What a healthcare PhD learned at McKinsey about “relationship capital” that helped him create a new career as a Ruby on Rails software developer
This interview is with Adarsh Pandit, a Ruby on Rails developer with thoughtbot, the Boston-based consultancy that builds web and mobile applications. He is a graduate of thoughtbot’s apprentice.io program. (Download the audio recording of this interview.)
- U. Michigan undergrad
- U. Chicago grad
- Freelance consultant
Q. Tell me about your background.
A. Sure. I’m 36 years old. My background, academically, is: I have a bachelor’s in science from the University of Michigan, in biochemistry, and a PhD in biochemistry and biophysics from the University of Chicago. After Chicago, I worked at McKinsey & Company.
Subsequent to that, I was an independent consultant and worked with some small boutique firms after deciding I wanted to become a developer. I taught myself Ruby on Rails out of books, ended up getting in touch with thoughtbot in Boston, and now I’m helping them to open a San Francisco office.
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Q. How has your career path taken you to your current role?
A. Sure. This is something I’ve thought about a lot.
I really loved science as a young person. Growing up in Michigan, my dad and my brother are both engineers, and the Detroit metro area is really oriented around the automotive industry.
When you grow up in a household of engineers, you grow up fixing things around the house, changing the oil in your car, fixing the boiler, and generally getting into things mechanically.
So I got an interest early on fixing things, messing with things, building things. Partly because I was really interested in science, I really wanted to follow a different path from my brother and my dad. I decided to study science and biochemistry in college.
Initially, I was considering medical school. I’m much too squeamish for that. So I geared away and realized other opportunities existed for someone with a science background.
I really loved my upper level biochemistry, biophysics, physical chemistry, and physics classes. So I just kept on pursuing those, not really thinking about what the job would be on the other end.
I think most college students now may be in a different economic environment, and often do think about the job on the other end. I was just really enjoying science and the study of it, so I just went with it.
As I studied science, I thought, “Well, I don’t want to be a doctor. I don’t really want to go down that path. But I’m not sure what I do want to do.” So after college, I took some time off. I decided to take a year off before I really got into graduate school, which was what I was thinking of doing.
After moving to Boston for a year, from Ann Arbor, and working a number of strange jobs, including working at a coughdrop factory, other factories supporting biotech products, which were all interesting and fun, I ended up in an academic lab as a technician, and my adviser pretty quickly was supportive of me going back to graduate school. So I applied and ended up at the University of Chicago.
Right away, I knew I was really cut out to study science, at least at that point. I really loved my classes. I loved my colleagues and my fellow students. And the discussions we had were all of a very high level, really intellectually intense. Everybody in my program was incredibly smart, and it felt really good to be studying something just for its own sake — the classic ivory tower ideal of knowledge for its own sake.
And for somebody in their mid-20s, you can get into a place where you really enjoy that. And I did enjoy that. And again, this is the second time when I didn’t really think about the job I’d be doing afterward that the education I was getting would really prepare me for. I was just doing what I thought was interesting, and hoping for the best on the other end.
About two-thirds of the way through my doctorate, when I got pretty deep into the research, I realized that, while I like research, I wasn’t particularly good at it. There are some people who just have a very natural talent for it. I really enjoyed discussing it. I enjoyed teaching students — graduate students and undergrads — and I really loved the process of learning about and studying science.
But laboratory science didn’t come to me very easily. I did okay. But I realized also that the job of a professor is far from all those things. A lot of your time is now away from the bench, first of all. And second, you end up doing a lot of administrative work, trying to fund the operations of your lab.
It’s sort of a mini-company, where the input is grant dollars and your output is academic papers. So you’re the CEO of that little company that turns out research papers. I was lucky to have a really excellent adviser who was incredibly supportive. I know some of my other colleagues had much worse advisers, but my adviser was awesome and was very supportive of non-science jobs.
So about two-thirds of the way through, I looked at the world of academics and I thought, “This isn’t really right for me.” On top of that, that was the time I just started to think about what the job would be that this education was preparing me for. And it became sort of a rude awakening.
