A 10 Min Diary: On Careers and Non-Linear Bets
Some debatable reflections
It’s been 3 years since graduation 🎓
Time to reflect on how things have been and what’s ahead wrt careers. As with all my diary entries, this is my take, applicable to me and me alone. While I write this to my future self, I hope my thoughts and experiences also add some insights to you.
I have previously written about why I chose a career in tech and my idea of success, work, and money. Even to this day, these thoughts hold. To summarize quickly;
✔️ Tech was my calling because I loved to “CREATE” things.
✔️ Success meant being able to do the things I love the way I want and live life on my terms. When I reach this state of leverage with the freedom of time and money, I know that I have reached the pinnacle of my definition of success.
✔️ The richness in life comes from money, time, and passion (for me). Even if either of them is too much or too less, at the expense of the others, it is probably not worth it.
With this context, let’s get started. I will also answer some questions I keep getting on social media and in real life. Once again, do note that these thoughts work for me. It doesn’t imply they should work for you too.
Also, I share them wrt a tech career.
The case of Masters 🏫
My friends, relatives, and people online often ask me what next? and they naturally expect me to tell about my master’s plan.
Two years ago, I decided not to go on that path. There were 3 important reasons.
- My bachelor's was good. I explored everything I wanted, gained a lot of clarity on what I wanted, and graduated with a good job in a domain I liked.
- I knew that I would continue to work in the industry. I have no plans for a career in academia anytime soon. So, that reason was ruled out.
- I wanted to stay in India for the time being. If I want to move abroad, I want to do it via a direct job rather than through higher education.
With this understanding, higher studies simply looked like a lot of time, money, and opportunity costs. I advocate self-learning and believe that in tech, there is nothing that can’t be learned using the internet. So, upskilling via the traditional path wasn’t attractive either.
What about career growth?
Within tech, it didn’t make sense. Had I gone to a Masters's program, I would have let go of promotion, four salary hikes, and, most importantly, the leverage that 2 years of work experience gives. I worked with the same firm all along and financially, clearly a job switch >> masters.
If you are unhappy with your career, you are usually a job switch away from what you seek. You can ask your friends about the kind of hikes and up-leveling they got via the same.
Three years from now (that is six years since the bachelor's for my batch), most people who wanted to do a master's would have already done it, and if they come back to the industry, they are again at the same level playing field. I would probably be looking at a staff engineer role (SDE 3) with 6 years of work experience (if my solopreneur plans don’t take off yet), and my master's counterparts might be in a similar position, if not less, due to net 4 years of work experience.
Growth comes from the actual impact you create and your work, the further you go in your career. Eventually, no matter what background people have, we all have to start self-learning, upskilling, exploring new trends, and keeping up to date like I am already doing. I am sure many people who did higher education in my batch will become CXOs and big shots in the industry, but that would be for their work and impact over the years. If I didn’t make it equivalently big, it would mainly be due to my lack of impact and initiative to grow.
Either way, whatever you do, build things that create that impact, and you’ll do fine. This is my simple and final answer to everyone who wonders about it. I know what I want to do, and higher education isn’t part of that plan.
If you feel the same way as me, you have your answer. Don’t get the FOMO. There is nothing to miss out on. What’s worse and sad is pursuing things you don't like without being able to realize or accept the same.
The irony is how many of us work in companies created by people who didn’t even finish undergrad. Whatever you do, remember about your leverage. If you sleep on it, you will eventually get stuck, no matter how many degrees you slog through.
Here’s another blog post by a self-taught programmer that covers more thoughts on the case against CS masters.
However, it is fair to consider when higher studies could be a nice choice.
- You are still figuring out your interests.
- You want a career break or take out your headspace from corporate to try something else.
- You want to take some time to have a deep and focused exploration of some topic. Ph.D. programs could be great for such pursuits, even if you want to join back into the industry as a research scientist/engineer. This can also be done by self-learning, but doing it via a program can be more supportive and better.
- You want to work in academia or feel a better learning curve in a structured academic environment.
- You want to explore and migrate to a different country but not via a job. You want to take your time.
- You are looking for an escape from where you are right now, from personal, family, social or professional problems. It may be worth it if it's a good solution to your context.
- You have the privilege of higher education and nothing to worry about in terms of time and finances and simply want to experience it all once. If that makes you happy and excited, why not?
These are some straightforward reasons. Everyone has their context. Always do your due diligence, be confident with your informed choice, and give your best. All paths in tech more or less lead to similar playgrounds over time.
We all should probably dream better ☄️
Often, people mention their “Dream College” or “Dream Company.” I find it somewhat unrelatable as I do not have such nouns in my dreams. I dream about the freedom of time, money, and doing whatever I want by myself. I dream about 100% control of my life; if it's a dream, I won't dream of corporate work or college assignments and exams. I love to spend more time on artistic hobbies and creating content on the internet.
Maybe people do diligently dream about colleges and jobs in an informed way. Or maybe some socioeconomic factors and exposure they receive growing up tunes them as such. I do not know. However, those dreams are valid in their way too.
