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Life as a generalist

February 9, 2009

knifeOver the years in my corporate career, I’m often asked where I work and what I do.

The where, or who employs me has been easier to answer, but the what I do is more difficult to encapsulate with a single comprehensive term.   

I’m not a marketeer although I’ve helped create, launch and communicate products and programs.  I’m not a developer, although I’ve worked in development and led human factors team efforts to make products better.    

I’m a generalist – swiss army knife of sorts.

I’ve had numerous job titles, more than half of which, I have had the opportunity to create.   I haven’t had a business card in 10 years, and that’s fine for the most part, except during those akward meetings with outside suppliers, partners, or customers when everyone else in the room is busy trading business cards with nifty sounding titles, and I’m patting my pockets and left to shrug off the embarrassment like a guy who left his wallet in his other pants.

Perhaps in a way I’ve come full circle in my career.  

I started my corporate career answering support calls over the phone, and soon moved on to lead a team, developing new support missions, Providing class room  education and training for support techs, and  meeting with developers to  share what I understood about the customer experience from the calls, escalated cases, and gaps in the knowledge base.  

For a while, I moved inward, working in development in an effort to have greater influence in the products we produced.    I worked on improvement strategies using human factors engineers, on development processes to ensure consistency, and in developing an aftermarket program that relieved the company of slow moving inventory overhead, whilst ensuring long term availability of upgrade parts and options.   For the entrepreneurial minded generalist, there was opportunity everywhere.    Project management, re-utilization engineering, there were plenty of things to get involved in.   I had the great fortune of working for a number of wise and well intentioned managers.  One who provided guidance by telling stories, at the end of which the morale was clear and I knew what I needed to do by inference not directive.   Another was brilliant, yet unassuming.  He offered quiet guidance on leadership by saying things like “…if you don’t remember to look over your shoulder now and again to ensure people are actually following ,  you are just a guy out taking a walk.”  

After a while,  I wanted to move closer to the customer again, and took a job managing pervasive issues for the global customer satisfaction team.  This role afforded me a lot of latitude to interact with virtually every part of the company.   I got involved with survey and market research work to understand the broad picture, and listened to individual complaints to get a sense of those “poster child” stories which epitomized aspects of the broader experience.   I worked with service and support, marketing and development, but the web was maturing and I understood that it provided a unique one to many relationship and understanding opportunity.

Today, I’m a social media guy by personal proclamation, but my focus is  the content – the issues that customers are concerned about,  how people think, and what kind of an experience and relationship can be created over time.   The web is an “all you can eat buffet” – a great frontier for a generalist, as everyday brings something different – new challenges, opportunities, and connections.    If I ever order business cards, I think they are going to have a swiss army knife on them.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 9, 2009 7:04 pm

    Mark, if “SwissChamp” was an official job title, that would probably be the most accurate. 😉

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