I was asked, along with several other authors that write for LinkedIn, to write a post to help the graduating class of 2014 with words of wisdom. In my 25 year IT career I have learned a thing or two. So here is my response to the challenge of traveling back 25 years and having a conversation with myself.
What do you know now that you wish you'd known then?
Technology changes but negotiating skills and emotional intelligence are far more important than knowing the "flavor of the day" code base. The other thing I learned is that the career we think we have will not be the one we grow into. I always tell my daughter my current vocation did not exist when I graduated college.
I did some things right. I did not go to college right after high school. I found jobs working in other countries, I joined the military, I rode my motorcycle until the wheels fell off. I enjoyed my early 20's as the one time in my life I had few responsibilities. Enjoy your youth. It is the one thing you can't ever get back.
Are you where you thought you'd be?
This guy to the left is me 21 years ago. Back then I had just finished working on archaeology projects in Italy and China. The guy I cropped out of the picture is my best friend. He committed suicide 2 years ago.
My plan was to be an archaeologist. Something else happened to change all of that. I decided I wanted children more than I wanted to be an archaeologist.
My closest friend was a very successful and career driven biostatician. He was a tenured professor at Vanderbilt. He died alone with a bottle of sleeping pills. He had no one is his life. I thought I was always there for him but maybe he did not see it that way.
My advice here is that one needs live a rich personal life as much as develop a career. Sometimes that involves being flexible with career goals. Embrace change and embrace the obstacles and opportunities.
This is almost a cliche but it is true I have learned far more from my mistakes than from my successes. Please don't take yourself too seriously. I guarantee you are far more critical of yourself than anyone else will ever be.
What advice would you give to a young person entering the working world today?
I will share an anecdote. In 1999 I was enticed with the "dotcom" fever and took my web skills to a company called Koz.com. I moved my family from a safe job in Wisconsin to Raleigh. Koz.com missed it's B-Series funding and collapsed just as all of the dotcom era companies were doing in the summer of 2000. There were no jobs for web developers. Instead I founded a company with a business partner and we made jobs. We found that ad agencies lacked good developers and had a nice niche business to ride out the bad times.
So my advice is to be creative about your career. Go for the interesting projects over the big box cube-farm job offers.
I hope these words have helped those hitting the market now. I consider myself to have been given unique opportunities in my career. I have lived by the motto "chance always favors the prepared mind". Think big.