A bit of context here. Starting in the 1970s, a lot of academic institutions realized you could get pretty cheap labor in the form of graduate students that are fairly high talent. So rather than hiring somebody for a full wage, you could pay someone a stipend and get a lot done for not much money.
So what ended up happening was the gulf between the growth of faculty positions and the number of successful graduates from PhD programs began to grow pretty widely. So you had a situation where you have many more doctorates than there are faculty positions.
In the ’50s and ’60s, as you were finishing your PhD, you had your choice of different universities. But it was the opposite when I was finishing, and it probably has been that way for the last 10 or 20 years.
A lot of PhD’s go do different post-docs. You used to do one, which was sort of a “non-degree” degree, where you would spend 3-5 years working on a project and looking for faculty positions. Some of my colleagues have done two or even three post-docs.
Once you get a faculty position, of course there’s tenure. But if you get turned down for tenure, then your career is more or less over. And I’ve seen that happen a number of times. So the career path is a little perilous. There wasn’t a lot of stability, and the hours were pretty crazy.
And I just realized that the people who were successful and people who I knew should be great professors really loved what they did. And I didn’t love what I did.
Q. Is the gap between the number of graduate students vs. the number of faculty positions due to professors actively seeking cheap labor?
A. That’s the implication. I wouldn’t say professors think about it in such stark terms. But I think it’s easy enough to do the math yourself. Graduate education is part of every department. Your goal is to turn out qualified students who end up being successful so you can attract more students. Teaching is very important, so the process of education is very important.
I think this is beginning to occur in the law field as well, from what people tell me: There is no real adjusting between the desired output of lawyers and the number of jobs. So if the number of jobs is shrinking, there’s no adjustment further upstream that says, “Hey, maybe we should turn out fewer people.” Because the law schools all have different monetary incentives also.
Q. You mentioned an academic’s career is pretty much over if they get turned down for university tenure. Why?
A. If you’re at a tier one institution, like some of the big Ivies, Chicago, some of those kinds of schools, you’re there to become a professor. As a junior professor, your goal is to try and make tenure. Now if you get turned down for tenure, you can no longer continue to work at that institution. But you can’t really apply for other institutions of the same caliber, either.
Q. Why? Are you tainted in some way?
A. Sure. If you get turned down for tenure at the University of Chicago, Stanford is not going to hire you either, right?
Q. There’s no way that would happen?
A. Well, I’m not going to speak in absolutes. But if you’re Stanford, and you’re looking to hire somebody and invest five years in them, why would you take the risk? So what ends up happening is a lot of people will go to smaller institutions, maybe teaching colleges, that kind of thing.
And there’s certainly no shame in that at all. But if you have your eyes on the brass ring, it could be a big disappointment certainly. And it’s a big adjustment. And it’s a big involuntary career shift.
Q. Is it also fair to say it cascades downward — if you don’t make it in the second tier, then you’d have to come down another tier?
A. Yeah, I mean, it’s not a defined process, to be sure. And the number of people who get turned down for tenure is quite small. My larger point is just that the career of becoming a junior and then a senior professor is fraught with a lot of risk. And the reward for that risk is much lower than it would be in other risk-reward jobs.
Q. Do you mean financial risk?
A. Sure. Financial risk, but also you may have to move at a moment’s notice. Your possibility for making more money in the future drops off dramatically. And all of the post-doc salaries we were talking about earlier are in the $30,000-$35,000 range.
So at that point, when you’re in your mid-thirties, maybe you have a spouse, maybe you have children, maybe you have a house, and sustaining a life during that interim period is very difficult, too.
Q. Once you’re in a tenure-track position, is it more common than not that you would get tenure?
A. Yes. In the same fashion that it’s more common than not that a PhD candidate will pass their qualifying exams and get their doctorate, it’s more common than not that professors will become full professors, because it is the responsibility of the department to make sure that the 5-7 years prior are a path paved toward success.
