Career – Managing Your Career 2017 and Beyond

Career, what career, Big Red Car?

Big Red Car here in the ATX on a gloomy, wet day. Ahh, it is still good, y’all. Will be 80F by afternoon and maybe, just maybe, the sun will burn through.

Today, in our new gig economy, it is almost impossible to get the word “career” out of one’s mouth and not have it drown in your smile. Companies don’t provide career opportunities; and, companies in or around the tech space, the startup ecosystem, make no bones about it. They are all headed to the pay window and one can only hope to have a few stock options with which to enjoy the trip and then find another gig on the flip side.

But, in spite of this, YOU still need to take care of YOU.

That’s what we are going to talk about today — you managing your career in the day of the gig economy.

A career is fiction, Big Red Car?

Today, the idea you can settle in with a company and work there for an extended period of time is a pipe dream.

It is a two way street as individuals use their latest position as a launching pad for their next opportunity — growing professionally, personally, and from a compensation perspective.

Hey, a big part of this is getting paid for your work and skills. Pay is important.

There are no more careers with individual companies.

So, Big Red Car, how do we maneuver? Huh?

You have to brush your teeth, look in the mirror, and say, “I am the CEO of Me, Inc.” You have to approach your career like a startup business.

If you cannot take charge of you, if you cannot approach life as the CEO of Me, Inc — stop reading and go play some computer solitaire.

You have to develop a Strategy, Tactics, and Objectives just like a startup.

Strategy — the view from 30,000 feet which answers the question, “Where do you want to be in 5, 10, 15, 20 years?”

Tactics — the view from 10,000 feet which answers the question, “What do I have to do to accomplish my strategic objectives?”

Objectives — the view from the ground which answers the question, “What do I do today?”

That’s it, Big Red Car? Yes, dear reader, that is the big picture. Let’s delve into the details.

This is you when you begin this process.

Before Me, Inc. takes root.

Career strategy

A lot of life is reduced to “Monkey see, monkey do.”

To begin on strategy, identify the monkey you want to be. Who is your ideal monkey and what are their personal characteristics and the professional characteristics of their position?

This may, actually, be 3-5 monkeys as you are exploring new frontiers here. More than 5 monkeys is not enough focus. I like 2-3 monkeys as a limit.

Write down the skills, character traits, tendencies of your favorite monkey. You will compare those to yours in the future.

Career constraints

Before you get too far down the road, identify the constraints on your career management endeavor. Constraints can be geographical — not leaving San Francisco (Austin, New York, Boston).

Constraints can be compensation driven. You can only eat so much Ramen, right?

Constraints may also be skill related. Skills, of course, can be improved, learned, broadened. You cannot become a ballerina if you are a 6’4″, 250 lbs guy. Sort of a crude analogy, but you get it, right?

Make a list of constraints.

Skills, character traits, tendencies

Inventory your skills, character, tendencies. I like y’all to do this after you have identified our monkey and listed the target monkey’s similar attributes so you can stay position-focused.

Take a look and see if the comparison of your skills and the target monkey’s skills overlap sufficiently. Identify any voids or weaknesses. Give 5 minutes of thought to how you might shore these voids or weaknesses up.


Once you have identified your favorite monkey, make a list of specific jobs which you want which would be “similar” to your strategic, favorite monkey.

Now, you are getting specific, tactical.

The deliverable is a list of jobs. A list of jobs.

With the list of jobs in hand, identify the industries in which these jobs exist.

Identify companies within that industry you would like to work with.

[Cautionary note: This exercise is about you running Me, Inc. You are driving your own dream. Think big. It costs the same to think big as it does to think small. Go with the large economy size of THINK BIG.]

The paperwork

You have done a lot of work:

 1. Now, you have a list of monkeys you want to “monkey do.”

 2. You have a list of the skills, character traits, tendencies of your favorite monkey.

 3. You have a list of your own skills, character traits, tendencies and have matched them with your favorite monkey.

 4. You may have some thoughts on how to close any voids between your ideal monkey’s stuff and your stuff.

 5. You have a list of industries which offer the perfect job you are looking for.

 6. You have a list of companies within those industries you want to work for.

 7. You have a list of the real world constraints you require — no, you are not going to move to Lubbock for that dream programmer job downwind from a feedlot. You are not going to do that.

