I am writing from a period of “funemployment” as they say, as I left my role at HashiCorp on the Terraform Core team and will be starting in a new position in not too long (but long enough to relax for a minute!).
Many people I’ve spoken with lately have been considering new roles (either at their company or elsewhere) and I described my process for how I developed “what I want in my [day job] role” and it sounds like it would be helpful. And I realized I can give it a little name! “MNAM” is pronounced like “M&M” and it is not sponsored by candy but you can feel free to eat candy while you work on yours, if that works for you.
On the topic of current role vs. interviewing. I made this document for myself initially to answer the question “what do I want to do?” And a valuable exercise that I’d recommend is that after I wrote it, I went through and marked two specific categories on things that were not fulfilled by my current role: Things within my control, and things out of my control.
If something is not fulfilled in your “must” category (or is violated in “must-not”) and it’s out of your control … you know what to do.
Here’s a simple Google Doc you can use as a template (Use File>Make a Copy) to get started on this for yourself.
What must your role have? These are non-negotiable, and they help you rule out opportunities that aren’t a good fit for you. Some examples from my recent MNAM document I used for evaluating my (now previous) role and evaluating possible roles I was considering:
- Stability and quality are table-stakes, not “we’ll get to it later”. Stability and quality are what enable speedy deployment and rapid iteration, and they are prioritized
- Shipping happens often. Shipping motivates me because the work that I complete is in the hands of users.
- Where & when you work isn’t important, but there is camaraderie and collaboration — not just being a contractor. Having an office isn’t a dealbreaker, but requiring people to be in the office 5 days a week is.
What are nice-to-have features of your role? These aren’t quite hard requirements like must. Think about if you had two offers, what about one of them would make you take one over the other? It might be a nice-to-have. Some samples of my nice-to-haves:
- People must have a sense of humor and adventure. Makes it easier to work together, and forging a path together (adventure) is motivating and makes things fun.
- Company infrastructure large enough that I don’t have to do everything to keep things running. [clarification for blog post: what I mean here is basically, company >50 people/has admins]
Avoid can also be considered the red flags. They might not be dealbreakers, but they must be seriously considered, and all must-haves best be fulfilled, and some nice-to-haves too, probably. My avoids included concerns about system reliability (ex. on-call, and if that on-call takes up so much time that there’s little space for creative work) and about equity and inclusion (i.e. if a place seems very clueless or bad).
Dealbreakers!! Must-not is a hard “nope”, non-negotiable, do not pass go. For me, one of these is I rule out whole industries (ads and defense) and also the broader umbrella of “working in evil shit” (“Does me [or anyone] building this technology possibly make the world worse?”).
If you try this exercise and you’re struggling, I suggest starting with must-not. Sometimes it’s easier to start with what we don’t want, and then that’ll help elicit more about what you do want.
I would also recommend using more words – don’t get stuck trying to be concise. This is for you after all. For example, when I say “all-hands on deck emergencies happen often” as one of my “avoid”, I can have extra notes there to define what that means for me. “Often” for one person can be different than often for another (and same with the word “emergency”).
Writing this down and having it available for reference was so so valuable to me (and it also made it clear I was ready for a change from my previous role). I would have this document open when I was talking to people and they’d ask “so what do you want to do?” Eventually, I’d done it enough times that I could summarize my sentiment into an elevator-pitch size statement: “I want to work on X, with Y, because Z”.
 At least, it’s pronounced how I pronounce “M&M” which is not using the word “and” but kind of slurring it together — “em-eh-n-em” Or maybe it’s pronounced like the first part of the “mahna mahna” song.