More than that, it really resonated with me.
But, Sandor, what’s the main idea?
You should always be the buyer, haven’t I written?! The buyer makes the decision. The buyer has the most important control over the course of action. The buyer can reject the seller.
The seller tries to sell something, and the buyer can determine if he wants it or not. The buyer can choose among several sellers and reject all the others.
The example used by Hardy was about the purchase of a car. As a buyer, you got to choose among many different cars, but as a seller, you can get easily rejected. Generally, as a seller, you would sell your car to the first person who pays the price, but as a buyer, you usually check out a lot.
Hardy is so American, he never experienced the world of socialism, where goods were on short and often sellers were king. Car sellers, fruit sellers, you name it. In a shortage, the seller is king.
But the bitter reality of socialism doesn’t take away the expressive power of the metaphor.
You want to be in a position where you can reject things.
Hardy said that at a point he rejected to be an employee and he wanted to work on his own.
I immediately thought that you want to be in a buyer position where you can reject ideas, demands, orders, positions even as an employee - without taking too much risk.
How is that possible?
Reject employers as a job seeker
You can see this from the perspective of a job seeker. You want to be in a position where you can choose your employer, you can choose your team.
This requires that you are good enough to attract multiple employers/teams. You take the time to do your homework and you are both well-prepared for the interview and you also know exactly what you want. What you want from a team, what you want from a job. Oh, and of course, you highly qualified and you have a good reputation.
Being in multiple hiring processes or just not being in a rush to accept an offer can give you leverage and a high level of confidence.
I’ll always remember to the face of one of my soon-to-be managers when approaching the end of our interview, he said something like, “if we choose you, we’ll…”.
Then I replied something like, “of course, if we both choose each other, we’ll…”.
His eyes were wide-open. “If we both choose each other? You have other offers?” I was interviewing for like 5 teams and I was clearly in a position where I’d be able to choose from multiple offers.
When I shared this with him, his tone totally changed. In the end, I was really hesitant and I turned him down. He called me back later and convinced me to join - in hindsight it was a good decision.
The moral is that I had options and that gave me freedom and confidence. I quickly became the buyer.
But to be honest, this is not the first thing that I had in mind when I said you have to be the buyer at your workplace.
Reject your own boss if you need to
What I had in mind is that you still have to be the buyer in the relationship of you and your boss - especially if you work for a corporation.
I emphasize the word corporation because it is both a dangerous and a promising place for those who have clear ideas about their careers.
It’s a promising place because there are endless opportunities if you find your way around. Often, you don’t even need to change teams to try something else. You can take on the role of an SRE as a side role, you can deal with security or maybe you can be the DevOps. And it’s not that everyone has to do everything, so your team is managed well and if you manage yourself well, you can try the different roles according to your interests and taste. You can pick interesting skills at your job without taking the risk of hopping from one company to the other.
If you don’t like your position, you can probably even rotate to another team without major difficulties. Often, you can try a completely different stack, you can move from backend to frontend or the other way around. You can even try to become a QA or a business analyst and later come back. Not to mention human or project management if that’s your perversity.
At the same time, a company can also be a dangerous place. Sometimes you might feel that you are sitting on a rollercoaster, things are moving so fast around you. You are going from one reorganization into another while the e-ink hasn’t even dried on the previous decision record.
These changes can easily sweep you away from your career plan in the short term. You can try to stay firm, but often the only thing you can do is to wait and see and consider leaving.
But even without deep reorganizations, life rarely stops and people will move around. Often, managers try to move people around as if they were pawns on a chessboard. Soulless resources that can be assigned between assembly lines of a software factory.
And with many devs, they can do this, because many don’t have a clear idea about what they want. Many don’t even consider they could say no, they could object. Object to what? And why? Oh, for that you need independent thoughts and a vision… Sadly, many people lack that and they just float around.
But if you have that vision about your career and you deliver results, you can make your voice heard even if you’re not asked or if the question is just a formality.
During my last years, I had managers who thought that I should be more business-oriented, some others thought that I should spend significant time on the front-end side. While I’m not dogmatic about the languages I’m working with, if you follow my works, you know that I try to get deeper and deeper in C++ - even though that’s not the only language I’m comfortable with. Moving to the front-end teams is simply not fitting my career plans. I’m investing much of my free time in - really slowly - becoming a C++ expert, an author and even a trainer. Assigning me to a non-C++ job would be damaging to my plans.
I was not buying the idea when I was to become a frontend dev.
So even in unhealthy business conditions, when it was difficult to find another team, I started to oppose. Not just a little bit.
It didn’t make everyone happy, but we found a compromise I was more than happy with. I could buy that.
Essentially, I remained the buyer.
You can only remain the buyer if otherwise, you’re flexible on smaller things. Being generally flexible, and someone who delivers reliably gives you the ability not to bend when it would hurt your career.
You can only remain the buyer if you deliver good results and people around you know that they can trust you.
You can only remain the buyer if you know what you want to buy. Otherwise, they will sell you.
And probably this last point is the most important. If you don’t fulfil the other two, you can be tossed around. If you don’t know what you want, if you don’t have a clear plan, you’re just a product.
Being the buyer means that you are in control, you can reject others who try to sell you products, ideas, even jobs and positions.
In your career, this means that you don’t just get hired by the first company that happens to make you an offer, but that you choose an employer, a team based on your needs, based on your vision.
It also means that once you are in a team, in an organization, you cannot simply be tossed around like a figure on a chessboard. With a clear vision in front of you and a long list of high-quality deliveries behind you, you have the power to say no, to oppose if you feel that a new project is not mutually beneficial for you and your employer.
Know what you want, and give yourself a favour, support yourself with high performance so that you can remain the buyer.
It might not bring a smile to faces all the time, but it will earn you both confidence and respect.
Always be the buyer.
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