Once you know what you want to do in your career -- whether you want to be a chef or a software engineer -- your next step should be to start doing the job.
One of the most common mistakes I think people make when they start a new career is to wait until they can find a job. I understand why people use this approach: jobs are a great way to learn, and provide a structured environment in which to do so.
The trouble is that getting a job is no easy task. You need to hustle to find the right job for you. You need to deserve the job that you end up doing.
So, if you need to deserve a job before you get it, how do you deserve a job? The answer is by being able to clearly demonstrate your value to an employer. How do you do that? By doing the job before you get the job.
Suppose you want to break into a career as a software engineer. You may think that the only way to do so is to go to school -- whether college, or Lambda School, or somewhere else -- and listen to your instructors and build projects. Then you can use your educational credential as leverage to help you break into a career as a software engineer.
This path works. If you are connected in tech, you’ll know how many people follow this path. However, this path is not for everyone. If you don’t want to go to school, this path doesn’t work. If you already have the skills and you just want to start work, this path doesn’t work.
The alternative is to just start doing your dream job right now.
If you want to work as a software engineer, start working on a project. First, think up an idea of what you want to build. Then analyze the problem you are going to solve, and come up with boundaries, scopes, and functional requirements. Then proceed through every other stage of the software development cycle until you have a finished product.
The product you build doesn’t have to be successful. It can sit on your GitHub profile idle. But the point is that you have built something, and you can use that to demonstrate your value to an employer.
The software engineer who has worked on a project in their spare time is more likely to get hired than the person who has not. They already have real-world experience, even if it was on a personal project. And, I would argue that the fact it was a personal project is an advantage: working on a project in your spare time shows you really wanted to do it.
I technically started my job before I got it. I wrote research articles for months before I found my current job. I was already publishing content on a consistent cadence. I didn’t think that I needed to publish with a professional organization for my work to be meaningful, so I just published it by myself.
My work didn’t have the impact it could have when it was self-published, but it had all the impact it needed to in order to make a difference. Publishing every day on my blog allowed me to get a taste of what a career in writing was like. Writing research-focused articles on a weekly basis helped me see what a career in technical writing would be like.
I was able to figure out what my job would feel like before actually finding my job.
There’s no reason why you cannot start doing your dream job today. Start building a track record of doing good and meaningful work. Not work that is meaningful to the world -- work that is meaningful to you.
Suppose you want to break into a career in venture capital, but you don’t know where to start. How about writing a few deal memos? Analyze companies that you think are interesting, write about them, and publish what you write. Who said you need to be a professional venture capitalist to write a deal memo?
Now suppose you want to be a social media manager. How about starting a social media account for a side project? Or what if you want to be a product manager? Plan out a product from start-to-finish and, if you have the engineering skills, built out that product. Or what if you want to be a community manager? Build a community.
I would say that there are certain things that you can only learn on the job. The only way that you’ll really learn how venture capital works is by being a venture capitalist. You can’t get involved with advising companies on behalf of an investor until you work for an investor.
That said, you can learn most of what you need to know. You can write deal memos by yourself. You can advise companies by yourself. You can ignore venture capital memes by yourself (!).
If you know what you want to do, start doing the job right now. There are no excuses. Build something that requires the skills you would use on the job. Then, use that to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise