Tour Of Duty

Have you ever landed a position where you spent a few years, and you were pretty happy, but when it came time for you to leave, you went on a couple of interviews only to get asked the really inconvenient question

Tell me something you achieved or built on your current position

This is the moment when you fast-forward that couple of years you spent working on a bunch of stuff, moving Jira tickets left to right, fixing bugs, writing tests, handling new types of data in a pipeline, etc. All this without actually building something big or making any significance at all.

The same goes for your whole team, of course, as if there was something to be built in the first place, you wouldn’t do it on your own.

Don’t get it wrong - someone has to do that job, and there are a lot of people who are ready and happy to do it.

The goal of this post is to help you become aware of the difference there and put the question of which one you want to be.

What is a Tour of Duty

A Tour of Duty is a mutually beneficial informal agreement between an employer and an employee.

In addition to agreeing on salary, position, and probation period, you informally agree on a set of measurable and scoped OKRs.

For example, an Employer is building a new feature, vertical, or a whole new product and is hiring a dedicated team for that.

A Tour of Duty in this case might consist of:

  1. Building and supporting a Proof of Concept
  2. Iterating for 3-6 months until achieving product/market fit
  3. Leaving a stable product with proper pipelines, tests, and processes set up all working automatically.

The timespan might vary between 12 and 18 months, which, if successfully delivered, results in a big bonus, promotion and another proposal for a Tour of Duty - maybe scaling the product to millions of users or working on another one.

Such an approach for hiring / looking for a job is mutually beneficial as it sets clear and measurable responsibilities and expectations by the employer.

On the other side, the employee has clear expectations about what has to be done, for how long, and what the outcome will be for both sides.

The end of a Tour of Duty might naturally lead to the end of the employment relations as well but in the IT industry lifelong employment in a single company is rare nowadays anyway.

It is obvious that this approach mitigates the situation described initially, but how does that work in practice?

Agreeing on a Tour of Duty

When you go to an interview, a pretty straightforward way for you to get a good idea about your Tour of duty is to ask the Hiring Manager what are you and your team going to work on in the next 6 to 12 months? What are the set OKRs for the company for the next 1-2 years, and how is your team going to contribute to that.

Naturally leading the conversation with such questions can give you a pretty good understanding of what to expect.

In the case of a way smaller/start-up company, you might even formally agree on a tour of duty as you might end up owning a whole vertical of the company, or implementing a whole feature on your own, but this is rarely the case in big tech companies, so usually, the first option is what you will find yourself utilizing in practice.

What about the Business as Usual work?

As I said previously, there is some BaU(Business as Usual) work to be done, and someone has to do it.

You might be that person after all.

It’s not a coincidence that Tour of Duty is a term borrowed from military jargon. Having the responsibility to develop or scale a whole product requires a great amount of hard and soft skills, patience and usually requires walking the extra mile, sacrificing personal time and dedicating to that product for the time of the Tour, and this is a decision that not everyone is ready to take.

There is plenty to be learned in a project and a team, even during a Reserve Duty.

Tour of Duty is a great concept to benefit both companies and employees, and I believe is worth considering more often.

You might be interested in rotating the two approaches throughout your career instead of solely focusing on only one of them, but now I hope you have a better understanding of the difference and that there is actually one so you can make a bit more informed decision the next time.

Thank you for reading!