I dunno what I want to do

And that's OK

One of the most annoying interview questions is “where do you see yourself in five years time?“. I hate it. I have no vision of the future like this. Hell, I barely know what I want to do tomorrow.

I’m good at foreseeing the future, honest!

So my first job, straight out of uni, was with a small Greek shipping company. I learned a lot there ‘cos I had to do it all. But I thought the internet would be a fad; you can do all you want with email and UUCP and store’n’forward systems. Why would we need complicated TCP connections to every desktop? That’s unnecessary.

My second job was at a web publishing company (oh, look; internet!), where I went from Unix SA and networking to Oracle DBA to Windows SA to Lotus Notes Admin… there’s no way I could have foreseen that path.

My third job quickly led to an approximately 50% salary increase in a matter of months (promotion). So that house I had just bought… I could pay off the mortgage in 10 years, rather than 25.

But then I fell in love, and moved to America. Yeah, like that was on my plan! 5 years? That wasn’t even within 2 years.

I stayed at that job for 17 years, but kept moving departments (SA, engineer, automation, config reporting, access management, security engineering, cloud security…) whenever I started to get bored, or whenever the organisation needed me to do something else. The advantage of a good mega-corp is that there are plenty of internal movement opportunities.

My fourth (and current) job came out of the blue as the result of a call from a friend asking me for help.

None of this has been planned. I just drifted around; solve this problem, solve that problem then move on (hopefully leaving the place better than when I started) when I start to get bored.

Doing stuff I enjoy

I remember telling my boss in my second job that I was thinking of leaving; he asked if there was anything that could be done; what would I like to do, what could they do to keep me. I had no idea, no answer. I told him that if I knew what it was that’d keep me interested then I’d already be doing it.

That’s not too far off. I’ve always been pretty lucky to be able to do skunkworks type stuff; play with things and then tell other people about it. Normally they found it useful ‘cos I would build it to make my life easier, so it solved problems that other people were also having.

Looking back to look forward

If I look back at my career then I can see a pretty good progression; although none of it was planned. Even my very first job was unplanned; my university tutor mentioned that a lecturer in another college wanted to talk to me; that lecturer had a friend who was looking for a Unix SA for his company; I interviewed and got the job.

All the different roles I’ve had mean that I get a better holistic view of problems; I’m not stuck in a single mindset rut, not focused on a single technology solution. I’ve seen a lot, made a number of mistakes, learned from them and can put all this together to design new solutions or spot gaps/problems with proposals from others.

And it’s by looking back that I come up with answers to that annoying interview question.

So in that second job I’d brought in Big Brother to monitor the web servers and network. Then I wrote some Kermit scripts to talk to the pager gateways so BB could page me if there was a problem. Which I then opened to the whole team so they could page each other without needing to phone the paging center. Then I added more monitoring, and added Netware pings (so the Netware team got alerts when their aging repurposed desktop-as-server machines fell over).

My first job I managed 3 machines; my second job 20 machines. When it came to my third job interview I was able to describe that automation and monitoring, and said I wanted to automate and manage bigger environments; I ended up starting by automating 550-ish servers. When I left that job my software was running in 65,000 servers.

Which then led to the answer for my fourth job; “I’ve done scale from tiny to mega; now I want more complicated problems”.

They were true answers, but they weren’t the whole truth. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do in 5 years; I just don’t do that type of planning.


I try to take care that my decisions aren’t overly risky (although that move to America was definitely one!) so I don’t break my potential future, but that’s my normal conservative approach to everything.

But I’ve got to acknowledge an amount of privilege at work, here.

I’ve never failed, but I knew I had a safety net if I had (especially in the early days); I lived at home until I was 30 so never had to worry about keeping paying rent or getting food on the table; I lived in the UK so didn’t have to worry about expensive medical bills; I’m smarter than the average bear; and I got lucky.


It’s clear that I’m not a visionary, and that I’ve never had a plan. I’ve never said “this is where I want to be”. I’ve just gone where the tides have taken me.

So now I’m asking myself… what do I want to do tomorrow? And the answer is “I dunno; let’s see what comes up!”

And that’s OK.

For me.