So you’ve chosen this person, presumably, for some good reason. But on top of that, you’re enabling them, over time, to become great researchers and great teachers.
Q. So universities do have a genuine talent development goal for their young professors?
A. Yeah, absolutely. And again, I can only speak for what things were like at the University of Chicago, but that’s the way things were planned there.
Q. You mentioned you were okay at research and lab work, but not the best at it. What qualities makes someone good at research?
A. That’s a good question. There were certain qualities I had which enabled me to be somewhat productive.
But some people in my program were stars. They were excellent scientists. On some level, whatever it is that you do, you really want to do it really well. Part of job satisfaction is knowing that you’re doing a really good job. I felt to some extent that I wasn’t really cut out to be the greatest researcher. And I can’t really put my finger on why.
I think a lot of it is perseverance, which is an interesting side effect that a lot of doctoral candidates come out with. A PhD in any discipline is a project that you run by yourself. You determine its direction. You get periodic check-in from an adviser, but really you pursue the whole project. You drive it yourself. You set your own milestones. You have to be incredibly self-motivated.
I feel I did that well enough. And I think I knew enough about my subject matter, but at some point it just wasn’t personally satisfying. It didn’t feel tangible enough.
And so for the reasons I enjoyed it initially, which was learning about the physics of bio-molecules, people always asked me, “How does this apply? How does this save lives? How do you create new medicines with it?” And the distance between what I was doing and those questions was vast.
The inability to connect with something more tangible was really enjoyable at first, because it was just really esoteric, but as it went on, it felt like, “Well, what’s the point?”
So I think being raised an engineer and feeling like, “Well, engineers build stuff,” the things you build as an engineer are useful; they’re useful not just to you but to other people — that satisfaction wasn’t coming for me from basic science research.
But I do think it really equipped me well for a lot of things I did later.
Q. What happened step-by-step on your transition out, and how did you do it?
A. It began to dawn on me two-thirds of the way through that I didn’t really want to get into the process of applying for post-docs. That just really wasn’t appealing for me. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. I definitely researched it a bit and saw it wasn’t right for me.
So I began to have conversations with my adviser, who was super supportive, and said, “You know, whatever I can do to help you, certainly I’ll help you along.”
The next most logical choice for most people was to go into an industrial scientist position. So you would go to Merck or Abbott or Pfizer or whatever and become an industrial scientist, going into industry.
You do largely the same thing, except your hours are better, you’re probably getting paid better, and you’re doing more directed science. So more of: “let’s make sure this drug is better” instead of “let’s figure out what this part of the molecule does.” That seemed also not that appealing to me.
So I went on a career-exploring journey, and I started talking to people in the career office and other people I knew who were professionals, and asking them about their job.
I think a lot of people go through this, where you start to read up on how you find out what you should be doing. You learn about informational interviews. You learn about networking. You learn about how to explore what other people do and what their jobs really are.
So I had a sense at that point, for example, of what a consultant is, but I didn’t really know what that was about. So I would call a friend who was a consultant and say, “Hey, can we meet for dinner or coffee, and can you tell me a little bit about your job, and what kind of people work there, what the work is like, what life is like,” and so forth.
I did this with a number of different jobs. A lot of universities, including Chicago, have alumni databases you can go through. They are usually hosted by the career office.
So I would look for jobs that I felt were interesting. Somebody was in a hedge fund. I didn’t know what that was. So I e-mailed this guy and said, “Hey, I’d love to talk to you on the phone for 30 minutes.”
And I was really surprised that people were so obliging, and that there was so much goodwill to just get on the phone with some nobody and answer questions for 30 minutes. That really struck me as surprising, but over time you realize that’s the oil that makes the machine go. So that’s where that process started to lead.
I ended up deciding I wanted to get really good at interviewing. Somebody advised me that I should practice as much as possible. So I started practicing on my own, having other people interview me — friends, other colleagues. I would go to the career office and do practice interviews there.
