Mobius Strips and Dips: Some Career Reflections and Insights Beyond Data Science

I  recently overheard, and possibly participated in, the following (somewhat edited) conversation*:

Grasshopper: Please bestow upon me Master, whether or not I should pursue a Master’s degree?

Master: What are your career aspirations grasshopper?

Grasshopper: I merely hope to mimic you’re illustrious career Master.

Master: What is it that you seek in your next role grasshopper?

Grasshopper: What should I seek Master?

*names altered to protect the identity of those involved.

This got me thinking about my career journey to date, the ups and downs, challenges and successes, the roles that haven’t been what I expected, and the ones that have (be careful what you wish for!).

Upon reflection, I’ve realised that the overarching ‘thing’ I seek in a role is OPPORTUNITY!

This includes:

  • Doing rewarding and meaningful work that adds value to the organisation, and subsequently, to society;
  • Opportunities to learn and grow, not just from a career perspective, but more importantly, as a person;
  • Opportunities to mentor, teach and help others;
  • Working with intelligent people that I can trust and depend on, ones who share my values and ethics, and compliment my skills and experience; and
  • Being challenged, and not just technically, so I can further develop a broad range of skills.

Here’s some advice that I can offer others:

  • Look at each new role as an investment in your career; and
  • Don’t get caught up with the notion of failure. Don’t be scared to commit to something that may not work out. Don’t be afraid to try something new that you feel you’ll enjoy and learn from, even if it doesn’t work out. As Albert Einstein famously said, “Failure is success in progress”. So believe in yourself, and in others.

Once you’ve landed the role, I offer the following piece of advice to help you achieve success and cash in on your investment:

Adopt a consultants attitude and focus on serving your clients!

What I specifically mean is, look for solutions, and not problems.

Don’t lose yourself in the details of problems, but instead focus your attention on the bigger picture, the strategic goals of your clients, and work towards achieving them, in a collaborative way.

“Hold on”, I hear you say, “but you haven’t talked about money!”.

Remuneration should be the last thing on your mind.

“What, are you serious?”

Yes, I’m very serious! For one, It can pressure you into taking the wrong role, or scare you from taking the right one… It’s even less of an issue if launching your own startup; “what salary?”, I hear many startup founders say!

Yes, we all want to be valued, and obviously need to support ourselves and our families, but unless you’re clearly being offered an unfair, below market package (which is unlikely), it shouldn’t be a major factor. Anything more can often simply be a ‘nice-to-have’. Have an idea of what you want/need/are worth, negotiate for it, but then don’t dwell on it… My attitude is basically summed up as ‘I work to learn, not earn’.

Speaking from personal experience, it’s sometimes worth taking a financial step backwards to move your career forwards (assuming you’re fortunate enough to be in a financial position to do so). I’ve done it before and will do it again.

The same goes for other ‘nice-to-have’ things such as an impressive title, benefits packages and work environment ie flashy offices with table-tennis tables, your own office etc… Once again, state what you’d like and negotiate (after all, as I was told by my first boss, “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”), and trust that your employer will do what they can to make it happen. Believe it or not, most of the time, they DO want you to be happy!

I have been told many times that I’ve been ‘crazy’ to give up certain roles, or to accept others. I  was told that I was absolutely crazy for giving up the prestigious role as a front office Quant for a major investment bank. I was then told that I was crazy for leaving the lucrative financial services sector for a role in the Government sector, which included moving from a major city to a country town. I was then told that I was crazy for leaving a senior role in a large consultancy to go out and consult on my own.

However, each of these roles have played an invaluable part in my career development. They have afforded me opportunities to meet and work with some fantastic people, to challenge and push myself out of my comfort zone, and to learn and grow in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

I may not truly be crazy, and I’m definitely no genius, but the following quote by Steve Jobs resonates with me when it comes to expressing the attitude, passion and belief in yourself required in building a successful career:

Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.

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