Career Advice From My Dropbox Tour

Note: None of the views and opinions expressed in this article reflect those represented by Dropbox as an entity, they are merely useful information I was exposed to and received consent to repeat.

Today I was fortunate enough to tour through the office at Dropbox in Sydney with my fellow bootcamp cohort. Aside from seeing their pleasing interior design, we also had the opportunity to do a Q&A session with some of their team leaders. I found some of the advice that they gave in regards to career planning to be interesting and worth repeating. Some extrapolations are my own.

Be Open To New Things

This goes for ideas and trying out new activities. If you have an opportunity to help out in another department, area, or task, then take the opportunity. If someone needs help fixing a bug or sweeping the floor, do it. You never know what skills you can learn or pickup by doing this and you never know what opportunities you may open up by doing so.

Being a Generalist vs Being a Specialist

An important decision in your career planning, especially early on, is to consider what type of expert you want to be — a deep expert in one area or a moderate expert in many. They suggested that the payoff for being interdisciplinary is potentially greater as far fewer people are especially good at two important areas than being especially good at one. This will allow you to be uniquely situated to be a bridge between different people, fields, and ideas. This reminded of some other advice I’ve come across by Scott Adams which he calls the ‘Talent Stack’.

Learn Sales / You are Always Selling

When pressed on what sort of skills they thought might be worth learning to be good at so that you could be a bridge, there was a firm and quick response to learn Sales. Sales doesn’t have the bad label that most developers associate it with, sales is simply communicating a value proposition from one person to another, and everyone is doing this, all the time, with everyone. The leaders were selling their ideas to us, they sell their product to other clients, you sell an employer to hire you, and I’m selling these ideas to you now. They suggested that technical skills + sales is a deadly combo which resonates a lot with other advice that I’ve come across. I’ve come across similar ideas to this here which could be of interest.

Be Empathetic

Tech companies are notorious for having a ‘no genius jerk’ policy, and Dropbox is no different. It doesn’t matter how smart you are if you can’t get along with others. They prize company culture highly and want the workplace to feel like a family. If somebody isn’t up to date with some tech, be humble and help them out — sit down and give them your time. Realize that anybody can learn anything and that there’s no need to feel smug for knowing something that others do not.

This is also one of their reasons that they are able to attract top talent and compete with other attractive companies like Google, Palantir, Facebook, etc. Their team consists of intelligent and humble people that are a pleasure to work with.

Be a Problem Solver

They are not so much looking for what you know but rather how you think. Again, anybody can learn anything, but you cannot necessarily teach people how to think (though I would disagree to some extent). If you’re the type of person that upon hearing a problem is willing to generate a solution, you will differentiate yourself from others who view problems as barriers rather than opportunities. So be solutions-focused, not problems-focused.

and the last one he mentioned was

Contribute to Open Source Projects

Anybody interested in the tech stack that would likely position you to be a good candidate for them, it would be an understanding of Python, AWS, and cloud services.

And if you’re interested in more career advice, here are some of my other favourite resources that I’ve come across over the years: