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Tag: advice

Advice for Entering College Freshmen

As it’s currently high school graduation season, I’ve been asked by a few friends (who have younger siblings about to graduate) about the advice I’d give to new high school graduates about to become college freshman. While I defer to (older :-D) folks like Guy Kawasaki and Charles Wheelan for some of the deeper insights about how to live one’s life, there is one distinct line of thought that I left with my friends’ siblings and that I wanted to share with all new high school grads/entering college freshmen:

Like with most truths about life, this will seem contradictory. First, take classes seriously. I know its not the sexiest bit of advice, but hear me out: college is one of the last places where you will be surrounded by scholars (both faculty and students) and where your one job in life is to learn how to think. Take advantage of that while it lasts, and make every effort to push your mental horizons. Second, and here’s the contradictory part: don’t take your classes TOO seriously. While I don’t mean its a good thing to fail, I’d encourage new students to never be afraid of skipping a class or a homework assignment if it means finding time for a friend or making time for a great opportunity. College is more about the friends you make and the things you learn outside of the classroom than the time you spend in/on it — and that’s why at the end, I wish I had both taken my classes more seriously and less seriously — in different ways.

I hope this is helpful and congratulations to the class of 2012!

PS: I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention the post I did a few months ago on general career advice for students 🙂


Gaze Into Your Crystal Ball

crystalballIn the Pipeline’s Derek Lowe wrote a very thoughtful opinion piece for the ACS (American Chemical Society) journal Medicinal Chemistry Letters where he does something which I encourage all career-minded working people to do: hold up a mirror to his own industry (medicinal chemistry … obviously) and then gaze into his crystal ball to see where it might go in the future:

it is now the absolute worst time ever to be an ordinary medicinal chemist in a high-wage part of the world. The days when you could make a reliable living doing methyl–ethyl–butyl–futile work in the United States or Western Europe are gone, and what mechanism will ever be found to bring them back? There’s still a lot of that work that needs to be done, but it is getting done somewhere else, and as long as “somewhere else” operates more cheaply and reasonably on time, that situation will not change.

This means that the best advice is not to be ordinary. That is not easy, and it is no guarantee, either, but it is the only semisafe goal for which to aim. Medicinal chemists have to offer their employers something that cannot be had more cheaply in Shanghai or Bangalore. New techniques, proficiency with new equipment, ideas that have not become commodified yet: Those seem to be the only form of insurance, and even then, they are not always enough.

I may be slightly biased as much of my work has been in the technology industry where large industry changes happen a little faster than in other industries so I’m particularly attuned to how those will impact companies, but very rarely do I notice people – in and out of the technology industry – give some careful thought to how their industries will change over time – and I think that’s a shame.

In the same way that the medicinal chemists from 5-10 years ago that Derek Lowe is writing about were caught off-guard by the impact of globalization, people in the postal service are watching technologies like email and internet advertising change the foundation of their jobs, people in the healthcare industry are watching new laws and regulations slowly come down the pipeline, and people in the book publishing industry are watching as eBooks and eReaders take off. I’m not claiming that these changes were obviously predictable – that’s what makes my job in venture interesting! — but, changes in science & technology, in globalization, and in demographics have and will dramatically impact every aspect of life/business and, frankly speaking, its the people who work in an industry (in the case of medicinal chemistry, it was guys like Derek Lowe) who have the best shot at gazing at a crystal ball, predicting and understanding the changes that will come down the pipeline, and, then, figuring out ways to get ahead of it (whether that means changing jobs, learning new skills, etc).

So, do yourself a favor 5-10 years from now – and gaze into your crystal ball.

(Image credit: PE2011 Facts)

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4 criteria


Because of the New Year and the rough economy, I’ve been giving the following four criteria for career happiness to new graduates and young “careerists” who are wondering what to look for in a job:

  1. Work with people that you actually like and want to be like. Even if you only work 9-to-5, you are still spending ~50% of your waking life at your job. If you can’t look around and find people that you like and admire, you need to get out, or you’ll wind up either upset about the job all the time, stuck in a rut, or both because 50% of your day is spent with people you either hate, can’t learn from, or worse, both. That doesn’t bode well for your emotional happiness, your performance review, or your career progression.
  2. Do something that interests or motivates you. Like I said, you are likely to spend at least 50% of your waking life at your job. If it’s not something that interests you or motivates you, that’s 50% of your life spent not developing. To be clear, you don’t have to be passionately in love with what you’re working on to be happy in your career, but if you can’t even say you’re “kinda” interested in what you do, that lack of interest will eventually show when you don’t go the extra mile for a promotion/raise or when you apply with a lackluster resume for a new job.
  3. Be in a field that’s growing, not shrinking. A rising tide lifts all boats. In this case, a field that’s growing is not likely to be downsized and much more likely to have plenty of promotions, raises, and growth opportunities, even for people who wouldn’t make the bar at a less rapidly growing field. Conversely, a field that’s shrinking, no matter how profitable, will eventually find itself firing more people than it hires, cutting back on salary more than giving raises, and killing projects rather than providing workers with new opportunities. Try to get on a boat that’s in a rising tide.
  4. Do something where you can set yourself apart. Almost all of business strategy is motivated to respond to or shape one thing: “commoditization.” In the same way that tissue paper is a commodity and hence very cheap, job skills can also rapidly become commodities. And when that happens, the person with those skills will find their salary and prospects disappear. Someone with skills which set them apart from the flock will find plenty of prospects and plenty of salary.

Any person who has a job which fulfills all 4 criteria above will be in a good position career-wise, regardless of starting salary or sector. Many people I’ve spoken with focus on just one or two of these, oftentimes ignoring #4, or they focus only on things like the reputation of a company or the starting salary. The danger of that is that you may find yourself in a job where you are not valued or not developing or just plain unhappy with what you do on a daily basis, and regardless of the short-term benefits of that course of action, it leaves you in a bad position longer-term.

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