I’ve come to the realization that it may be time to see what other options are out there for me in terms of employment. I’ve been at USAA for 8.5 years now (which is crazy when you say it out loud) however, at this point in my career I’m not sure this is where I should stay. The way I see it if I were to stay I have three options;

  1. Stay where I am
  2. Go into management
  3. Go into CTO (Architect).

Stay a Lead - At 34 years I don’t feel that I’ve capped out so staying a lead developer is not something I’m comfortable with. Plus there are some cultural/political issues that need to be resolved.

Management - This is an easy decision for me at this point in my life since I really don’t want to manage people. I have no doubt that I could do it but I don’t feel now’s the time.

Architect - This is the one that makes the most sense. It’s the next step in the "technical track" and where I see myself going if I stay and someone either retires or a slot magically opens up.

Lets take a 10,000 foot view at what USAA Architects do.

  • Solve problems - This is the fun part. It’s fun to solve problems, design the solution, and save the day. It’s even more fun when you get to role up your sleeves and actually implement. Its where we get our kicks!
  • Set technical direction - OK, not as fun as solving problems or writing code but still fun. You’re setting the direction for the company in your domain which is a lot of responsibilities. You get to do some research, maybe go to a conference or two, and set the stage for the company’s future.
  • Go to meetings - So yeah… well, this is part of our trade. You have to explain problems/solutions, meet with the customers and guide them, and those projects teams just sometimes have a ton of questions….
  • Find funding and people - This is the part that blows my mind. It’s one thing to go find funds and people to do research or try cool things that may or may not be in the alignment with the business. It’s another thing to have to do all that just to do your job. This is largely in part to some of the cultural and political concerns that I have with just staying a lead but still….

So why the thoughts of employment elsewhere? The TLDR answer is I’m not sure I’d enjoy CTO or staying put.

On paper CTO looks good however when reality eventually sets in its not as glamorous as it sounds. I’ve seen first hand my colleagues and friends who have gone into CTO struggle with their own job satisfaction. Going to meetings and finding funds/people seem to be all that they do. When they do have enough free time to finally do the fun parts of the job they are usually burned out. I have no doubt in my mind that I could do it but I’m not sure I’d enjoy it.

I love USAA, it’s a good company to work with the best benefits I’ve seen hands down. Some of the industry’s best and brightest work there and I never feel like the smartest guy in the room, there’s always something to learn. With all the nice things I can say about the company there are political and cultural issues that need to be addressed; process for process sake and design by committee to name a few. Every company has skeletons in the closet, some just grow more annoying than others.

The next step for me is to start putting feelers out and testing the waters. We’ll see what the good Lord has in store, I just hope that I’m smart enough to listen.