Eleven Years in Tech: My Career So Far
As 2021 nears a close, I look back on my career journey to this point, and the lessons I've learned.
Back in September this year, I hit eleven years since the day I officially started my tech career after graduating college in 2010. While eleven isn't a nice round number, I was not blogging last year, and I also changed employers for the first time in my career this year. As a result, after seeing a few other people blog about their own career journeys, I decided it would be good to take a look at my career to date, the different things I've had the opportunity to do, and what I've learned at each step along the way.
Delivery Consultant - Cerner Corporation (September 2010-January 2014)
I graduated from Bradley University with my Computer Information Systems degree in the spring of 2010, which was not a great time to be getting into the job market. After a few tough months of searching, I landed a job offer from Cerner Corporation in Kansas City, Missouri. My first role there was very implementation-focused, and while it wasn't as technical as I would have hoped, I was grateful and excited for the opportunity to get my career jump-started.
As a Delivery Consultant, I was personally focused on inpatient pharmacy software, configuring and implementing it for Cerner's hospital clients. It was not a role that required software development or deep technical knowledge, but I ended up in a fortunate situation in several respects:
- I was assigned to a large hospital system client with an aggressive implementation timetable.
- I had the opportunity to work with some extremely talented people. We worked well as a team, and I received some extremely valuable early-career mentoring.
- The inpatient pharmacy solution was one that had a particularly high number of integration points with other areas of the system.
The aggressive implementation timeline meant that we had to find efficiencies wherever we could, and this led to some pursuit of automation opportunities. For a traditional client implementation, much of the configuration was GUI-based, but to speed things up and remove duplicate work, we made an effort to do whatever we could directly in the database. I had some exposure to SQL in college and enjoyed it, which opened some opportunities to help develop automation code. And the complexities of the pharmacy data model, along with its deep integration with other areas, exposed me to a real-world database system in a way I had never seen in school.
I leaned into this opportunity as much as possible, automated whatever I could and learning as much as I could about our database, and SQL in general. I was fortunate to be placed on this particular client to start my career, and I made sure to make the most of that unique opportunity.
One other thing I'll mention about this phase of my career: starting off in a heavily client-facing role was not something I had really planned on or aimed for, but looking back on it, I have an appreciation for the way things unfolded. Seeing clients use our software and encounter its pain points helped me to develop a level of empathy and a client focus that I've taken forward to this day.
My Biggest Takeaway: Be ready, you never know when an opportunity you don't expect may materialize.
Consulting Integration Architect - Cerner Corporation (January 2014-January 2015)
I gained more responsibility in the Delivery Consultant role and took on many more big implementations, before moving to the Consulting Integration Architect role in 2014. In this role, I branched out from pharmacy and got to work with all clinical areas. The key thing for Cerner is that third-party integration is very well-supported, so if a client wanted to use an outside vendor for a radiology system and Cerner for everything else, for example, we would support that. As an Integration Architect, it was my primary job to make sure all systems, both internal and external, played nice with each other. I also helped manage strategic planning and project timetables, especially as they related to code installation and maintenance for our multiple production and non-production environments.
This role really gave me the opportunity to stretch both my hard and soft skills. It was highly technical, but it also required a lot of interaction with many different types of stakeholders that had wide ranges of technical know-how. It was also a leadership role, as I had to work with other project management resources to make sure all teams were on the same page and work was on track for an on-time, successful implementation.
My Biggest Takeaway: You don't have to be a manager to be a leader.
Senior Support Integration Architect, Client Operations - Cerner Corporation (January 2015-August 2019)
After spending about a year as a Consulting Integration Architect, I had the opportunity to move into a role on the support side that required very little travel. I had been traveling quite a bit in Consulting, so getting off the road and starting to think about starting a family was appealing to me at this stage of my career. I also moved up to a senior level at this point.
