Photo by slightlyeverything on Flickr.

Bad Job Board Titles

Human Resources personnel. You gotta love ‘em.

They’re the people who make sure you get paid every week, or biweekly or however often you get paid. They’re the ones who you talk to when you have a complaint about another employee. HR personnel are also, generally, responsible for posting job reqs.

If you go to Dice.com, or Monster, or Career Builder, you’re going to see a whole lot of job postings that, as you scan the titles, start to blur together a bit.

The reason for this is because almost all job postings carry a cliché name based on the fact that generic templates (or more accurately, “loosely specific”) are used and common titles are used. This usually is because the HR person who puts together the job listing is not familiar enough with the minutiae of the specific position as, say, a hiring manager might be.

So you end up with titles like “Web Developer”.

What does it meeeeeeeeeaaaan?

Many of you know that, about three weeks ago, I lost my job to a reorganization at the company I worked for as a WordPress Developer (another loosely specific title). Since that time, I have been talking to a variety of companies that have proactively reached out to me, knowing my reputation and experience in the WordPress world. I have generally avoided the job sites because of the problem described above.

“Web Developer” as a title is misleading, vague and all-encompassingly wrong. Why do you say that, you might ask.

Generally speaking, a web developer job is listed like this:

Acme, Inc. is seeking a driven, highly talented candidate to fill our Web Developer position. In this position, you will demonstrate creativity as you work with others to accommodate our clients needs. Eligible candidates posses intimate knowledge of the following

  • HTML5
  • CSS3
  • jQuery, or similar Javascript framework
  • SASS or LESS
  • Grunt
  • Node
  • AngularJS

Please forward your portfolio to XYZ@ABC.com.

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

This is, in fact, a valid “web developer” role.

A valid web developer role may also look like this:

Acme, Inc. is seeking a driven, highly talented candidate to fill our Web Developer position. In this position, you will demonstrate problem solving as you design, build, test and deploy a RESTful API and database cluster that can grow as needed. We prefer the candidate has some knowledge of algorithms and scaling. Candidates should possess intimate knowledge of the following:

  • NoSQL
  • MariaDB/MySQL
  • PHP/Python/Ruby
  • Vagrant
  • Agile and/or Scrum development environments
  • Moderate familiarity with Ubuntu or other Linux environment

Please forward your resume and a link to your Github account to XYZ@ABC.com

Very similar, and yet very different job listings. Yet they can both be referred to a “Web Developer” jobs, even though one is, more accurately, a “Front End Developer” role and another is “Back End Developer”.

By calling a job a “Web Developer” job, you have people who have only futzed around in Dreamweaver and only consider the user experience or interface looking at positions meant for data architects. And you have folks who know how to stand up an EC2 cluster and build and deploy Django applications with high redundancy and caching layers looking at jobs meant for the people who lose sleep at night over typefaces.

Everyone loses.

The candidate loses the opportunity to find the position she is really looking for because it’s buried under a bad title, or she gets so tired of looking for the real gold in the pile of rocks that she gives up.

The employer loses the opportunity because the signal to noise ratio on applications is terrible. Or, people just get tired of applying for mislabeled jobs.

So please, hiring managers, at least write up your “recommended” job req for HR. You know the job better than anyone. You know who you are looking for. Give it a proper name!

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I Fired Myself

If we’re friends on Facebook or Twitter, you know about my new job in Baltimore. Technically, it’s not a new job yet, as I don’t start until February 4. However, it’s a new job and a return, for the first time since 2006, to a more corporate (if laid back) working environment. I’ve only worked for one company in that period of time, and I was a founder. That, of course, is the hugely successful WP Engine. However, I left that role in October of 2011. I still didn’t have the motivation to not work for myself.

A little about this new role, however, since I brought it up. I feel it’s necessary in proving the point I want to make.

Corporate Culture

Agora Financial, as a division of Agora, Inc. was named the 2nd best place to work in Baltimore in 2011 by the Baltimore Sun. As an adopted Austinite, that label carries a high standard. In Austin, “business casual” is cutoff jean shorts (“jorts”) and a tech swag tee shirt with sandals. In Austin, the chic commuter rides a scooter or bicycle. Maybe even walks. In Austin, drinking a beer is not something simply saved for off-hours. In fact, many companies keep a refrigerator stocked with beer because, hey, the workforce can be more relaxed, efficient and productive if given certain leeway. Thankfully, none of us are drunks… maybe.

