Lately I’ve been posting to Linkedin a lot. It seems like the right place to shout into the void about work stuff, and I enjoy bringing healthy cynicism to a platform known for disgustingly cheerful content. Here are 4 of my posts that I particularly like.
Having a manager who is a decent human being will not only make or break your career trajectory under them, but your quality of life during that time period.
I may be new to the world of full time work, but I’ve had enough internships and on-campus jobs to see the difference to be had between a supportive mentor and a mean tyrant as your boss. Crunch time? I can do that. High pressure deadlines? I can do that, given enough resources. But being berated or insulted? Being pushed to work to exhaustion for no foreseeable benefit? I‘ve had to endure that, and it was terrible on my mental and physical health.
One thing I love about the tech industry is that changing jobs is not only possible, but can benefit your career. It isn’t easy to apply and interview while still working for someone you are being mistreated by, but many people do it and end up in much better places. You don’t have to accept a status quo that makes you suffer more than it’s worth.
To me, success is not only currently being in a job you like, but also being able to leave it if it becomes something you really don’t like.
On banishing insecure achievement
An ongoing personal journey of mine has been replacing insecure overachievement with secure achievement.
Up until now, I’ve mostly seen accomplishments as a means to a brighter future, away from a dismal present. As a kid, school was easier to succeed at than having self-esteem or making more friends. This wasn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it, but I never would have pushed myself so hard if I hadn’t been unhappy with the way things were going.
Fortunately, once I went off to college, I was able to start letting go of this mindset. Being on my own and finding great meaning in friendships, relationships, and working on exciting things did it for me. It feels like I can focus on higher goals, like how to best contribute to society, instead of constantly looking for an escape from my current troubles.
Ultimately, insecure achievement only lets you run away from things, not towards them. Over a lifetime, I believe that results in an inability to focus on anything important long enough to do it justice. So it’s important to me to cultivate stronger motivations than insecurity or vanity.
On hedging bets on different aspects of a job for societal impact
As of now, I don’t want to become a college professor, but I do like some abstract aspects of the job.
One is the natural balance between low risk, short term, and concrete contributions to society with high risk, long term, and amorphous but potentially ground breaking contributions. I’m talking about teaching and research, respectively.
The impact of teaching is immediate, and obvious, and substantial when done right. As a teaching assistant I could sit with a student for 30 minutes and talk them through a concept, and see progress happen in real time as they asked better and better questions.
Research, on the other hand, spans years and requires tons of creativity, luck, and persistence through rounds and rounds of rejections. Progress isn’t always linear, and it’s easy to get demotivated. But if the scientific community takes to your ideas, it can be world-changing, well beyond the limits of academia.
The way I see it, teaching is a hedge against the inherently risky bet of research. In my own career, I want to pair contrasting “bets” like this too. I think it would maximize my expected contribution to society, and also be fulfilling day to day.
On opposing pairs of attributes for categorizing work tasks
Lately thinking in pairs of opposite characteristics to categorize work tasks.
- Not important vs. Very important
Get it right when it counts, but don’t dwell on insignificant details.
- Low risk vs. High risk
More risk requires more preparation for failure. Lower risk is good for building confidence and reputation.
- Fleeting vs. Permanent
More permanent work output requires more polishing, and affects your reputation more substantially.
- Private vs. Public
More public material requires more polishing too. Private material can be more experimental.
- Not frequent vs. Very frequent
Something you need to do often is something you need to do very well, and can’t be too draining.
- Predictable vs. Unpredictable
The better you can predict what will happen, the more prepared you should be. Less control should come with greater acceptance of unknowns.
- Performance vs. Artifact
Meetings and interviews are performances you should practice; anything written or recorded is an artifact you should design and edit iteratively.
- Scheduled vs. Unscheduled
If you know exactly when you need to do something, schedule prudently for it. If you don’t, then be mentally prepared to make room for it when the time comes.
Part 2 of thinking in pairs:
- Little teamwork vs. A lot of teamwork
The more coordination is needed, the more work you need to put into relationships rather than your own output.
- Attributable impact vs. Non-attributable impact
If the success of something can be clearly traced back to you, it is of utmost priority. Otherwise, you need to show you did your absolute best.
An example categorization: job interviews are highly important, risky, structured, and scheduled performances. It’s just you creating the result, but in tech they’re also substantially unpredictable. They are quite noisy measures of skill.
That means you should make them a frequent thing while you’re searching, and practice questions, but be at peace with unexpected happenings.
Meanwhile, submitting changes to my team’s is codebase is important but not the only thing I need to do in the day, and much more predictable and permanent. It usually requires coordination with others, isn’t scheduled, and is an artifact I don’t want to rush.
I tend to be more perfectionistic about my code, and make sure that I’m clear on what changes are needed and why, and how to evaluate their effectiveness. However, there’s still urgency to get it out the door to be immediately effective.