The Value of Contribution

Have you ever been on the receiving end of "where do you want to be in five years"? It's a challenging question because it's impossible to predict anything today as far out as five years - especially in any sort of tech field. The last time I was asked where I wanted to be in five years (which was a long time ago), I said "hopefully doing what makes me happy, having fun, making a difference in the world, and I would like to be surrounded by people who contribute as much to my goals as I contribute to theirs".

When I first started in out tech, the question was much easier to answer, possibly because the pace of innovation was slower, more predictable, less fluid. I could have answered it with something douchey like "I want to be an industrial-style manager with Corp hierarchy aspirations" and it might have been acceptable. Well, probably not, but it would have been funny and either a) led to a lighter discussion, or b) got me kicked out of the room quickly - either of those outcomes would have been useful to learn from. Nonesense aside, the truth is any answer demonstrating careerist aspirations might have been perfectly acceptable ten years ago.

Today things are different. The pace is fast, work is more collaborative, the markets are unpredictable, and technology is continuously evolving to a point where any answer focused on predictability is shortsighted and naive. It's perhaps better and more important to focus on values - values of contribution in highly dynamic times.  So, while the "where do you see yourself in five years" question is almost dumb these days (even though there is no such thing as a dumb question), ask yourself the question anyway. It's worth pondering because it may force you to rethink the values of what you consider contribution in today's peppy tech landscape. I recently asked myself the question as a personal challenge. Here's what I came up:

  1. I want to be part of a tech community that makes a difference in the world, by delivering great products that customers love to use.
  2. I want to be surrounded by people who care about the ecosystem of which they are a part of.
  3. I want to innovate. I want to learn. I want to teach.
  4. I want to to be surrounded by people who contribute as much to my goals as I contribute to theirs.
  5. I want to be happy and love what I do.
  6. I want to be grounded with my Geo roots and use my knowledge.

OK. Yea - still pretty much the same answers I would have answered with ten years ago, but I noticed they are more emotive and focused on the value of community health, caring & giving, and reciprocity. Number six however was a bit of an unexpected result to my personal challenge. In the last couple years, I feel like I've strayed away from my Geo/GIS roots as I've grown down the Mobility tech path. That path has a gravitational pull impossible to resist as Geo & Location in my mind are synonymous with Mobility and where mobile has consumed techs natural progression in recent years. However, during the journey, I feel like I've lost some Geo passion along the way and I want the passion back. So, five years from now, I want to be surrounded by great people, giving customers great products, while learning, caring, teaching, innovating, contributing, and loving what I do with Geo & Location technology in mobile.