Such a waste of talent. He chose money over power - in this town, a mistake nearly everyone makes. Money is the Mc-Mansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after 10 years. Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries.
- Francis Underwood
Shannon: So what do you want?
Me: What do you mean?
Shannon: Do you want money, or do you want power?
She took a sip of her coffee for dramatic effect. It worked - her question reverberated in my mind. Her bluish-green eyes remained locked on me as if she had the power to read my mind. It was a question that would fit perfectly in an episode of House of Cards. Except she isn’t Frank Underwood, and we aren’t in politics. We are playing a very different game. The startup game. The modern-day gold rush.
I’m not naive. I know the likelihood of striking it rich is akin to my chances of winning the Mega Millions lottery. Yet, I still play the game. Why? The promise of riches is a motivating factor. However, that pales in comparison to my desire to make a positive impact for the customers that rely on the product that I build, for my co-workers that I spend so much time with, for my family and friends who I love so dearly, and for others that look up to me. I want to make the biggest impact possible. How I do that, whether through money or through power is inconsequential to me.
Back to the question - the candidness demanded a non-BS response. It rattled me. My wife tells me that my eyebrows twitch uncontrollably when I get flustered. I had no doubt that those blobs of hair above my eyes were going haywire. So my answer uncoincidentally wasn’t my most articulate moment.
Umm…I mean…I guess I have enough money right now…
My voice trailed off unconvincingly. She was expecting this type of response.
Shannon: So power then?
Me: Yeah, I guess.
Still holding back for fear that I would give away what was already apparent.
Shannon: Then you need to be more assertive.
To give some context, this conversation took place just 2 months after I had joined Kevy. We were in the middle of a very tumultuous reboot. The decision was made to abruptly bid adieu to our existing product and customers, pivot, and build an entirely new product. When that decision was made, the lead engineer that had been there for 2+ years decided to depart for a new opportunity.
The day after the decision, the mix of uncertainty and excitement emanating from the team was so thick that it was palpable. For me, this feeling was all too familiar - for most of my projects at Big Nerd Ranch, I started from complete scratch. As we assembled to map out the roadmap for the new product, it was apparent that the other engineers were looking to me for guidance and leadership. So, I grabbed the dry-erase marker, took the stage in front of the whiteboard, and began to do what I had done so many times for my clients - lead the planning session, map out and prioritize features, and assign tasks.
After a month of heads-down work, we could see the semblance of a minimum viable product (MVP) forming. Coming up for air, I took some time to reflect on the events of the past few months. Since I had started at Kevy, I made it my mission to lead by example. I delivered features quickly while maintaining a high-level of quality with my code, performed thorough code reviews of my peers, added much needed documentation for our code and workflow, and helped my teammates through software design discussions and via pair programming. After my discussion with Shannon, I shifted into assertive-mode. I made a concerted effort to get involved in other areas of the business. That included influencing the overall product and business strategy. More specifically, I contributed on matters from pricing, to onboarding, to the software architecture, to features we build and how we build them.
In essence, I became a de-facto leader over the course of my few months at Kevy. Although I had been playing the part, I was still nervous about asking my boss for the official title. Outright asking for what I want is not something I grew up doing. However, I’ve learned the importance of being direct, and Shannon’s advice continued to ring in my ears. So, I sent my boss a message - asking to grab 15 minutes of his time in order to discuss a few things. He responded quickly.
Sure. I have some time now.
That response caught me by surprise. I was hoping that he would agree to meet later in the week, which would give me time to come up with a script of what I wanted to say. We found an empty meeting room, and as I closed the door behind us, I knew that I was ready. Ready to seize the moment. Ready to be assertive. Ready to ask for what I wanted. I may have had nothing prepared, but in reality, I had been prepping for this conversation since I joined Kevy.
That day, I walked out as the new Director of Engineering. However, the title was a mere formality, because like the old adage, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have”, I had been auditioning for this role for months. Through the turbulence and adversity of our pivot, the opportunity presented itself, and I’m grateful to Shannon for giving me that little push to be more assertive and to ask for what I want.
I have a clearer understanding of what I want now, and this role is a way to leave a positive impact for the many stakeholders in my life. Those I know of, those I don’t know yet, and those I’ll never meet.