How much variability there is in your work depends on many factors, but I generally prefer having enough flexibility that I'm always doing something that I do easily and well and something else that is new and exciting. The mix keeps me feeling that I'm earning my keep and equipping myself for future challenges and opportunities.
The best jobs
For me, the best jobs that I've had involved my feeling that what I did was important. My stint working in the federal government was one of those because I knew that the analysts that I was supporting were helping to ensure that good decisions were being made on the national level. It was rewarding just to be a part of that.
At another (Johns Hopkins University), I managed the systems and the network for one department (Physics and Astronomy). The big plus was that I worked with some of the most brilliant people I'd ever have hoped to know -- some trying to map the cosmos and other peering into the nature of the tiniest subatomic particles -- and the students who helped out from time to time were generally amazingly competent grad students. Plus the campus was lovely, the commute reasonable, and the benefits (like being able to take free classes) pretty cool.
I also enjoyed being something of a jack of all computer trades at Web Publishing (part of IDG) where I managed the network, the systems, the servers, the backups, and eventually acquired a very capable assistant who made the job even that much more enjoyable.
And last, but not least, working for a couple E*Trade subsidiaries in a similar "support everything" sysadmin role. Bright creative people are almost always wonderful to work with. And we were on the forefront of online-only publications like SunWorld and JavaWorld that provided excellent information and advice to the growing communities that used this technology.
Some of the positions that I've held over the years involved having the possible best coworkers -- people who were as committed as I was, who both learned from me and taught me more than I can ever thank them for. Others involved the kind of office politics that make it hard to remember that we're supposed to be working for the same goal -- to help our organizations be successful -- not fighting for a position under the lime light.
Overall, however, if you get to do something that ...
- you enjoy
- helps you to feel committed and gives you a sense of importance
- allows you to live the kind of life you want to live
- provides opportunities to keep learning and contributing in ways that are rewarding to you
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