Many of you will be familiar with the German folk-tale of Rapunzel — the young lady held captive in a remote tower by a witch who used Rapunzel’s extraordinarily long hair to climb in and out of the lofty chamber in which she lived with her prisoner. Spoiler alert! Rapunzel’s dedication to hair care excellence attracted the attention of a passing Prince who ultimately succeeded in rescuing her.
Dear reader, as a young engineer, I was something of a Rapunzel myself, combing long strands of pale logic with intricately crafted unit tests, and singing hauntingly from my office window of unrequited user requirements. Someday, a handsome Project Manager would come riding past, and carry me away to work on something truly fascinating.
The Rapunzel strategy actually worked! I was myself rescued from a “legacy” code base (“kill it with fire” was my professional recommendation) to work on a machine vision system (career changing! still high on my list of “fun times at work”). No project lasts forever though — we shipped, moved on to more pedestrian things. Where was my next cool project?
Eventually, I realised that I (and Rapunzel!) had got the right result for the wrong reasons: my efforts were focused exclusively on bettering my technical skills — combing my hair, singing in my tower, and hoping for a passing Prince. In most forests, Prince density is about the same as unicorn density. Product Managers with really cool work are fortunately more common, but not so common that sitting in your cubicle is a good search strategy.
I moved to a larger company and started doing a mix of tech talks and writing carefully targeted messages to senior folks (weeks of research and code for one email!). This really changed my life; now hundreds of people knew me and my skill set, many of them people with hiring authority. I moved to a new job created for me, then another.
Rapunzel excelled in hair care, and presumably had a decent singing voice; had she lowered herself to the ground, she could have run off to the city, found a bar with an open mike night and gigged her way to a career in music, with her pick of princes — a much more repeatable Prince Discovery Process (PDP™)!
Dear Ambitious Young Person, do not be Rapunzel. Find ways to demonstrate your skills to as many potential “Princes” as possible. It is easier than you think, partly because so few people take communication (and deliberate practice) seriously.
Hope you find your Prince (the right way)!