And then, when I exhausted all those resources, I just started applying for any job that would take me. I can’t even remember it all, but things that I wouldn’t otherwise be interested in doing, just to get experience interviewing. I did another dozen interviews that way.
And I think what helped me there was, I got really comfortable answering all of those questions. And the questions were all remarkably similar — where are you from, what did you study, tell me about what you’re interested in, where do you want to go, tell me about a strength you have, tell me about when you were a leader, tell me about when you convinced somebody of something, that kind of thing.
So I started to tune my interview engine to broaden the scope of opportunities that I would have to choose from.
Q. How did that then turn into your first job in consulting?
A. I had a friend who was a McKinsey consultant. He is now a partner. He introduced me to a lot of his colleagues and gave me some general guidance on what they’re looking for, how the interview goes. He gave me some case interview practice rounds and a sense for what kind of things an interviewer would be looking for.
So from there, I just took it and practiced cases until my eyes were bleeding. I practiced interviews with other people — again, same thing, career office, anybody, any consultants who would talk to me.
Q. What did you do as a consultant?
A. Consulting is a very exciting lifestyle once you begin. You’re flying around to different places, you get black cars, you’re bumped up to business class, you feel like you’re kind of an important business guy. For probably the first 6-9 months, it was really exciting and different.
At McKinsey, there is, more than most places, an academic flavor. There is a lot of focus on learning and there is a lot of focus on codifying that learning in some fashion, whether it’s documents, videos, seminars, books.
So there’s a focus on learning and knowledge. That made sense to me. I enjoyed that piece of it. My time there was spent initially doing some pharma work and then financial services work.
I actively was avoiding doing pharmaceuticals work at that time, because there was so much interesting work happening in the New York office. And I made a conscious decision, which was, I want to be a generalist and I want to expose myself to as many different situations, as many different companies as I can, as quickly as I can.
I really took it to be a non-traditional business education. And that path was immensely fruitful for me. It’s not fruitful for making a career at McKinsey. The path toward becoming a partner is really to find something, find some people that you really enjoy working with, and then work with them on the same kinds of projects over and over and over, as you progress through the firm.
But most of my colleagues have left to go do other things. And I did the same math, where I looked at the partners and directors and I thought, “Well, I don’t know if that’s the job for me.” But this job is right for me right now, and I’m going to do this for as long as I feel like I’m learning and I’m getting professional development out of this job.
So I did everything from insurance work to financial services. I was really interested in microfinance, so I went to Switzerland for two summers and worked with a microfinance institution there — great team, really fun environment, and a really interesting client.
And I had a lot of flexibility, which was phenomenal, and I’m really thankful for that. I’m also thankful for all the training we went through, which was very educational. I learned more from some of those seminars and trainings than I did from a lot of actual formal education.
Q. What were the most important lessons you learned in consulting?
A. The first thing I learned about careers is that every company has some equivalent of relationship capital. Imagine it’s like a video game. As you do your job better, you accrue more relationship capital.
At McKinsey, this is a little bit more explicit. People would discuss it in open terms, and that’s when I got introduced to the term. But if you wanted to accomplish anything or if you needed anything from the company, you could use that relational capital.
So the more you do a great job, the more you get along with people, the more those people are invested in you. And you accrue this capital and you can spend it on different things like transferring to other offices, it could be time off, it could be trying to get onto a project or off of a bad project.
That’s when you begin to trade favors a little, and people would say, “All right, I can get you off this project, but I’m going to need you to do this other project for me.”
So there is a weird economy within every organization based around your relationship capital with other people. And what was most interesting for me was a lot of that was based not just on your professional performance, but also just your personal relationships — the degree to which people enjoy spending time with you, added to that capital.
I thought that was very interesting. So that was, to me, the most interesting thing I learned, which is the way things really get done. And it’s a finer point on: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
In fact, at McKinsey you’re almost interviewing for “micro-jobs” over and over again when you’re trying to get onto different projects. So it’s a microcosm of the broader economy, and you have to also network. You go to events. You meet people.
