Updated: Mar 2
Many years ago I had an amazing opportunity come my way from someone in my professional network, while I patiently awaited a long-delayed approval on a six-month extension of a high-paying part-time contract I was working on.
An engineering manager friend contacted me to see if I’d be interested in a director-level position with his company (a former employer of mine). I wasn’t interested initially as it didn’t figure into my consulting and speaking strategy. I passed along several names of other candidates for his consideration, but he was persistent in wanting me to think about the position: “We need someone with a passion for excellent customer relationships and your name keeps coming to the top of the list,” he told me.
A fork in the road
Part of the reason for my reluctance to accept the position was that I was winding down my career for working for someone else. I had written two successful career strategy books with others in the works, and was giving keynotes and presenting seminars at conferences (part time). I wanted to pursue that direction full time when my six-month contract extension (if approved) expired.
Another reason for my reluctance was that I had been working from my home office on contracts for the past four years, supporting microprocessor design projects for companies in the U.S. and China. Working from home, as you might expect, offers so many conveniences and savings. I was sure that this director-level position would demand my presence on site five days a week plus occasional travel.
The interview killed my interest in the position
So, I agreed to speak with him and his manager about the director position. I had a slew of questions for them that were critical to my giving serious consideration to the position, which was a director-level position to support a particular line of microprocessors. After our hour-long meeting, I came away convinced that I would have a difficult time being successful if I accepted the position.
Here are a few of the considerations that would be problematic for me:
No existing customer documentation (functional specs, programmers reference manuals; design specs, architecture specs, application notes) was available for the past 15 years.
Engineering documentation resided on an internal wiki site and SharePoint with little navigation structure. What was there resembled “notes to self” more than true customer-focused documentation, and those notes weren't available to customers (thankfully!–no documentation is much better than poor documentation).
The existing documentation was written by design engineers, who are more focused on how the microprocessor works – not on how customers would program and configure the chip for their consumer products.
Design engineers are notoriously reluctant to document anything (generally).
When I asked about the general attitude of the engineering team to start providing better documentation, the design engineering director told me, “No one gives a hoot about writing documentation.”
That wasn’t what I wanted to hear but what I expected to hear.
I saw this situation as a time-consuming, slow implementation of change, and an exercise in futility. I had been in similar situations with other companies over my career and I just wasn’t going to push that boulder up another hill. And it would mean setting my book and speaking projects on the shelf for several years. I didn’t want to do that as I had been developing some momentum in those areas.
...But then they waved a big bag of money in front of me
Then I asked about salary. “Name your number…,” they said, so I did. A big one; much larger than anything I’d earned in the past. It had to account for all the pain and suffering I saw that laid ahead. They didn’t bat an eye.
I discussed the position and the salary with my awesome supportive wife, who essentially left the decision up to me. I knew that I would regret not pursuing what I wanted to do with the rest of my life if I accepted the position (with all its attendant issues) just because of the big bag of money they dangled before me (we were fortunate in that we worked hard over the years to already have a solid financial position).
...So I declined the offer.
But in so doing, I explained to my engineering manager friend the issues I saw with the position (and he agreed with them). I also suggested to him in writing…
“The person you need with a passion for excellent customer relationships is an applications engineering director. Current engineers won’t report to me or whoever takes the job, so there’s no incentive to embrace and comply with what’s needed for developing critical customer documentation support.
"Without a revised vision from engineering of the importance of customer documentation as a critical business asset, the incoming director will be confronted with a continuously uphill battle to fulfill those responsibilities to the company’s customers and shareholders.”
Turns out my decision was the right one
I offered to help get them started with defining the process for creating customer documentation (working from home as a contractor, of course), but they declined. Four months later, the position was still unfilled, but the company was now running ads for a “Director of Applications Engineering” based on my suggestion.
Nine months after my interview, that company’s business unit underwent a reduction in workforce. Two weeks after my interview, that six-month contract extension came through and I didn’t look back.
That decision proved to be the right one because I chose what was my passion instead of what would have been a temporary financial reward.
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