet it (and particularly its limitations and ongoing maintenance requirements) is very poorly understood by those who often are making decisions about it.

This doesn't mean hands-on, of course (aside from recent strange times I haven't written production code in a long while) but I have a wealth of experience in this field, both hands-on and in communicating it and it's important to me to stay enough in the space to stay current.

Social good

I need a reason to get up in the morning, and "to make a rich person richer" isn't a good one. There are industries I know I will avoid (promoting gambling being an obvious one) and in general I want to know that I'm doing something to make the world a better place somehow.

Scope and support

While this doesn't make me excited, per se, I have been through long periods in my career where I've been expected to deliver and manage and support a huge number of things with no real support at all. That doesn't mean emotional support from colleagues and management (although that's always nice!) but, depending on the role, proper channels of delegation and people who can take on appropriate problems and tasks to take them off my plate - especially when the thinking is sorted and they are routine.

Similarly, the role should have a clear scope. What is it responsible for? How will I be judged a success (or not)? Importantly, what is NOT its responsibility?

This a long-winded way of saying that the role should be appropriately scoped and resourced.

Fairly important things

Being things I like, but are more "nice to have"s.


Given what I wrote about People, it seems odd to put this here and in some ways my goals in People and the mechanisms provided by Management are inextricably linked. However, if there is a way to do the things in People without having to be a line manager then I'd be happy not having to do performance reviews and so on. I've done a lot of this, across a lot of people and I'm not scared of it and a strong culture of good formal line management is really important to keeping a strong foundation under a department. I've put it in "nice to have" because while I'm keen to do it, it's not a deal-breaker for me (with the caveats above).

Technical delivery

I like making things. I like seeing the things I've made make a difference to people's lives. I also get a bit of a kick out of seeing a big positive next to one of my projects (happier people, money saved, increased uptime, etc). So I think I'd like to be somewhere near delivery - if I'm not making a thing, I'd like to feel I'm directly responsible for a thing being made in some way. This is harder these days, and I'm experimenting with redefining "delivery" in my head - hence it being a nice to have.

Budget control

Part of implementing solutions to problems involves spending money. Sometimes that means making tough prioritisation decisions. I'm not a stranger to these things, but I have also found myself in situations where I don't control a budget so the first step of every buying or hiring (no matter how small) is an extended negotiation. If the budget holder has no stake in delivery (and this has often been the case when it comes to pay, but that's another problem) then this can be extremely draining.

The budget itself isn't as important as "the ability to spend money", although to be fair to the organisation I'd have thought those should come hand in hand.