A More Important Manifesto

A couple years ago, I wrote about signing the Agile Manifesto and the Manifesto for Software Craftsmanship.

Today I want to write about something a lot more important.

Let me use résumés to provide some context.

I used to think that the “Objective” section of a résumé was fluff–a place to dump vague platitudes, maybe. You know the stuff I’m talking about:

Objective: Craft high-quality, enterprise software in an environment where I can make significant contributions to the bottom line of a growing company.

Blah, blah, blah.

Theoretically, this stuff helps you get jobs, but as someone who writes a lot, my drivel-o-meter pegs at such verbiage. Usually, it means about as much as the Business Buzzwords Generator recently posted by the Wall Street Journal.

image credit: David Blackwell (Flickr)

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Your objectives ought to matter.

Last year, I spent a lot of time pondering what makes me tick, as an engineer, an employee, and a company leader. A lot of it grew out of my exposure to Simon Sinek’s TED talk, “Start with Why”, and my readings in Conscious Capitalism. (Shoutout to @trev_harmon for a fountain of interesting ideas, and generous discussions about them.)

One consequence of my ponderings was that I re-wrote the “Objective” section on my résumé. Here’s what it said, hot off the presses, when I responded to a Google recruiter who came calling:

I long to transmute complex software and data into insight engines that make the world better. Sign me up for awesome–not easy, mediocre, or unimpactful.

Looking at it now, “long” seems a bit melodramatic. But hey–it’s accurate! I ended up deciding it wasn’t the right time to move, and suspending the conversation with Google. But I used that revision of the résumé with other recruiters who reached out, for many months.

Amazon pinged me again during this stretch. I’d flown out to Seattle a couple years before, fallen in love with the area, loved the technical problems they wanted me to work on, and received a formal offer–but I felt some dissonance and said no.

This time, I was restless, and I had a pretty good idea of the package they might offer. This time, they wanted me to work on their streaming video service, which is cutting-edge stuff. My first impulse was to revive the conversation. But as I went to send them an updated résumé, I thought about that “Objective” line. Did this opportunity match?

Did I really believe what I’d written?

I politely declined. I get a lot of entertainment online, and I think it’s fun–but most fare nowadays is pretty far removed from “make the world a better place.” Coolness alone wasn’t enough.

I turned down a gig working on the AI and rendering technology in a gaming engine for the same reason.

Another recruiter set up an interview at a local company. They needed an architect to help design and deliver a linux-based appliance that filters network traffic, keeping bad guys out and desktops pornography-free. I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could feel like I was doing something genuinely good for the world on that sort of project, so I got on the phone.

The manager asked me about my objective. Didn’t I think it was a bit idealistic? He hinted that perhaps I presumed too much, expecting an employer to meet that lofty standard.

I didn’t speak to him again.

Of course I was being idealistic. I get the need for pragmatism. I don’t think everybody needs to be an idealist about their career; just loving your job and doing it with passion and professionalism can make the world a better place, in the right circumstances. Yet I also knew I wouldn’t be happy working for a boss who thinks idealism and business are incompatible.

Which brings me back to the manifesto.

My friend Trev Harmon recently put some wonderful ideas into words, and he called them the “Conscious Business Ethics Manifesto”. It’s a synthesis of the principles that I first heard him advocate over lunches and around conference tables as I rewrote my resume, and I commend it to you. Among other things, it espouses the idea that we need to add true value to the world when we sell a product or service, that we need to be honest in intent as well as in technicality, and that we need to find a way to keep money, profit, and egos in their proper place. Business is not separable from the rest of life, and hopefully we all value other people, and our relationships to them, more than we value a quick buck or technical dazzle.

It also highlights the freedom that each of us has to choose how we’ll approach our careers. We don’t have to wait for the right boss, or the right company. As Seth Godin would say, we can pick ourselves instead of waiting for someone to grace us with a perfect opportunity.

The manifesto articulates many of the feelings that drove me to change the objective on my resume, and I signed it as soon as Trev put it up. I’ve printed a copy and displayed it at my desk.

As I said before, the idealism I put into my résumé may not be for everyone–but I think the straightforward goodness in Trev’s manifesto always applies.

I hope you’ll read, sign, and talk up the manifesto as well.

Let’s promote some awesomeness together.

2 thoughts on “A More Important Manifesto

  1. trevharmon says:

    I really want to thank you for all of the support (and the shout-outs). I very much enjoyed those talks that we had. They helped me clarify and refine my thinking in so many ways. I’m very grateful to have you as a friend. To everyone else, please join us!
    – Trev

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