"Find what you love and let it kill you."
During my first performance evaluation round with my current manager, he has asked me: what is that motivates you at work? To properly convey that is no simple task, as the answer has many layers. Still, it can be a revealing experience, so let's extend it further. Foremost, It's not a goal or mission. It is also not the way I found to experience happiness. Nor does it matter if either of them applied. Happiness or aspirations are in my opinion transient – they come and go. Just poor levers overall to keep something in motion.
You also won't find me justifying it with one of the following verbs: to disrupt, revolutionize or save. In fact, my eyes often roll up when I hear such discourses, which are so prevalent in tech. Thing is, my ambitions are quite modest. They start and end on me. Possibly, a selfish answer, but nevertheless it's about my life we are talking after all – not how to change the world 1.
The short answer is: engineering is my craft. That makes me tick at work. To feel I've done a good job in that area is the reward in itself. Good job, understood as a step further to what I've managed already. That slight increment that the untrained eye or the external eye might not even notice, as only I know where my boundaries lay – my own and hopefully transient limitations. My manager can have a good sense of my capabilities, but what I can do is past me already. The matter of the day is what I could be doing – my potential. So that I can keep being truthful to that, I constantly look for growth opportunities that allow me to best exercise my craft to its fullest. That has both a technical and a human component.
The technical is almost a platitude in our line of work, but it suffices to say engineering was not an accidental choice for me. I’ve been the stereotypical kid who likes fiddling with computers. There is a thrill in it that I find invigorating, and as I believe many can relate to me, I won't spend much time developing this argument.
As for the human aspect, it has to do with the less deterministic facet of engineering – people. And no, I'm not an extrovert – in fact, far from it. What I find fascinating about people are: how one gets to move an idea forward? How to overcome resistance? How to achieve rough consensus? Note that this isn't about me, but rather about my ability to probe people, to sense emotions, instigate them if needs be and persuade just enough folks (i.e., the entire process). That’s about me understanding that there is a limit to my own direct contributions. For that, I see the opportunity of becoming a better engineer through others. Operating as a catalyst, which is more challenging than the technical hurdles I often face. In Chemistry, a catalyst is typically described as that, which although not necessary to trigger a chemical reaction, it is nevertheless used because it can speed the process up. That's the reason catalysts are employed. And I like that analogy because that is what I like to do. To move the wheel and get out of the way. To simulate on a social level the kind of system I technically strive to build: one that requires no mastermind for it to operate, leaderless at its core.
Both components, technical and social, can provide me a never-ending variety of problems that are likely to keep me endlessly challenged. Now, that is altogether something that motivates me at work.
- Besides, I find it hard to believe that someone that cannot keep their house clean, will ever have a lasting impact on anything that matters. So, I'd be happy enough to have lived an orderly life. And if it gets to touch just another human being, all the better, but I digress.↩