Product Culture Marty Cagan

40 Years In Tech

Today is August 17, 2021, which marks exactly 40 years since I began my career in tech, as a new software engineer on August 17, 1981.  At a milestone like this, it’s hard not to reflect a little on your career, and the broader tech industry.  So for those that might be interested…

Mostly due to good luck to have been in the right place at the right time, I have had a remarkable front-row seat to so many new technologies, products and companies.  

Some of you may be wondering what kind of tech could have possibly been around that long ago, but you’d be surprised.  Check out the very first article I ever published (from 1986).

Most importantly, I absolutely know how fortunate I am to be able to say that just about every one of those years was truly fun, and I loved the work I was doing, the people I worked with, and the companies I worked for.  

Yes, there were a couple years in there that were decidedly not fun, where I had to push myself just to go into work each day, but even then, learning what not to do was arguably even more valuable for me.

I believe I can recall major learnings from every one of those 40 years.  And I’m still learning.  In fact, I feel like I’m learning more, and faster, than ever.  

One of the things I’ve found is that learning and experience truly are cumulative.  The more I learn, the more I’m able to contextualize new information, and make sense out of more complicated situations.

It’s remarkable how your depth of understanding of topics can continue to improve over time, when you make the effort to listen, to think and especially to write.

Some habits you develop early in your career pay dividends over time, such as being a lifelong learner, an active reader, and an aspiring writer.

But I think a lot comes from mindset.  For example, I spent so much of my career as the youngest person in the room, that I still find myself thinking that way, even though now it’s obviously rare if I’m not the oldest person in the room.  

There’s no doubt some imposter syndrome going on there, but also I think it’s because I find I genuinely learn something from everyone.

Today I’m much better at interviewing people and predicting who will succeed in a given role.

I’m much better at picking my battles as to which behaviors in a company are serious issues, and which really don’t matter. 

I’m also much better not just at answering questions, but in perceiving the context behind the questions.

I’m much better at predicting which products and companies will do well, and which will likely fade away.

And I’m definitely better at knowing what I can’t know, and admitting what I don’t know.

Not everything is better of course.  Besides the obvious downsides of age, the biggest change I see in myself is diminishing hunger.  I’m well aware that’s the biggest reason why I didn’t want to do another startup.

The main difference lately is that I am trying to spend more of my time teaching and writing (which is also another form of thinking and teaching).

As I read this it sounds like some sort of retirement announcement, but far from it.  I am having more fun now than ever.  I don’t know how long this ride will last, but I am truly grateful for every year.

My sincere wish is for everyone to have a career that is as fun and rewarding as mine has been.