This week, I’m reflecting on my career progression. I’ve been working in Information Technology for 22 years. I started off as a desktop support technician and now lead a large team as a technology executive. I’ve pondered the journey and the path I’ve taken. In those 22 years, I’ve held 13 distinct roles at 4 different companies.
I’ve chronicled part of that journey in a previous blog series. In that same series, I identified 20 distinct “Rules for Advancement” that I learned along the way. Most of those rules are sequential and therefore only relevant for certain career phases. Even though I wrote those rules over 4 years ago, I stand by them today.
In today’s article, I’d like to identify a common element with all 13 of those promotions. This principle served me as well 22 years ago, as it does today. Here it is: Always, always, always work yourself out of a job.
I’ll spend the rest of this article describing what I mean by that, but there is an underlying assumption that I need to define first as a prerequisite: All work is temporary.
All work is temporary
I’ve never had an assignment that I needed to perform perpetually. Every single task went away eventually. Do you believe that? I bet this is a stretch for some of you. Look at how you spend your time. Can you see an end to every recurring task? I think that’s a key perspective to maintain.
Now, look at your work product. You built something amazing. Congratulations. How long is it good for? 5 years? It doesn’t matter if it’s a website, a database, an accounting process, a marketing strategy, or an organizational design. It’s all temporary. It all will eventually become irrelevant and useless.
I’ve visited Alaska three times. During my most-recent visit, I toured a ghost town near Juneau called Treadwell. A mere 100 years ago, it was a thriving town with mills, stores, and an indoor swimming pool. Now, it’s been completely reclaimed by nature. When I walked through the ruins, I pictured people 100 years from now touring data centers I’ve built that have trees and moss growing through them. That’s perspective.
Once you accept that all work is temporary, you can embrace a new mindset.
Always, always, always, work yourself out of a job
You won’t keep doing the job you are doing today for very long. The products you make today won’t last. Given that, why not be intentional about accelerating that natural process a bit?
That’s what I do. I work myself out of a job. I’ve done it 13 times in 22 years. I take on a job. I figure it out. Then I eliminate it, or hand it off. My methods for doing this vary, but the high-level outcome is the same. I work myself out of a job, so I can pursue the next one.
Here are some ways that I work myself out of a job:
- Automation. Early in my career, I was given many repetitive manual jobs. I wasn’t a programmer by training, but I taught myself scripting languages so I could automate as much of my job as I could. This made me very productive. In modern times, technologies like Robotic Process Automation make this possible for everyone, even if you aren’t technical. Never let a human do, what I robot can do better.
- Continuous Improvement. I really hate being inefficient and ineffective. It just bugs me. Therefore, I always question existing processes and ask why it can’t be done better, faster, or cheaper. I study best practices. I read the research. I talk with peers. I evaluate new methods. Then, I make changes as fast as I can.
- Delegation. As a leader, this is my superpower. I’ll gladly take on a new task myself. However, as I am learning it and mastering it, I am simultaneously thinking about to whom I can hand it off. This is huge because it is a double win. When I delegate, not only do I free myself up, but I also give a development opportunity to someone on my team that desperately needs it. Everybody wins. I wrote an entire article on delegation. If you need to develop this strength, read it.
This is your formula: 1. Take on a new job. 2. Figure it out. 3. Automate it, improve it, or delegate it. 4. Repeat. Not every cycle results in a promotion, but if you keep doing it, opportunity will come find you.
Working yourself out of a job is doing your job in this economy. If you think that doing so somehow threatens your job security, take a look at this article I wrote on that subject.
This is my secret formula, but it’s not so secret. Do you find this to be true in your experience? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below.