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Ambition

October 28, 2007

Ambition is a funny thing. It’s good to have and in the majority of cases I would imagine that it’s a good thing to fulfill that ambition. Twenty years ago, my ambition was quite simple – get a job. In the depths of a recession in the UK and a time of upheaval (Miners Strike, Printers Strike, resulting legislation and huge social changes) that was ambition enough. In many respects I was lucky and started working on a local news paper as a paste up artist and camera operator, progressing through various companies to become a colour planner. It suited me, I liked the precision required and it also allowed some of my creativity out. Thus began my career in print.

Then Macs came along and I put myself through college to gain qualifications and experience that I could use to further my career. It perhaps wasn’t the greatest plan, but it worked, I’ve only been without work for three months in the last ten years.

As the recession continued to bite and printers shut down, it became clear I would have to move to London. I really wanted to be a Senior Operator for a Design Agency ‘up in town’. I read everything, (there wasn’t much of an internet in those days) I spent what spare time I had continuing to learn new stuff, always pushing myself.

It was a slog, it took me ages to do it, ten years in all, but I spent seven of those years in one location evolving. So yes there I am, Senior Op at an Agency up in town. Ambition fulfilled, and I’m quite pleased that my plan worked, but it’s a little disappointing. Some of the disappointment comes from the company itself and some from my changing priorities.

During the seven years I spent evolving, I was working a shift producing some of the finest packaging to ever appear on a shelf.

During the first five years there, I spent my time ‘off shift’ when I wasn’t trying to hone my skills, trying to improve my life in other ways. Enjoy London, find someone special and start a family etc. I have to confess, I haven’t done particularly well in that. But my career was going well.

I started at the bottom with three other people on the same day. While they languished and complained about a lack of opportunity in the company, I pushed myself harder.

Through steady improvements, I ended up being a team leader, building teams, hiring staff and being Senior Op for two shifts of thirty plus operators each, after being put on permanent days. I wrote documentation for all our procedures and set up a training course for our two production sites in London. I was lucky in that I was surrounded by people that kept me pushing myself and encouraged and rewarded me.

Eventually I was removed form the production environment completely for the last two years and seconded to the development team. This was great, I was taking what knowledge I had and applying it else where.

What lack of opportunity?I moved from site to site as the need arose. Sometimes sitting next to the guys writing the code that would go on to automate our production systems, testing their incremental changes as they wrote. An amazing experience. Sometimes sitting with some of the best Prepress professionals I have ever met, working out how we would implement these changes. Sometimes UI testing, sometimes beta testing (a tester of the month for Quark in Sept 2005.) and end to end testing. I loved it. I didn’t love the corporate BS so much, but it comes with the territory.

All things come to an end, and although I had no wish to leave (apart from the corporate BS) I was made redundant. I wasn’t surprised, I had done what was needed and there was no way that the company would put me back in production, I cost too much and I’m not much of a yes man. I would have gone back, I could have really used going back on shift…

In amongst all of that I was a member, contributor and moderator at Prepress Forums – thanks Cory, until the merger with print planet and now I do those things for B4Print. Thanks Joe, I’m very happy to do so.

Although I’m a Senior Op and I have fulfilled my ambition, career wise and professionally, it’s a step backwards. I made a lot of progress in a way I hadn’t imagined and now I’m kind of where I was ten years ago, like I say, kind of. I cannot go forward where I am, there isn’t a process for it within the company, it’s too small. It doesn’t help that the company I work for is possibly the most disorganised shambles I’ve encountered. Even the worst Prepress job ever had was more organised. I could sort it out, but I wouldn’t be progressing. At best I’m stagnating where I am.

So I want to test software. I believe I’m pretty good at it and I enjoy it. I’m not naive enough to believe it will be like anything that has gone before, it might be, but I might end up testing embedded systems or control systems or anything, that’s part of the attraction. Of course it would help if I had passed my exam, but there is more to it than that.

Instead of being in an environment that encourages and rewards, I am in one that won’t innovate, invest or encourage, where moral is rock bottom and the company is disorganised and reactive.

Instead of having a peer group that will encourage and compete or give me an aspirational target, I have a vacuum. I don’t know anyone who does what I want to do. The web is a great resource, but no substitute for the things a human needs. Interaction. Instead of my job encouraging me and motivating me, it is delaying me from fulfilling my next ambition. The part of the world where software testing and project/team management overlap.

An interim plan should be in place by the end of the year that eventually will allow me to devote more time to what I want to do, instead of wasting my time in a dead end. Of course the interim plan could open up all kinds of different avenues that I haven’t thought of or even knew existed. It’s impossible to see beyond the choices before you. Given an opportunity, I’ll take it.

I can’t wait, I haven’t time to to spare.

teneo vestri

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