I’ve always strived to excel at what I do. There are few things more unfulfilling to me than spending most of my waking hours working on things of mediocre quality. No matter what we do, there are always people impacted by the quality of our work, be they colleagues, bosses, customers or end-users. And we have the power to make their lives harder or easier simply by decreasing or improving the quality of the service we are providing. Therefore, striving to be a good professionnal is one of the most loving and caring things anyone of us could do.
This has always been my mantra. And that’s why as soon as I joined Esker, my current company, as a technical support engineer, my main focus has been from day one to be the best I could be.
I quickly realized that one of the most important skills for the job was the ability to create a strong bond with the customer, by showing empathy and care. Sure, there were many technical topics to master in order to be useful, but the main driver of customer satisfaction was actually more the human interaction than the technical solution provided.
At some point, I even realized that good communication could work as magic. We would have situations where customers were really angry because of some dysfunction with our product. For instance, a retailer unable to receive his sales orders by fax and thus losing a lot of money every passing minute. Even if we had no power on the fax provider issue, we were able to turn these angry customers into great fans. We would devise plans where we would call them as soon as we had any updates from the provider, while doing our best to find alternative solutions. We showed them that we really cared and that we were doing everything in our power to solve the issue. This didn’t change the fact that they were still losing as much money every minute. But it made all the difference. And some of these customers would then volunteer to write testimonials saying how great our company is, and use our first name when communicating with us (“Hey Sam, great to talk to you, how are you doing?”).
Realizing this, I started to develop a passion for communication, psychology and behavioral economics. In my free time, I started to devour books such as Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini and Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh. As soon as I would find a new hack, I would try to apply it in my communication with my colleagues and customers. And I found great joy and purpose in it.
Seeing my passion for these soft skills, my team elected me as their new scrum master. My new role would be that of a servant-leader to the team by making sure they had everything they needed to provide the best possible customer experience. I became heavily involved in all things related to team-organization, communication with other services in the company and with key stakeholders, hiring and firing, conflict resolution, tools used for the job, etc. And I just loved it.
But after a few months in this role, there was something that started to bother me. I realized that even though I had a Master’s degree in Computer Science, everything I did could be done by a business school graduate with an interest in software (actually, some of my collegues with similar roles were MBA grad’s). Most of what I spent years studying was only marginally useful. And I started to remember how much I enjoyed as a young student banging my head on some advanced math problems until I hit the Eureka point. This was a great feeling and I started to miss it. Nostalgia crept in. I was only a few years into a career that could last for more than 40 years and I was forever done with math and real engineering problems…?
I knew that the longer I stayed in a managerial role, the harder it would be for me to get back into a more technical role where analytical math-like skills were required. And at the same time, I saw that what my collegues in the R&D department were doing also felt in some way like magic. They could take almost any problem and solve it using their brainpower and a computer. Sure, I liked the magic of being able to turn angry customers or depressed team members into happy and productive ones. But the magic of creating delightful products using new technologies felt ever more compelling.
A few months into this new habit, in June 2016, I had a completely unexpected discussion with my wife while in the car returning from vacation. Out of nowhere, she told me that she was convinced that these 2-hours a week were leading me nowhere. Sure, I was enjoying my time, but professionnally, it would never be enough to lead to any true opportunity. She then proposed the following challenge: it was All in or Nothing. Either I decided to go back to development and should thus dive right in, or I should stop altogether. But there was no point just playing here and there (we were too busy for that).
I knew she was right. I had a choice to make. Continue to follow the management-career track or make a turn towards development. It was a defining moment, a blue-or-red pill kind of moment.
I decided to go all in. Even though we had a crazy schedule, my wife agreed to free me 10 hours a week to get some solid skills.
From that day on, everything changed. It was only six months ago, but I can already say that it has been one of my best decisions so far.
What did I do then, since I had no clue where to start?