This phase of my career was one that offered a lot of variety, but also a lot of challenge. I was one of the main points of contact for my client, and I frequently had to resolve the most complex technical issues they had, ones that had been escalated because they were a high priority and/or nobody else had been able to resolve them. I also had opportunities to work on longer-term software development projects to enhance our live clients. The challenge, though, was that the longer-term projects tended to be "extra" types of projects that were lower-priority for me to work on as I had time. Unfortunately, it was always a challenge to find that time, as my day-to-day often involved context-switching from urgent issue to urgent issue.
The variety was good, but the constant urgency started to burn me out, and I had also started to have quite a bit of turnover on my immediate team. I also wanted to make the project-based work a bigger focus. As I gradually became the biggest source of knowledge on the team, simply because I'd accumulated so much of it over time, it became more and more difficult to repeatedly train newcomers to the team. I realized it was time for a move.
My Biggest Takeaway: I probably stayed in this role a bit too long. Constantly working on escalated issues will burn just about anybody out given enough time. Make sure you're thinking about your next move before you start to burn out.
Senior Support Integration Architect, Service Improvement - Cerner Corporation (August 2019-July 2021)
Right around the time I was really feeling the burnout hit, an opportunity for a change opened up in timely fashion. Once again, I remained an Integration Architect, but my job responsibilities once again changed immensely.
In the Service Improvement organization, we were tasked with proactively making our live clients' experiences better. This involved a lot of monitoring and automation, catching common issues and misconfiguration and addressing them before they could cause bigger problems. Having the opportunity to step away from direct client work, while also being able to have a greater impact by doing work that impacted all clients instead of just one, was really something I enjoyed. I also got to work on a really great team, with talented people who all had been at Cerner for a long time. This especially helped when COVID hit, as we were able to seamlessly transition to remote work and continue to capably meet expectations.
In this position, I had the most opportunity to write code, as I got to come up with new ways to automate processes. That ranged from automating client issue resolution, to improving the day-to-day experience for our own support employees with new automated tools, to automating the ways in which we managed our large amounts of internal data and reporting. I was able to work with Python the most that I had in my career, as well as being exposed to Power BI and several database systems I hadn't worked with before. I had primarily worked with Oracle in the past but had heavy exposure to Microsoft SQL Server, MySQL, Redis, and Elasticsearch. I was really able to both broaden and deepen my skillset in this role, getting much deeper into both data engineering and web development.
This was a much different role than my previous ones, and it really took my career in a new and exciting direction. It intensified my interest in data, and increased my desire to really take my career in a data-focused direction.
My Biggest Takeaway: Different is good. Sometimes you have to make a big job change that really shakes up the status quo. This move was key for casting aside my previous burnout and giving me lots of new and different challenges to take on.
Senior Data Integration Architect - Trinity Life Sciences (July 2021-Present)
This July, after almost eleven years at Cerner, I decided it was time for an employer change. There were a few reasons, but largest among them were the opportunity to go somewhere new and different, and the chance to pursue a fully remote role. Moving into a fully remote role allowed my family and I to relocate closer to extended family, which has been great with two small children around.
I'm still finding my footing in this new job, but it's offered a lot of variety so far, and there's a great deal of opportunity for me to grow going forward as well. I've done quite a bit of ETL, ELT, and reverse ETL work, as well as getting to work with C# for the first time to write backend web APIs. I've gone from a very large company to a smaller but rapidly-growing one, and there's lots of opportunity in front of me to make the next phase of my career whatever I want it to be. I'm excited to see what the future holds.
My Biggest Takeaway: As with the above, different is good. This time, moving to a very different company in terms of size, scale, and structure has given me new perspectives. In addition, I can lend my own perspective to the company from my own previous experiences.
If you take anything away from reading this post, I hope it's this: everybody's tech career journey is different, and it's rarely a straight line. I've worn many different hats and gotten many different experiences during my career. Even though my last four roles all have "Integration Architect" in the name, they've probably been more different than similar.
There's also still so much more I don't know and am eager to learn going forward. My advice: don't compare yourself to others and focus on your deficiencies, but at the same time, maintain a hunger to learn new things. Don't get too complacent, and always keep your next career move in the back of your mind. Having that mindset will take you far in your tech career.
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