At Agora, I found a company that matched this sort of comfort level I’ve come to expect. When I flew up for an interview (and job interviews have been something I’ve not really had to do seriously since 2002), I emailed Mark, the Art Director and my point of contact, and very politely suggested I wouldn’t be arriving at their headquarters in a tie. Manage expectations, and such. Mark’s response was simply, “That’s fine. Business casual works”.

Business casual can mean many things. It’s sort of a catch all phrase that means different things to different people based on different companies policy ideas. So I wore some decent dress pants, a button up shirt and a vest with no tie. The team had sandals, jeans with holes, and hoodies and plaid-pattern button up shirts. I felt like I was in Austin!

Ideology

But company culture was just one aspect. The work they do perfectly fits who I am practically and ideologically.

You see, Agora is a publishing company first and foremost. I’m a publisher. I’ve written a book and worked with traditional book publishers. My first startup was a publishing company with, at our peak, 350 blogs. Agora’s model is different than those models, but they’re publishing. They are creating content that, hopefully, long outlives us.

They are a policy research publishing company. Those who know me know that I love policy, I hate politics. When I engage in politics, it’s usually from the lens of policy. Agora provides research analysis and white papers based on their policy research in a subscription format. So there’s also a revenue model. And they’ve been highly successful at doing this, historically through newsletters, for years. It’s a proven model, and they are a proven company.

In addition, their policy analysis generally comes from a libertarian (small “l”) perspective. As a left-leaning small-l libertarian, I enjoy this aspect of what they do (even though I suspect most of my colleagues and most libertarians as a whole are right-leaning small-l libertarians, I suspect that we all agree on a framework of responsibility and limited government in individuals life, and diverge on other less-important minutiae).

I was hungry for this job. It was a dream job for me. Join a company doing things I loved, in areas I loved, with tools (WordPress) I loved, with a style of corporate culture that I loved. When they made me an offer, I didn’t hesitate to accept and fire myself from my own company.

I fired myself!

Having the Balls to Fire Myself

Most people aspire to stop working for the man, and start working for themselves. There are entire classes at universities and colleges about entrepreneurship, and to be sure, entrepreneurship is the mode of decade.

The other night, I had the opportunity to guest lecture for an capstone course on digital entrepreneurship for American University. It was online and you can hear my story and lecture here. This course is a culmination of all the classwork done in this program and is largely a practicum of everything learned to that point. The lectures are a series of lectures from guests that give the students inspiration and motivation about their futures while they work on their individual projects.

During this talk, I spoke specifically about the time I left corporate America and went out on a limb. It was 2006. I had been working on a side-project basis for over a year building up a WordPress-powered content network and when we finally took funding, I was employee #1 or #2, depending on who you ask. I couldn’t wait to leave my computer-fixing job and go do something I really, really wanted to do instead and get paid for.

I’ve heard stories like that from hundreds of entrepreneurs. Most never look back with any regret, despite the struggles and sometime-economic instability.

I have a view that whatever I do, I do it because I want to. It’s very easy to look and say that running a startup, building a product, starting a company or, in general, working for yourself is, in fact, the holy grail.

From Happiness to Happiness

My view is that the holy grail should be happiness and motivation derived from what you do. Sometimes that means taking a more unorthodox step and saying, you know what… being an entrepreneur is awesome, but it’s a vehicle to happiness, not happiness itself.

So effective February 4, 2013, Aaron Brazell has been terminated by Aaron Brazell.

I don’t know if I would have fired myself to go be a developer in some developer-happy company that segregates the developer from the product line. In other words, a lot of developer-oriented companies have developers as a means to an end. Product managers go talk to customers, develop goals, milestones, wireframes or storyboards, make decisions on initiatives with corporate executives and the developers exist to make that shit happen.

Some people like that. Some people don’t want to be a part of the politics and roadmapping. They work better with a framework that defines what their role and deliverables are. For them, that’s happiness.

For me, happiness is seeing the vision, talking about what it means – the pros, cons, feedback – iterating, being a part of the process of both scoping and building and then allowing the idea to flourish. It means building something toward an end. In the idea of a startup, it means building a product and moving it toward acquisition, IPO or even failure.