If you’re interested in retail, you go to the retail meetups and have drinks with them. You sit in their offices and effectively do informational interviews. What’s it like in this practice? What are the projects like?
So, networking, I think, was the second big learning for me. It’s not something that should ever be taken for granted, and it’s something you have to constantly invest in for a rainy day. You’re not going to necessarily see the benefits of networking immediately. You’ll see it at those moments when you need it, or when you need to have more options available.
Q. What were the most important skills you learned?
A. Communication is the entire job. Written communication — both in charts and PowerPoint. I had more than enough practice doing that.
But also client presentations. Standing up in front of senior clients and being able to comfortably deliver your message and focus on things like public speaking, but also handling questions.
There’s a lot of hands-on training that McKinsey gives you to handle problematic clients, or people who are combative, or people who are distracting you. So I learned a lot of skills around communication. And I felt a lot more comfortable too.
So going into the job, I really thought, “Well, these titans of industry are geniuses. Everybody knows way more than I do. And it’s going to take a long time for me to solve this job and really feel like I’m really knowledgeable.”
And what I realized is that it’s a very approachable topic — business, really — writ large. And that really made me feel much more comfortable in communicating and networking.
Q. Take us from McKinsey to your current role — how did you make the switch?
A. Sure. Those years were a little unstructured. It was probably about two-and-a-half years. It was the end of 2008. Things were slowing down in New York with the financial crisis. Projects were very different, and fewer and far between.
So at that point, I said, “Well, the degree of learning that I’m getting has started to drop off. So I think it might be time for me to go look for something else.”
So I was poking around, and I ended up talking to a friend who was running a software consultancy. He was looking for some operational help. So I worked with him. That led to another contract, which led to another contract. And I realized I could do a similar type of job just being an army of one.
And there are a lot of benefits and a lot of drawbacks as well. Some of the benefits are: you get to pick your own work. You get to really decide what’s most interesting to work on. You get to go out and meet a lot of interesting people and present yourself as an entrepreneur of sorts running your own knowledge business. You get to make your own hours. And because there’s no overhead, it’s a lot more lucrative.
Some of the drawbacks are: you tend to work on your own. Obviously, it’s just you, so there’s a lot of “alone” time. If you’re more of an extroverted person, which I think I am, it can get a bit lonely. The other big drawback is you don’t have any infrastructure, so you have to source all of your own clients yourself, manage billing and invoicing, chase people down, that kind of thing.
So for a few years, I took a number of contracts wherever it felt right, and I had a number of really interesting experiences — some were medical devices, one was a startup in personalized medicine, some were in pharma, some were in technology, and so on.
Toward the end, I felt, “Well, maybe I should work at a smaller firm.” So I tried working inside of an organization again, and toward the end of that I really realized this isn’t right for me. Management consulting had run its course for me in terms of being interesting.
I had always had a really long-standing interest in computers and development. My dad brought home an IBM-AT in the mid-1980s, so we had a computer when nearly nobody on our block had one.
So I was on it pretty frequently, learning to code in BASIC and getting my way around the DOS prompt and what have you.
So I’d always been very interested in it. Even in grad school, I did some very minor simulation work with some colleagues. I would say publicly they did most of the work, but I learned a lot in the process. I became very comfortable with Linux, Unix, open source software. I wasn’t a master at any of these things, but I was very interested in all of them.
So at some point, I decided that’s what I wanted to do. So I said “no” to the rest of consulting. One of the things that was really helpful in the process was that my wife is very supportive, and so that was great. I’m very thankful for her support.
I bought some books and started typing away. Initially, it was pretty terrifying, because I thought, “Well, this is the third career that I’m trying to create.” And pretty quickly, I realized that I enjoyed that job much more than everything I had done before. I think it’s partly the tangibility. It’s partly that it’s very technical. But it’s also that the thing you build has relevance for other people.
