Working in Silicon Valley means I get to meet some amazing people. Everyone with their own stories and experiences. I love listening to these stories and following it up with a question about one piece of advice they would give me. From being a bright eyed new grad in her first full time job to mentoring other new grads, I try to follow the advice given by people I have met or read online everyday. I hope in writing this post I will follow them more often than not and it serves as a reminder to me. Here are the ones which stood out to me –
The advice which everyone who you ask gives but no one really understands how it works. In the spirit of following this I started attending as many networking events as possible to only come back home feeling exhausted and like I never really made any real connections. However, I recently came across this blog post which flipped the traditional advice on its head. Instead of mindlessly networking, when you meet people evaluate if you would like to have them on your team someday. Sounds counterintuitive, right? But, it isn’t, the reason networking is hard is because we are busy in small talk and don’t really have a goal in mind. But when you’re evaluating someone to be on your future team, you’re actually going to ask interesting questions. And, this truly changed the way I talk to people at networking events.
- Focus on problems not on tools
As a computer science graduate, it is extremely easy for me to focus on the next big upcoming programming language or the next state of the art NLP model which comes out. However, what I have learnt over the course of my time is that as amazing as these are, they are not useful if they don’t solve problems. Customers don’t buy tools they buy solutions to problems. So if you want to grow in your career, focus on solving problems which will make the lives of customers easier.
- Don’t make assumptions
Silicon Valley is an amalgamation of different cultures and people. There’s a lot that can be misunderstood because of the different contexts we all have. If you don’t understand something just clarify and sometimes it even helps to summarize what you understood from the conversation and see if this is what was said. Don’t make assumptions even for the simple things like their work style or the way they would like to receive feedback. Recently, my team read about Erin Meyer’s Culture Map and it really helped me understand the different cultures we come from and how we shouldn’t assume anything.
- Stay Curious
Once you’ve started your career it is very easy to label yourself as a “Software Engineer”, “Data Scientist”, “Designer” or anything and do only things which are in the traditional job description of your role. However, there are a lot of interesting problems which appear in other domains that might just improve the way you think in your own domain. So, next time there is an opportunity to do something you haven’t done before, jump in with two feet. Staying curious helps widen your horizon and also helps you think out of the box.
- Learn how to identify problems and solve them
This is perhaps the most important and useful skill which one can develop. Unlike at school where the problem is clearly defined and you use only what a professor gave you to find a solution. Sometimes the hardest part of working in the industry is learning how to break down a big broad problem to smaller pieces and identify the part which makes the most impact. Being a problem solver will help you find more interesting problems. A very effective way to solve problem is using mental models. Even though this blog post is meant for designers (evidence to my last point), it outlines some of the best ways to solve a problems using mental models. One of my favorites is through first principles.
Let me know if there’s something which has worked for you in your experience!