3 Facts about Professional Orientation

When my colleague Slava Pankratov and I launched our yearly educational program, at first we were going to make individual education plans for each student. So we resorted to Slava’s second degree in practical psychology, chose two very detailed tests (one of them consisting of 580 questions) and started asking each student to take them, and also write essays about their stories, goals, and plans.

In a couple of months, we launched professional orientation as a separate service, entirely digging ourselves in the students’ questionnaires and essays. Within three months we managed to process over 500 feedbacks that made us feel like real professionals in this testing thing, and moreover, provided us with lots of interesting material to process.

It wasn’t professional research, but there was a real person with a career and life behind each questionnaire. It may sound goddamn pompous, but it’s true. Most curious is that we received answers from people working in various companies (not only IT), of various ages (from 24 to 51), from 6 countries, ensuring scalability of our findings. So, here’s what we found out.

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That nerdy 580 questions test is the MMPI in one of its programmed versions. The good thing about it – it’s been held on tens of thousands of respondents, and it has so many questions because they include several scales to ensure sincerity and diagnostic value of the answers.

Basically, the test reveals an inclination to a professional occupation by giving a direction, which is viewed as the most promising to follow. And you know what? More than half of our respondents demonstrated no inclinations to any direction at all! Here is a typical result:

▶ Administrative management -7.00

▶ Production 0.00

▶ Office work -6.50

▶ Service -12.50

▶ Pedagogics -8.50

▶ Expeditions -5.50

▶ Science -4.00

▶ Art -1.50

▶ Sport -4.00

▶ Military service -6.50

▶ Programming -2.50

Names of the categories don’t mean exactly what they say (it usually demands a bit of deciphering). For example, expeditions don’t mean the inclination to trekking, it’s rather a kind of logistics. Which means it’s a direction where one should see the process as a whole picture, keep in mind all the details, combine and balance them, divide responsibilities, check intermediate results. Shortly speaking, such specialist constructs working process as a puzzle to achieve necessary results.

And military service is not a desire to repay duty to the Homeland, but the inclination to work in a formal environment with well-established processes.

But it’s not the point. The point is that instead of normal +5, +7 results we see negative figures. It means that to the question “What do you have a leaning towards?” the organism replies with “Leave me alone, I don’t want anything!”

Sometimes it is accompanied by a single considerable plus in the production category, which can be interpreted as “Can I go and do some real work instead of this stupid test and finally die there?!”

50% (50%!) of people who came to study, and many of them paid their own money for it, were in a completely exhausted state. But let’s move further.

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Clearly we have professional deformation: we are engaged in education, so people come to us specifically for it. I’m sure that if a bar owner held clients questionnaires, the results would be even more shocking: 100% of visitors (except for that guy with an expensive watch in the corner) weren’t in the resourceful state!

But what does it mean in our case? Minuses in an MMPI questionnaire mean either accumulated fatigue, or recent stress, or general dissatisfaction with one’s current situation.

People want to change something because they feel that they move in a wrong direction. So, they try to find the way out in education. When first thing they need is a vacation, for at least for a couple of weeks, disconnected from internet, TV, news, mail, and phone. And just spend some time alone (or with a family), read a fiction book and clear their heads from all the garbage that is cluttering them.

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What is the state of people in your team? 14 years’ work in IT and the following 10 years in education for IT companies showed us no evidence that the atmosphere in IT is relaxing and reminds all-inclusive vacation in Cyprus. Usually, it’s rather stressful and pressed for time.

However, valuable specialists, key players, that make crucial chunks of work go on vacation the rarest, for this very reason. What does it mean? It means that these people can lose it any moment. The question is, do you monitor their state?

Here’s a story told by Slava 10 years ago. It happened in a Kyiv development team of a complex lexical algorithm. The architect of the project, Vlad, is an outstanding genius, speaking about concepts no one had ever heard of. In reality – he is the one who defines the architecture, the interface of the components’ interaction, etc. Everyone is used to the fact that Vlad never fails and always does his part of work – architectural decisions- in time, and after that, a team of hungry coders finally grabs this skeleton to put some program meat onto it. So, here comes the next stage of the project and everybody is waiting for a new architecture from Vlad. At the morning planning meeting, where Vlad is supposed to share it, he says that he couldn’t make it. The manager asks – When? ‘Tomorrow’ – replies Vlad. So the team spends the day hanging out. Next day there is no architecture again. The manager is beginning to boil up with anger. Vlad blushes and dives into his UML-diagrams. On the third day, there is still no architecture. At the meeting, the manager loses it and calls Vlad down before the whole team, like wtf how can such an experienced manager do so and blah-blah-blah. Vlad takes his punishment in silence and returns to his computer. On the next day, he doesn’t come to work. At lunch he sends a text: “I’m sorry, guys, I let you down. I’m going back home to Odessa.” The manager is terrified: Vlad, why Odessa, the project is going to die without its leading architect! But Vlad stands his ground. The customer flies in from the US, finds out where this Odessa is and how to get there, goes there by bus and begs Vlad to come back. But Vlad doesn’t. “I feel so awful about it; I screwed up.”

Later it surfaces that at that time Vlad brought his family with a small baby to Kyiv. And his landlady started to kick him out of his apartment because the neighbors complained that the baby was crying and disturbing them. He couldn’t find a new apartment, his wife was all wound up, and the architecture didn’t work out. So it all came together.

When we were packing a box with personal belongings for Vlad, we found some brain vitamins. This means that he tried to cope with this situation, as best as he could, but it just wasn’t enough.

That’s why we keep stressing the regular 1:1 meetings at all out workshops, conferences, and trainings.

If one of your team members is not in a resourceful state, there is no point in pushing, developing, citing the industry’s outstanding leaders as an example. They don’t care about all that now. Just let them rest.

In our company we have learned to kick each other into a vacation, it helps.

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