I think I want more strategery.
April 11, 2009 7:12 AM   Subscribe

GuidanceCounselorFilter: What jobs involve strategic decisions on a fairly frequent basis?

I've been a software developer for the last nine years, and I'm thinking of moving on after my current job runs its course. I still enjoy programming from time to time, but I get less and less out of it as time passes.

It recently occurred to me that I might get more fulfillment out of a job that involves a bit more strategy (or tactics if you'd like). I'd like the following cycle to happen during a job:

1. I'm presented with a decision to make.
2. I research the choices.
3. I apply cost-benefit analysis.
4. I make a decision.
5. I get to move on to another decision, but I do eventually get to see the results of this decision.

It can be argued that this cycle comes up in every occupation, including software engineering. In software engineering, however, in day-to-day work on an established architecture, there is usually one obvious choice and most of the work is finding that. Seeing how the "decision" plays out is not very interesting, either. Designing the architecture for a new application or system does involve strategic decisions that may not have completely predictable results, but it can take years before you can see the consequences of your decisions and cast your lot once again.

I'm looking for "broader" decisions, if that makes any sense.

I know I enjoy going through this kind of analysis/decision/results-watching cycle when I'm making my decisions about my own life, big and small, deciding on purchases, or playing board games, certain video games, or poker.

I think I could get this kind of decision-making opportunity by starting my own business, but I was wondering if it was available in a purer form. Investment banking, maybe? This is probably a terrible time to get involved with that, however.

And of course, it's quite possible that this is not actually the right way to go, but I'd like to explore it, so make your suggestions, please.
posted by ignignokt to Work & Money (12 answers total)
Business Analyst, Product Manager, Department Head (ie, Director of Development), CEO
posted by KokuRyu at 7:22 AM on April 11, 2009

Attorneys do this to varying degrees; its increased by more litigation and higher caseloads. Prosecutors and public defenders do this a lot.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:38 AM on April 11, 2009

Litigator. Its much more of a zero-sum game than business. There is some one on the other side. Someone is actively trying to thwart you.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:39 AM on April 11, 2009

It's called "Management". Even middle management drones make decisions like this on a fairly regular basis, but you'll find that the higher you move up the corporate ladder, the more you find yourself making decisions of this sort, the bigger those decisions tend to be, and the less you find yourself doing day-to-day type work. Once you get to the executive level, this is basically all you do.

As making intelligent, profitable decisions based on inherently imperfect information is reasonably tricky, people who are capable of doing this tend to be in pretty high demand. Which goes a long way towards explaining the levels of compensation corporate executives tend to enjoy.
posted by valkyryn at 7:41 AM on April 11, 2009

Best answer: It usually takes either ages at a job and/or a well-chosen professional degree and a few years of experience before you approach anything remotely like what you're describing.

Typically the professions (doctor, lawyer etc) involve this. I'm an urban planner and I tend to go through a process similar to what you describe - you describe a 'rational' decisionmaking process which, incidentally, isn't always the way things go in any job either.

You're looking for something which is top-down, so involving the public/consensus/committee etc like I sometimes need to likely isn't the best for you. The quickest path is likely doctor/lawyer. Analysts (like someone said) usually just analyze and offer recommendations but don't often make the decisions themselves. Middle-management, same thing. CEO could take decades to achieve unless you start your own company - but even then it's likely that your clients will be making the decisions for you.
posted by jimmythefish at 7:41 AM on April 11, 2009

Best answer: Management consulant? A friend of mine recently started working for a management consutancy agency.

The interview process was all about data analysis and problem solving skills. One example he gave was "you're opening a coffee shop on [nearby street], what turnover are you expecting?" The candidate then had to go through all of his reasoning and estimates then end up with a final figure: "well, roughly 3000 people/day use the tourist attraction next to that street, I'd guess x% would want a drink and, of those, y% would also end up buying drinks for their families. Typical prices for a cup of coffee in this area are £z, at an estimated profit margain of..." etc.)

From what my friend has told me, the actual job is a lot like that too. He turns up at the client company, they give him stack of data about their structure, profits, goals etc. and ask him to advise them on a decision. The actual subject areas are fairly wide-ranging, covering stuff like internal restructuring of departments, opening franchises or offices in new locations, entering new sections of the market, competing for govt contracts, etc. They're not paying for background knowledge, they're paying for data analysis and problem solving skills. Cynically, they're also paying for a scapegoat; if someone makes a bad decision based on your advice, they can point to you or your company as the culprits.

Expect high pressure because, almost by definition, when you're hired it's because the client company is having problems or trying to effect a disruptive change. If you can survive the pace, though, it sounds like a great job for someone who just wants to flex their problem-solving muscle without getting repetative.
posted by metaBugs at 7:53 AM on April 11, 2009

C(insert letter)O
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 10:05 AM on April 11, 2009

Become an independent trader or a prop trader for a firm such as Bright Trading. (There are lots of others like it. )You get everything you are looking for in a very reduced time frame. Poker like time frame. Most traders don't trade for the money alone, they trade for the (virtually) instantaneous feedback (P&L) and direct responsibility for their own decisions as well as the analysis part too.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:33 AM on April 11, 2009

Response by poster: metaBugs: I always thought of management consultants as the guys they bring in to do firings, but I guess they do other stuff, too. I'll look into it.

JohnnyGunn: The phrase "independent trading" has some appeal, but that web site doesn't explain it very well. Does an independent trader work for himself or for a firm like Bright Trading? If he works for a firm, what makes him independent?
posted by ignignokt at 7:40 AM on April 14, 2009

You make your own trading decisions all day long. Your only contact with the4 company is when you want it or if you are doing something that alerts their risk or credit department. You are given loss parameters and dollar amounts with which you can trade and you do. Memail me if you want more info. I do not now nor have I ever worked for Bright. I have been in the trading business for a while. One great benefit is you make your onw hours and you make as much as you make. That is, if you make $1,000 trading by 11:00 am you can leave for the day and go do whatever it is you want or need. You get instantaneous feedback in the form of your P&L, you wear whatever the heck you want and your upside is unlimited. There is no salary. You eat what you kill as the saying goes.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:24 PM on April 14, 2009

Given your background in software engineering, you might want to try marketing.

In their best incarnations, product management and product marketing roles have a nice mix of analysis, strategy development and implementation. One way of breaking down the roles: product management -- what to make, short and long term, and why. Product marketing -- how to sell it (channels) and to whom. Depending on the company this can be one, two or three people.
posted by cheez-it at 3:00 PM on April 15, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, JohnnyGunn. MeMail sent.

cheez-it, I've worked with product managers (most of them were pretty bad at it, but like you say, I can see how it could be done well) before but never knew where they came from. Program managers sometimes came from development, but product managers seemed to come straight out of business school or other product management positions. How do people get into that?
posted by ignignokt at 9:03 PM on April 16, 2009

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