But when we say we want something because it is the best, we subconsciously risk ruling out the idea that it can be better. It limits the potential of what's possible. I see many people giving many different points to defend Universities, but when they tell them, all I can think about is how we can do all of it better by ourselves. Maybe, that’s only applicable to me as I am a natural autodidact.
Intrinsically, many top colleges are mediocre. In 2022, without information/network asymmetry, there is hardly anything groundbreaking at these colleges, especially for internet-first domains. You can access the best of the entire world itself in different ways.
Mediocre but still among the best. The students are, however, the real deal. I have always debated if colleges need these students more or vice-versa. I don’t have an answer yet.
Some of the greatest learning resources and experiences I have had come from independent creators passionate about their work. They are better because they don’t need to follow a system, can rapidly innovate, and not answer an admin.
Tech careers are not linear anymore 📈
I talk about non-linear careers in this LinkedIn post.
This realization can be mind-blowing. If you build enough leverage, you can jump from whatever level you are at right now to a CXO directly by doing your own thing or helping someone do their own thing. You are already the CXO of your side hustle. If this is possible, why would you not strive for it and spend 10–15 years of your life becoming a VP at a firm? But I must say, the second path is not bad at all. Climbing the traditional corporate ladder is nice, depending on your preferences and personal context. It’s stable, consistent, and familiar.
Everyone is made different. Non-linear paths are not meant for all. However, I strive for it. I don’t want to climb the corporate ladder. If you are like me, build leverage in terms of skills or distribution and surround yourself with such people that these non-linear bets become more accessible in your life. I have been building the very leverage I talk about on the internet for a long time now and have seen its results.
Leverage helps you make things happen. Whatever you want, it becomes more achievable. If not directly, via people in your network who can do it.
So, what exactly is leverage? It is something built that makes people notice you, take you seriously, and need you. It could be something you can do, like a specialized skill. It could be something that has inherent value, like a million followers on social media. It could be something you created that others want.
Beware of sunk cost fallacy ⚠️
We all tend to defend and like the choices we make or the experiences we go through. For example, someone who took the master's path will most likely tell how transformative and useful their program was. Likewise, I am defending myself too.
We are invested in our choices and wish to feel like we did the right thing and it helped us. Many times, it can be subconscious too.
There is a simple question to ask ourselves- Are we truly happy?
Do whatever you want, but ask this yourself. I have seen way too many people doing things they dislike and feel pressured with but do them anyway as if that's how it was always supposed to be.
Sometimes, people complain about their work or college life. Some others tell how it is “necessary.” They are unhappy and maintain a toxic relationship with their choices. I can’t help but think that they chose this for themselves.
India is where you could shell out tons of money, get a sub-par experience, and still think you got the best. Even the best colleges are bad. If that’s what is the benchmark we have for “good,” I don’t know what to say. It is just sad.
When I tell stuff like this, I don’t imply we should ditch college or that toxic job. What I feel is that we have to build leverage so that we can take more control of our life. If we are not taking the traditional path, we must do incredible things elsewhere to prove ourselves.
It’s not like we rebel and talk stuff without doing anything tangible, and everything magically goes our way.
Explore to find alternative ways that feel better for you instead of sticking to one or two options you happened to know. There is a whole world out there of countless possibilities.
So, what next for me?
Since the pandemic, I have been adopting slow living. I cherish it, dealing with everything about life slowly but in a well-planned way. It seems to work very well. It decreased my stress levels by a huge margin and brought a lot of calmness and peace.
I have started working similarly and trying to optimize how I can meet targets while living slowly. Most of my regular followers are well aware of some of my initiatives.
- The Research Nest
- An ed-tech initiative themed around self-learning
- A news/media house (I’ll talk about it soon!)
- Stand-alone pet projects (hopefully, one of them takes off)
Eventually, the aim would be to become a solopreneur. While I try to find my footing on the internet, I will continue to work in some corporate jobs as a safety net and to build financial stability.
There are only two possible outcomes in my path. I will either succeed in my pursuits or spend my life trying to achieve them, and both outcomes are beautiful and something I will be happy about because I enjoy the process. This thought could hold for anyone having any other contextual dream too. That’s why I ask- Are you happy? and the answer will show your path ahead.
Another question I get now and then is- How am I so clear about what I want to do?
I spend a lot of time with myself, exploring and planning these things. One answer I have is awareness of self and the world around me. This awareness was built by prolonged exploration across the internet.
It worked out well.
I hope I will get to revisit this diary entry a few years down the line and update my progress, and if what I thought today still holds then.
Self-exploration is one of the few ways to find clarity in yourself. If you ever feel confused or lost with your career, the answer you seek isn’t around you but within you. Spend time with yourself, exploring, trying new things, and seeing how your inner self responds to them.
Nothing will change unless you choose to change things.
Concerning career growth, skills and leverage are more important. When you have them, you will always be one move away from where you want to be. It is up to you to try and take that step forward when you feel like it.
Building your dreams on the foundations of social constructs may not lead to good paths. Make it a priority to do what makes YOU happy and is sensible. That said, not everyone may get a chance to do a job they like, but what’s important is to work on something that we don’t hate at the least or harms our wellbeing.
These thoughts are contextual and personal and keep evolving as I learn and experience new things. Do add all the disclaimers!
Until next time!