How did I end up doing coaching?

I’m starting my summer vacation after this week. When I was walking to office, I started to think about how happy I am about my work at the moment. Which lead to thinking about how did I end up here. So I decided to write a blog post about it. As a summary, it’s a long combination of drifting, luck and decisions. It starts 25 years ago.

In primary school, I was really good at math. That was something I liked, and wanted to do the largest possible amount in high school as well. Going to high school was kind of an easy default, so I didn’t really think about career options back then.

During high school, I had two main options for what to study after I graduate. One was engineering, and one was journalism. My dad was an engineer and one surprisingly big thing was that I had always fancied the first of may celebrations and rituals by engineering students. So those things were drawing me towards engineering. I also worked as a youth reporter with my friend in the local newspaper while in high school and really liked that, too. So that was the reason for considering journalism.

In the end, I only applied to Tampere University of Technology to study engineering in 1996, and I got in on the basis of my grades in matriculation exam without taking any entrance test. So it was kind of the easiest choice.

I had a long term hobby of programming when I was a kid, and at some point I realized that it could be my profession as well. Despite that, I chose electrical engineering as my faculty over computer science, to big part because I thought computer science students might be too nerdy. I also knew that I could major in any of the computer science subjects from electrical engineering too, so it didn’t feel like a limitation.

During university, in year 2000 I got a summer job as a coder for Nokia. I applied for several other places, but coder at Nokia was at the time very common job to land in Finland. I was asked to sign the contract already in the job interview. So I took the summer job, which led to part-time job, which led to doing my thesis for Nokia, which led to full time job after graduation. So that’s how I became a coder.

I liked coding, but really aspired for line manager position after graduation. Starting point for that in my organization was taking a project manager role, so I became a project manager in 2005.

Around 2006, Craig Larman gave a speech about scrum & agile at our workplace. I saw the agile light immediately. I had been working in an excellent software team when I was a coder, and lot of the stuff we were doing was now formalized before my eyes in scrum and agile principles. I really believed that to be the right way to do software, so when there was a search for scrum masters in my organization I joined immediately.

So since 2007 I worked as a scrum master. After a while, I switched to product owner role, which at least there was kind of a step ahead on my career as well. I also tried to push and help the rest of the organization with what ever little impact I might have in our large system. I really wanted to get us working in agile way and get rid of waterfall, long development cycles, lot of specification and design up front, all the related bureaucracy, and so on.

In 2008, Nokia hired some external agile coaches to support the transformation, and I also met with couple of them to support me and my team(s). When there was a decision to assign also internal coaches to work and learn with external coaches, one of my colleagues called me and said that they would really like me to join the coaching team as well. So that’s the first time I became a coach. I was really proud of that, and felt that it was a big career move as well.

I kept working as scrum master and PO, but now we regularly coached other teams and the organization as well. We were adopting Agile Development Train to scale agile with help of Dean Leffingwell, whose idea it was. ADT was a predecessor of SaFE. I was playing a role as a coach in that as well. It was tough to try to replace all the old structures, and in the end it never worked out too great.

Nokia and especially Nokia Networks wasn’t doing so good around 2010. There were continuous layoffs and the spirit wasn’t that good. I was also quite frustrated with inability to change the system, and was considering switching job. I just never got around to it as it was so easy to stay, job and colleagues were familiar and life in a big corporation can be pretty simple.

In 2012, my whole department was outsourced to Tieto. This was a final push for me to actively search for something else. Key moment was at scan-agile conference that year, when three people I knew and with whom I had coached at Nokia separately asked me to come work at Reaktor. I had thought about it before, but they were located in Helsinki so it meant moving from Tampere where I had lived for 16 years. With support from my wife, I decided to finally give it a go.

I didn’t get in with the first try. It’s a very popular place to work and the bar is quite high. However after couple of months, they gave a call and asked if I was still interested. I still was, so we did one more round of interviews (after previous three) and got a job offer. So in December 2012, I started as an agile coach at Reaktor.

At Reaktor, we don’t have any superiors, and I have had a lot of impact on my own career. I started with team & organization agile coach type of assignments. I was very interested in personal coaching and helping individuals, so I trained to work as a personal coach with Results Coaching System and now I’m giving personal coaching to our employees. I wanted to do some training as well, so now I’m giving training on our open courses “Agile Coaching and Leadership” and “Basics of Facilitation”. I have learned a lot, I am still learning a lot, and next steps on my coaching career are in planning.

That’s pretty much how I ended up doing what I currently do :). I mainly wrote this for my own interest, but it would be great if this gives some insight on kind of steps and moves one might take, to someone who is wondering about one’s own career.

I would say the key learning here is just to stay on the ride. Good things happen when you keep going and every now and then give yourself a conscious push to a wanted direction.

Have a nice summer!

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