As a consultant, there was no viable end. Unless I’m committed to building out a team (I’m not), increasing a production pipeline (without a team, I can’t), or other such motivations, a consultancy looks exactly the way it does in 10 years as it did on day 1 – find clients, build something for them, collect money, wash, rinse, repeat. There’s no glorious ending. To me, that makes for an unhappy Aaron.

Agora provides an exciting platform, an an innate sense of entrepreneurship internally, that makes me happy. If I have an idea, I can try it. If I think something could really work well, I’ve got a green light to work on it. All within a good developer situation where I also have deliverables, and things to look at and solve. The combination of such makes Aaron a very happy person.

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Photo used under Creative Commons and taken by photologue_np

My Three Tiered System to Job Searching

Photo used under Creative Commons and taken by photologue_np
Over the past months, since I parted with WP Engine, I have entertained many inquiries about my availability for other full-time roles. And I literally mean many. It’s been a great problem to have, frankly, and I consider myself blessed to have these inquiries while so many others continue to struggle to find work.

I also consider myself blessed to work in a specialty field. WordPress consulting, you would think, is something that is extremely saturated. To a degree you’d be right. As a consultant, I turn away a great number of projects because, frankly, they amount to building sites with WordPress. There is certainly nothing wrong with that kind of work, but I’ve found over years of consulting that it’s important to be a specialist. To not be a specialist means to compete with everyone else on the same level and that reduces the quality and quantity of projects I can work on.

Instead, I focus on high-end WordPress integrations and plugin development. Complex things. I make a reasonable living doing things that there are only a proverbial handful of people who have the ability to do.

At the same time, I continue to entertain full-time job offers. There are some great ones out there, but many just don’t interest me. I have a three-tier (God, as a beer advocate, I hate that term but in this case it fits) filtering process I go through when entertaining job offers. I think this three-tier system should apply to anyone and everyone looking to work in any field, and so I’ve decided to share it.

Is the money right?

We all need to live, and I’m not one who believes the starving artist mantra is necessary a healthy one. If you’re good at what you do, you should be compensated appropriately. Personally, I don’t think anyone would have an argument in this area. A seasoned DBA should not be making $50k, for instance.

As a consultant, I’ve come to have a lifestyle that I’ve worked very hard to achieve. I’m going to be 36 soon and I’ve been married, had a kid, worked on startups, lived in expensive areas of the country and cheaper areas of the country. I’ve built a lifestyle that no job should ever take away.

We all have our “number”. Know for yourself what that number is and stick to your guns when determining if you want to work for someone. Simply not enjoying your current job is not a valid reason to take less than what you’re worth.

Does the job make you want to jump out of your chair and SQUEEEE?

IF it doesn’t, walk away. You should love every minute of what you do and jump out of bed in the morning (after a reasonable period of off-time) eager to see what new innovations, products, ideas and relationships can be achieved.

To do less is selling yourself short. Never settle for anything less than awesome. Some inquiries, for me, have been awesome on the money side but I feel so dull and want to pull each fingernail out of it’s socket just thinking about it. Read my lips! I will never work in a cubicle again! Ever! Don’t ask!

Recently, I spoke with a company who demoed some of their products (WordPress-based) they were working on. They showed me tools that they had built in that allowed their 300some entities they managed to do amazing things (things I tried at b5media years ago [and failed]) in easy, intuitive ways. All I wanted to do was scream “OMGYESPLEASE!” through the phone.

If you don’t have that reaction, think really hard about whether you want to commit.

What’s the social impact?

I’m not a tree-hugger, but one thing I can say is that consulting is both awesome and terrible. I get a lot of benefits by working for myself. But that’s kind of it. I get lots of benefits from working for myself. No one else does. Just me. My world isn’t a better place because of my work. My wallet is happier, but the world around me still sucks.

So when I talk to companies about working for them, I want to know that my work has a positive effect on the world around me. Whether it’s education or environmental; sustainability or fitness; empowering others or enabling positive social change – it’s an important facet in what I look for.

Does the company reward employees for not wasting energy and taking the bus or riding a bike to work? Does the company offer some sort of subsidy or reward for green energy consumption? How many women are employed as engineers?

How does working for Company X positively affect the world around me?

I think these three things are co-equally important for anyone, not just me. I hope so, anyway. We shouldn’t hate what we do, ever. We choose what we do. Choose wisely.

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