I would share with you a little bit about what I have learned about careers during my past couple of decades working and how careers may be (and often are) less linear than what is often presumed.

To help you think about your own careers I thought it might be helpful for me to share with all of you my own career story (and I encourage others to this too!).

You will see from the story of my career that career progress is rarely a straight line and often not linked to whether you manage other people or not. For instance, my last role before SEEK Asia was as an individual contributor working on a contract basis for Prestariang and in between various managing roles across my career I held numerous individual contributor roles which helped me get the experience I needed to progress later).

When reading through my career story take note of how many times I worked as a manager and how many times I worked as an individual contributor. Also how many different roles did I hold and how did the breadth of experience help my career progression?

The early days

In my high-school days I worked as a basketball referree and I was a babysitter for the neighbors. Both experiences I believe helped me become quite a patient person! :)

My first IT job straight out of high-school (I was also at University at the same time) was at a company called Sausage Software - they published one of the very first web page editors called HotDog. I was officially there to do data entry and customer support to process sales of their software but being a startup you did a bit of everything so it included building their first intranet (static html documentation) and testing the software.

I next worked at SysTek creating automated testing solutions for confirming that COBOL screens had been successfully all translated into Java UI as part of addressing the Y2K bug. About this time I switched Universities from Melbourne University (Arts with a minor in Computer Science) to Swinburne University to study Multimedia (Java programming, HCI, Psychology, Networking and much more).

“you play games for a living?”

I left there to join Beam Software / Melbourne House, a computer games development & publishing company as a games tester where I worked on Krush, Kill’n’Destroy: Xtreme, KKnD: Krossfire, DethKarz, Alien Earth, EA Cricket: Ashes Tour Edition and many other titles. After some testing on a special RnD project at Beam - another webpage creation software - this time a WYSIWYG editor called Splash! I switched departments to become a producer (and left testing games for a living - still don’t know how I did that!) - pretty much do everything a Scrum Master and Product Owner would do today as well as all customer support! Over 12 months we grew the sales and I had my first opportunity to manage some people - some developers, a marketing guy, a content writer, a few testers… to be honest I was a pretty average-to-bad manager at this time. No one starts as a great manager.

The part I worked in was split to its own company called Blaze when they split the games development from the internet part of the business - Splash! and Hotgames.com - first the games development business was sold to Infogrammes for $9 million and within 12 months the Internet business (<20 people) was sold for $10 million to Fortune City). Unfortunately those does there was almost no companies providing Employee Share Options or any such opportunity to benefit from these sales :) The first dotcom bubble was expanding and after a few years at Blaze I moved onto a business which had raised $40 million in investment, Virtual Communities.

Dotcom boom & bust

At Virtual Communities I worked as an Information Architect planning their portal website for an audience of millions of Australians, then as a developer working around the clock that Summer to get it delivered. I later took a role as acting QA manager to set up the QA process and tools before hiring my replacement and moving into a content partner role. This involved marshalling all of the content providers XML feeds to match our standard, work out technical solutions for delivery (pull / push etc.). This changed again once our 20 main partners were arranged and I was given the opportunity to be a Content Producer - i,e. I set ‘hot topics’ each day for our site to cover and seed into our forums and chat rooms, I wrote a couple of articles per week, I worked with journalists each week to set editorial, I negotiated new content partnerships and drafted the strategic plan for the content categories I oversaw (film, TV, events & oddities - i.e. wierd stuff). Then the dotcom bust happened and I was retrenched for the second time in my career but this time with a payout so I took a break and did web-programming contract work for Thatgame for about 9 months and then spent 3 months back-packing around Europe.

I’m back!

Returned from Europe I took a contract to work with ex-colleagues from Beam who were still at my old office now working under Infogrammes. I had the task to hire, manage and coordinate Korean students in Melbourne for play-testing the Korean language version of Neverwinter Knights.

Hitwise - the job that kept on changing

I called another ex-colleague from Beam and he said he had a full-time opportunity for a QA Manager position working at Hitwise. I joined again to write the process and define the tools but because they were still recovering from the dotcom crash - it was a manager with a team of one - me! I got the basics off the ground - stopped the devs live-coding on our production server, introduced Subversion (there was CVS but not used very well or across everything), setup Mantis for bug reporting and feature requests and introduced an automated testing solution (Perl-based - not so many options back in 2002!). I was also the only tester! Fortunately after 6 months we could hire first one and then two QA. A key developer left and I took that opportunity to finish off his current project and use that as evidence I could switch into a development role.

12 months later I was given the responsibility in addition to my project dev work to also manage stakeholders for all operational requests (back office, product enhancements, bug-fixes etc.) and to oversee a few developers and QA who would complete these requests.

When the opportunity arose I put up my hand to switch into lead R&D whilst a newly hired manager could oversee the operational work. This was initially as a manager of 8 developers but after a restructure and some critical client projects I was switched into a senior software engineering role building big data transformation and extraction software, building data feeds, data stream processing and search indexing solutions. I finally really learnt my craft as an engineer and one which could solve problems.

I was moved back into a team lead role, still coding and leading a team of 6 developers and some shared QA to rebuild our entire platform UI / UX to be more modular and scalable and interactive. It was 2005 so Ajax was almost a thing - we were pioneering the tricks you could achieve with XMLHttpRequest. Also relevant to 2005 whilst we had always used iterative development approaches this was when we first introduced the more commonly known Agile practices - stand-ups, retro, product owner and scrum master (although I would say still Scrum-but! as those last two were both me and I was coding!).

After a few years of this - with improvements such as moving to a rotating Scrum master role shared across each team member and eventually handing over Product ownership to another new hire I realised to actually do the management part of the role well I needed to let go of coding as part of my role. I took the management path at this time because I found it the most challenging. My colleague at the same level as me (and some years later my boss) was in an architect role - just as important role within our business! This concept of pathways other than management to progress your career is one which we also support in SEEK Asia.

We delivered many projects with the same team of developers. I focused on becoming a more effective manager and to do this I kept having to relinquish hours coding each week until eventually I never coded for work (although for fun on the weekends I still did work on hobby projects).

More in pt 2 coming soon where I will cover how I came to Malaysia. Please share your career story - what was your worst job? Can you beat mine (giant mobile phone pamplet person)? You can use the blog features in Slack, Confluence or Sharepoint to share your story!