On my way to work today, I was imagining what it would be like to go through an interview once again in my life. I haven’t seriously interviewed for a job in the past 8 years, since I landed my current job. Sure, I’ve gone through the occasional interview just to see if the grass was greener on the other side, but nothing really serious.
As I contemplate the idea of an internal move within my company in order to move back to Japan, I am wondering if my future potential boss would ask me the typical question “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”.
That question’s always been kind of a mystery to me. In my early interviews, and even for my current job, my answer (as a CS engineer) has always been along the lines of: “I’d like to move to management kind of jobs, maybe as a software development manager”.
Well, I did move to management, although I don’t manage teams, I manage projects. I hate this job, I don’t get to do any programming at all, which was my passion in life. That move was probably my worst career move ever, and it’s not like I even got a raise, for what is considered a “lateral move”.
Then again, the job as a software engineer wasn’t the best either (I wouldn’t have moved to “management” otherwise!). 30% of the job was actually programming. The rest was dealing with clients and their requirements, or dealing with stupid operational crap that I really hated (e.g. setting up a bunch of machines for project X or Y). I love the creative process behind programming. Sadly, working for a big corporate means the creative process goes away: the project is 100% decided for you and you quickly become a code monkey. As much as my company likes to think they’re giving lots of flexibility to their engineers, at the end of the day the only flexibility engineers have here is on what programming language they will be able to build their solution. Everything else is decided for them, whether they see it or not. Even big architectural decisions are limited to the tools available within the company, and the ultimate approval of some principal engineers. Just try and come up with something just a bit outside of the usual to see your code getting slammed in a code review.
Boundaries are set in place to ensure the minimal amount of bugs and the maximal performance of our code. I used to love this, but now I feel that this space, which was the only space where an engineer could be creative, was dramatically constrained as well. What you have to build is decided by the product guy. How it will look like is decided by the Design guy. The overall system architecture is decided by your team, as long as the Principal engineer vets it. The language you use, and how you write your code, is decided by your senior engineer and the team. Strict rules all over the place, creativity reduced to zero. The only place I found creativity in my job as an engineer was in fixing bugs, because people seemed to care much less about the code as long as the issue went away.
So, err, I totally digress, but this is why the “where do you see yourself” question always kind of baffled me. “Certainly not as a software engineer, the job apparently sucks everywhere”, I would think. So, yeah, management seemed like the only alternative I had?
So, now I’ve tried both. They both suck. Being a programmer is great when you control all your stuff, as a freelancer, or building your own app. Not in a corporate environment where everything’s already decided or heavily influenced by others.
And here I am, fantasizing about my next job interview. “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”. Here’s what comes to mind:
- Somewhere on a tropical island, probably on a beach, reading a book or playing with my kids
- Driving my own business
- Relaxed, at home, drinking some tea while I wait for my kids to come back from school
- Playing video games
- Going out for a walk with my wife, discovering a new restaurant in the city
I’m then wondering what any of these answers would trigger in the interviewer. Maybe the “driving my own business” one is the safest one, something people can relate to. “Oh, this guy wants to learn from Evil Corp for the next 5 years before he tries to run his own business, that’s cool”.
Any of the other ones, directly giving away that I do not intend to be working at all 5 years from now, feels probably a bit too dangerous. Would the interviewer think “wow, this guy has the guts to tell me that, I like him”, or be more like “hmmm, not the corporate drone I was looking for, move along!”. I assume the latter, but I can’t help thinking of what people’s reaction would be if I was brutally honest in one of these interviews.
Unsurprisingly, a google search for “Where do you see yourself in 5 years” returns a bunch of results that are way too serious to be taken seriously, all expecting you to be a good team player and show strong dedication to your company and your career goals. Yuck. (And by the way, one can do a reasonable job in their 9to5 without having to accept all of the corporate BS)
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?