I mean relevance in the more practical sense. I don’t necessarily feel that I’m 100 percent of the time building apps that are going to change people’s lives, but it’s a product people can interact with and find value from. And thinking about that, building it that way, is really satisfying.
The other thing that struck me right away is that I felt much more at home with the people who were in development. They were more similar to people I was with in graduate school — incredibly smart, very dorky but really funny, interesting and helpful people. And maybe that was just the Ruby community in Boston, but it’s a pretty tight-knit group of people who are very supportive and positive people.
Everybody is really interested in teaching. Even in the early days when I began to teach myself, there are a ton of online resources, a lot of question and answer sites. There are a lot of people who wrote really good books. So teaching and learning is part of the ethos of development and that also felt right.
I have a friend in San Francisco — this was when I was still living in Boston — who’s interested in learning as well. He had exited a startup and was looking for the next thing.
So he and I both decided to treat this as if it were a real job. We had our project meetings once a week. We would review each other’s code and that kind of thing. It was great to work with somebody else who was a friend but also knew a bit more than I did.
For a few months, I did that on my own and really got more and more excited about it. I learned at an increasing pace, but still quite slow. Toward the end, I had been meeting with some folks from thoughtbot, and they had created a new program called “apprentice.io” and they suggested that I apply for it. So I read a little bit about it and it sounded intriguing.
Apprentice.io is an internal program that thoughtbot runs where we take non-developers and train them to become developers by giving them a job for three months and rotating them through three months and having them do client work.
So I was mentored for three months. I did client work for a payment startup called LevelUp and then a few other startups as well. LevelUp was really exciting, great group of people, and I’m really glad I had the opportunity to meet them and work on the product.
It was a little daunting. I helped work on changing the new user sign-up process for the web interface, which at this point is seen by tens of thousands of people, maybe more, everyday.
There’s a certain satisfaction that goes with working hard on something, feeling like other people contribute and help you along and then have it go into production and be part of the experience that everybody undergoes on a regular basis.
Q. How did the transition happen from working there as an apprentice to now working there full-time?
A. Pretty quickly, I was really interested in the program, because it was new and part of my nature is to try and improve things. So that can be a benefit in some situations and a detriment in others, obviously.
One of the things that was great is that thoughtbot is all about continuous improvement and trying to create a better company, wherever possible. So within a few weeks, I started talking with some other people about how to improve the program itself.
I kept some notes and tried to think about what the best things were for me to read, what the best tutorials were to work on, what the best approach was to learn things. And along with some of the other apprentices, we cobbled together a rough map on how to do this, and it’s an ongoing process. We ended up open-sourcing it and it’s something we use now with all of our apprentices.
That was really exciting, where I said, “I have an idea.” And everybody said, “All right, good. Go with it. Build it out.” That’s part of open source culture, which is, identifying a problem isn’t enough — you just have to get into the code yourself and submit a solution.
So I really felt at home in the company, and I really enjoyed the work as an apprentice. I ended up coming out here to San Francisco. My wife and I were both moving here anyhow for her residency, and I did some interviewing; there is a ton of demand for Rails developers here, even at my very low experience level, which I found surprising.
But the choices were really between product type companies and consulting companies. In consulting companies, you work on different projects every few months. You learn different technologies and you meet more people. So, as a learner, as somebody who still considers himself still a beginner, this focus on learning was really important.
Working on a single product didn’t have as much appeal for me. But I did interview with some really interesting companies, and I got some offers, which really surprised me. At that point, thoughtbot was only based in Boston, and I said to them, “Well, I have these offers. I would love your opinions on what you think and how I should think about them.”
They said, “Well, we have another offer for you,” which is really nice. “We want to open an office in San Francisco and we’d love for you to be part of it.” That was really exciting and I was blown away. And they especially said, “We’d love for you to have a hand in helping shape this office. And as we hire more people, we want them to have a hand in shaping this office. Let’s make this a great office.” And that really appealed to me.