Do not start looking for a job until you have this stuff done. Hey, I’m talking to you — do the freakin’ work and no cutting corners.

Lay the foundation

Before you go off and start looking for jobs, let’s make sure your foundation is tight.

 1. Write a resume and be prepared to tailor it for each individual position. I am not going to tell you how to do this. There is a wealth of info out there, but know this — it is the appetizer which gets you the invite to the entree.

The call to action of a good resume is a phone interview or an in-person interview. Nobody is going to give you a job from a resume.

Make damn sure that every word on that resume is true. Every. Stinking. Word.

 2. Go scrub down your social media — every bit of it.

Delete the pics of you smoking weed in Steamboat Springs, even if marijuana is legal in Colorado.

 3. Make sure your LinkedIn page is in absolute compliance with your current presentation.

Oh, please, you have to have a LinkedIn page. It’s like going for your annual physical. You have to do it.

 4. Get a letter of reference from every useful and pertinent job you have ever held. A letter of reference contains dates of employment, position titles, and a description of the quality of work you did in each position.

A letter of reference is different from a letter of recommendation. A letter of recommendation is from an individual who can address your qualifications and suitability for a specific position knowing what that position is.

 5. Get a wardrobe together which is appropriate for the job. [Pro tip: Dress like the interviewer.]

 6. Groom yourself for the prom — ooops, I mean the interview. Get the haircut.

 7. Develop an elevator, taxicab, boardroom pitch of Me, Inc. Small, medium, large. Write them out.

 7. Practice. Practice. Practice. Practice your elevator, taxicab, and boardroom versions of the story of Me, Inc.

[Pro tip: Approach this like a storyteller. You are writing a story which will start as fiction and become a non-fiction documentary of Me, Inc. Prepare and tell a great story. You are the lead character, the protagonist. You are special.]


Now, dear reader, you are ready to launch Me, Inc.

 1. Do the normal stuff, like using or other job search sites.

 2. Network like a fiend. You are networking on behalf of Me, Inc. So network where you want to end up.

 3. If you are a senior software engineer in Austin, Texas, then you go to the Meet Ups and industry events which will put you into close proximity with the perfect monkey, and the perfect job.

 4. Hang around the accelerators and incubators — if you are interested in startup type opportunities. Talk to the people who run the operations.

 5. Work your deal. At the end of every conversation, ask, “Where would you send me? Who can you introduce me to?”

Hey, you, do not get bashful and shy on me. This is deadly serious business.

 6. Every two weeks, take an hour and grade your performance. Revise your pitch.

 7. Dash of cold water on things — may take six months to do it, y’all. Know that. This is not instant gratification business.

 8. WRITE AN HANDWRITTEN NOTE TO EVERY SINGLE PERSON WHO HELPS YOU ALONG THE WAY. Every. Single. Person. This is Old World important stuff. Trust me on this.

Time management

Time management is a critical business skill, but we never talk about it.

To make Me, Inc. work, make a one hour appointment with yourself on Monday, Wednesday, Friday to work on the assignment.

Once you are ready to launch, dedicate two hours per day on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and an entire day when you are getting into the swing of things.

Dedicate the time to make it work. Manage your time to manage Me, Inc. Me, Inc. is your new short term job. Work it.

So, dear reader, there you have it. YOU are in charge of Me, Inc. Take charge. In life we do not get power, we take power. You are the CEO of Me, Inc. Take power.

This is you when you finish the process of creating, Me, Inc.

This is Me, Inc. when you finish the process.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car. Good luck. You know, you look damn lucky. I noticed that the minute I met you. 







3 thoughts on “Career – Managing Your Career 2017 and Beyond

  1. You didn’t emphasize practice enough. This is especially true if you are early in your career and need to explain how your analyst and associate roles were more than creating powerpoint / prezi decks (there’s some real work that gets done!).

