First published on Jun 7, 2022
Taking career advice from anybody is a risky and inadvisable endeavour. Especially from professional career advisers. Nobody can tell you what to do and even if they did, you probably wouldn’t listen. That being said, in the past three years I have fast tracked a career change, career progression and long term opportunities at a ferocious pace. Along the way I’ve picked up knowledge and ideas that I would have loved to have known beforehand. None are particularly unique or original, but then what is?
Disclaimer: I am coming at this from a tech/software perspective alongside the desire for extreme growth in all areas of career but particularly salary and opportunity. I think most is universally applicable but some will be specific to my chosen field.
"Most people who say they want career planning advice aren’t actually looking for advice—they just want validation of the path they have already chosen." - Marc Andreessen
There are shortcuts, golden tickets and hacks in almost all areas of life. You can buy a lottery ticket and get rich - but that doesn’t mean it is a recommended path to wealth. The reality of career opportunities is that the absolute most powerful choice you can make is to learn and excel at a highly desirable and employable skill. That doesn’t sound very exciting or sexy; but it’s the truth. In 2019 I had very few skills outside of photography. I wasn’t a good salesman, I wasn’t great at networking, I couldn’t code or write. I enrolled in a software engineering bootcamp and spent 12 hours a day, 5 days a week learning to code. I worked the other two days so I could afford to live - flat out for 9 months. A worthwhile sacrifice.
Whilst programming isn’t the only option, I believe the tech field as a whole has the lowest barrier to entry. Ironically the biggest barrier into tech is the illusion that there are barriers. Less than 18 months after I wrote my very first line of code I was employed, 18 months after that I accepted a job that was five times my highest previous salary. I’m not special.
We are taught from a young age that most things related to education and therefore career happen in strict delineated time blocks: five years in secondary school to get your GCSEs, a standard University/College Degree is three years and it takes a year to get a Masters. The subconscious message is those predefined lengths of time are how long it takes to learn the information required to pass the exams. This is not objectively true.
My experience is, within reason, you can at least half any estimated imposed timeframe for career or education progress if you decide to take it seriously. You can get a job as a Junior Software Developer in less than a year with dedication and perseverance and yet the average Computer Science degree is traditionally four years. How long does it take to progress from a Junior to Senior? If you go by the average, many estimate it at over five years. But on what basis? Is that what happens if you just plod along as a Junior or work ferociously?
Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. I believe the same logic can often be applied to career and education progress. In the example above, what is the difference between a Junior and Senior Developer besides years? What are the actual skills the latter possess that the former does not? How quickly can you learn them and demonstrably prove progress to your manager? Less than 5 years, for sure.
I originally titled this section ‘loyalty’ but it didn’t quite sum up what I wanted to say. Jumping from job to job, chasing a small percentage increase in wage or status is no good. You need some level of consistency and solid ground to progress and gain the trust and respect of those you work with. That being said, this is your career. You want to follow your path, go where you want to go. This requires boldness and a keen eye for opportunity.
Some opportunities appear out of sheer good luck, most are created. You greatly increase the opportunity surface area as you develop new skills, connections and abilities.
Beside learning a new technical skill, learning how to spot and create opportunities will yield some of the highest returns on investment of your time.
Firstly, work ethic. It has become deeply unpopular to talk about hard work these days. I understand why: hearing a social media influencer telling you that all you need to do is work a little harder is insulting and makes little sense.
That being said, if the goal is rapid and near exponential improvements to your career and earning ability, there is simply going to need to be an element of hard work. Work smartly first; work out what you need to do, how best to do it and where and when to do it - and then you need to put the hours in. The truth of places like Bloomtech (Lambda School when I attended) is that whilst they get you job ready in a quarter of the time a traditional degree would, you are in fact probably working the same hours, if not more. They simply have you coding all day, every day. Be prepared for extreme input to receive extreme output.
Next, understand what you want. Really, really understand it. Ramit Sethi in his clickbait titled but nonetheless brilliant book I Will Teach You To Be Rich has a fantastic concept of understanding your ‘Rich Life’. You don’t want to be rich, you just want a rich life. What that means will vary greatly from person to person. The same is true for career. Do you want bucket loads of money? That’s fine. But really, do you? At the expense of what else? Before embarking on a dramatic career change or big decision, it is wise to put some time aside to truly understand what it is you want.
Various things I think are well worth your time regarding career (and perhaps, life):
I love talking career, learning and technology. If you have any questions or want to chat, feel free to contact me