Mission: Impossile — Finding a Good Analogy

May 7, 2022
Not every company wants to hire a super star; also niching down can make you a star in your niche.

Yesterday’s post generated a fair amount of feedback. The two most common types of responses can be summarized as:

  • Not every company wants to hire a Tom Cruise
  • Tom Cruise is in a class of his own, so not a good analogy

Before I address each of these, I want to apologize for using an analogy that’s so easy to misinterpret. I really only wanted to make a simple point: Coding challenges serve to prove that someone knows how to code. If you can prove that in other visible ways, such as a long work history, or a populated GitHub profile, or any other way, then a reasonable company will not be asking you to also do their throw-away coding assignment (unless perhaps it’s testing some truly unique technical ability… but I’ve never actually seen that in practice).

But what about companies that don’t want a Tom Cruise? Right. If you’re hiring juniors, you can’t expect them to have a long work history to prove their competence. Maybe they have some class work they can share. Maybe not. Or maybe you want seniors, but you don’t want seniors who aren’t willing to do your coding assignment. Meh… I guess that’s your right. But you’re immediately excluding a lot of people you may not intend to exclude: Those who easily get competing offers without doing assignments, those who have families or other commitments that don’t give them the time to do assignments, and many people who simply aren’t good at such artificial tests.

Okay, but Tom Cruise is still unique.

Indeed he is. That’s part of what makes him so valuable. Without knowing anything else about a film, the fact that Tom Cruise is in it tells you a lot about it. And you know that it has a feel no other personality can pull off. Tom Cruise is a brand, not just as an actor, but as a movie sub-genre.

Maybe we have a few analogs in software development: Kent Beck, Jez Humble, Dave Farley…

Not everyone can be at the tippy-top of the IT industry with a name like that. But you can work to develop your own niche. Maybe your niche isn’t TDD like Kent Beck, or DevOps like Jez Humble, or Continuous Delivery like Dave Farley. But you might be able to develop a niche that’s just as valuable to your career, and sets you apart from everyone else when you’re applying for a job.

The beautifuly thing about a niche is that it is small. Don’t try to become the big fish in the ocean, like Tom Cruise or Kent Beck. Instead, aim to be the big fish in the small pond that is your niche.

Then when a company is looking for someone with expertise in your niche, you’ll stand out.

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