Never be afraid to get dirty, but be sufficiently sure-footed to avoid the abyss of contamination.

Cliff Stoll and Titles

He’s the author of The Cuckoo’s Egg, which is a memoir of sorts. I wrote about it several years ago, focusing mostly on how Stoll charts a path (literally because he’s tracing the location a computer hacker) to become an expert in a then-nonexistent field: network security. What I didn’t mention about Stoll’s account then is how he has to juggle his work obligations in the midst of tracking this hacker. The book is composed from Stoll’s logs, and there are parts in which he describes how he has to catch up on his primary job function. Because network security did not exist, neither did a job related to it, so tracking the hacker became a personal investment that Stoll needed to balance with his official job description.

Job titles are one attempt to define the role of an employee. Some of them carry the weight of specific responsibilities, but when one’s role starts to fall outside the area mapped out by their title, it can force a balancing act between carrying out one’s official responsibilities and navigating along the hopefully exciting new direction. May it also lead to a better map!

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