I don’t know if I’m an entrepreneur per se, but I’m interested in the process of entrepreneurship. And I like the flexibility to be able to point at something and say, “You know what, our onboarding process isn’t going very well,” or have somebody else identify it and say, “Let’s figure out what’s going wrong and how we can improve it.”
That’s just part of getting everything going here in the new office — it’s everything from getting office space, to getting computers and desks, and what our hours are like, setting the tone for the office, traditions, fun stuff, and who we hire. That’s really an important role that all of us have, is developers and designers having an important say on what this office is like and what kind of people we hire.
Q. What did you do on a day-to-day basis in apprentice.io and what do you currently do day-to-day at thoughtbot?
A. As an apprentice, it’s a self-directed learning event of sorts. You are encouraged to “pair program,” where you and your mentor pair at the same computer typing the same code for as much of the day as you can.
The rest of the time, you’re free to pursue any other things you’re interested in learning about. If you learn about a new technique or method, or you read about it, try it out, use it in a new program, that kind of thing, or take different classes. It’s really a self-directed learning environment, and you get out of it what you put into it.
But the majority of your time is spent on client code and you’re not billed out, so you’re not under any real pressure from the client to accomplish anything.
As a full-time developer, it’s largely the same job. There’s less of a focus on learning, although it’s still important. If you encounter a library or tool or technique that you don’t know much about, you should learn about it. If it’s something you’re not familiar with, you should become familiar with it. All of these problems you run into, you’re going to run into again.
A lot of our day is spent on the same thing: pair programming. It’s not 100 percent of the time, but it’s a good amount. You meet with the client pretty regularly, probably once a week. We have software that manages our projects, but the level of management is very low, so I can focus most of my time on developing software.
Q. Who are the clients?
A. They’re all startups. They’re all doing separate projects, so non-existing code base. The size ranges from a single person who knows nothing about computers who wants to start a business, to a large 400-500 person or more organization.
I’m currently working on a project for Yammer, and they were acquired by Microsoft a few months ago.
Q. Where do you see yourself in the future, and how do you think what you’re doing today will help you toward that goal?
A. That’s a great question. I am really happy probably for the first time in a long time. I’m very happy doing this. I could probably do this for a very long time. It’s very satisfying. There’s always something new to learn. I think it checks a lot of the boxes I’ve talked about in this interview.
It’s very satisfying work. You get to build something. It’s very technical. The environment is awesome. I’ve made friends with pretty much all of the people I work with. So for right now, I’m very happy with this.
In the future, I don’t really know what are the next things I’d like to try. I guess I can see in the future maybe taking a hand at a startup, either being a technical founder or joining a company that is really interesting and different and going to do something really useful.
Those are totally different jobs, totally different lifestyles. And I think a lot of it depends on where you are in your life. But for now, as far as I can tell, I don’t imagine not being a developer for a long time.
Q. What advice do you have for others who might be interested in doing some of the things you’ve done professionally?
A. Whatever you’re doing, you should work really hard. It sounds sort of stupid, but you should work really hard to do as good a job as you can, first of all.
And when you get that moment where you are not sure that this is the right environment for you, you have to go out in circles. You say, “Is this the wrong team for me? Let’s see what other teams are like. Is this the wrong company for me? Let’s see what other companies are like. Is this the wrong job for me? Let’s see what other jobs are like.”
And in the process of exploring, you can do that through networking. The one thing I have realized is the most useful tool for every career is really becoming adept at networking in an honest way — meeting people and saying, “Hey, I’m really interested in what you’re doing.” If they’re not interested, then don’t continue the conversation.
But really being genuine and honest and trying to engage people in being interested in what they do, and learn about other people, what they do, where they’re going — I think that’s the key to any professional job.
But as you begin to explore other careers, get out and don’t be afraid to get in touch with people, cold call people, go and meet people, be very gracious. People are generous with their time, but be thankful.
Learn as much as you can from other people, and you’d be surprised at how connections form over time. And if you’re really assertive about that, then meet as many people as you can. I think it behooves anybody in any field.
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