    The first management position I applied to was at JP Morgan (Asset Management). JPMAM were opening a new office and forming a new team whose primary role was to underwrite commercial real estate acquisitions and support acquisition teams located in NYC. I thought this was perfect and I was well prepared to discuss underwriting and training newbies how to analyze deals, hitting deadlines, and generally busting my ass. I thought that my domain knowledge would be sufficient to create an air of authority (I was under 30) and the analysts would respect that.

    It turns out I was so unprepared to describe how I managed people in my current role and how I would handle a team of know-it-all analysts who may not get along or have issues not related to underwriting deals, it took me 3 years to realize that mistake (I didn’t receive an offer). My ignorance in understanding the full scope of the role I meant I missed preparing for the key part of the role.

  2. Sounds good. I suspect it will work as advertised.

    I Remember

    Early in my career, I was near DC in applied math and computing, mostly for US national security. The jobs were not very stable, but the pay was good: Soon I was making in annual salary six times what a new, high end Camaro cost. When my wife was also working, we were having lots of good times, bought the main home furnishings I still have, and were saving money rapidly. Soon, so that she could get a better job, she went for her Ph.D. We had money enough for that.

    Being there in DC with the jobs I was getting had an advantage: When new hot topics came alone, i.e., got popular, usually my job was close to one or more of those hot topics; I learned; and my resume looked still better for the next job.

    E.g., people were trying to do curve fitting with polynomials. Well the usual normal equations get close to the notorious Hilbert matrix and give big numerical problems. But there is a cute, numerically stable, approach via some custom to the data orthogonal polynomials. That little point, plus two more, helped me get a nice slot at Georgetown University; that had me teaching computer science there (before my Ph.D.), and also helped me get a nice slot at FedEx.

    Usually the hot topics were mostly hype as in, IMHO, AI/ML now and, again, IMHO, much better approaches are available. But that the topics were hot meant that people, the people hiring, were impressed by the hot topics. There’s an advantage in that: Or be where the big waves develop, see a wave, and ride it.

    At one point, in a two week period, I sent some copies of a crudely written resume, went on seven interviews, and got five offers.

    That’s what job hunting looks like when are in a good situation.

    Big Surprising Lesson

    So, I went for my Ph.D.; my wife went for her Ph.D. first, was supposed to get her degree first, and support us while I did my Ph.D.. Well, she got stuck, eventually completed her degree, but I took a part-time job to support us. My resume was good, and in grad school I met the person that gave me the contact for the job — “who you know” is important. Knowing people at a high end research university can help.

    So, on that job, eventually the US Navy wanted, in two weeks, an evaluation of the survivability of the US SSBN fleet under a special, controversial scenario of global nuclear war limited to sea. Well, heavily from some of my grad school work, I saw a continuous time Markov process, needed minimal data (a bit amazing), wrote the corresponding software, and got nice looking results in the two weeks.

    Being on time was good because my wife, suffering in grad school, had a vacation planned for us the next day. Both the Navy and my wife got what they wanted on time.

    It was a nice vacation: For desserts, we got a cooler with a lot of French pastries from the Watergate Pastry shop — right, that Watergate. We packed some nice wine glasses we’d gotten from West Virginia Glass, likely the same as Jackie had picked, right, that Jackie, for the White House. They were nice but not expensive. Jackie had said: “I found just what I wanted in West Virginia” — it had to be the same. We likely found the same retail source, Garfinkel’s in DC. I called West Virginia, got passed to their retail store, and ordered, in total, five dozen, in four sizes including some nice Champaign flutes.

    For a dessert wine, we had brought our favorite fake Champaign, Italian Asti Spumanti.

    On the way, we stopped at an A&P in Front Royal, saw the head butcher, and had him cut us the two nicest, sinfully thick, Porterhouse steaks he could find. And, yup, we had some good French bread.

    We’d brought baking potatoes wrapped in AL foil and lots of charcoal fire supplies and equipment. So, can bake such a potato just by putting it directly on the hot charcoal — we did that. Sour cream and chives? Sure.

    So, at Shenandoah, in the woods we found a picnic table and a charcoal grill and chowed down! At the end, a doe deer, nice, gentle, walked up for handouts; we gave her some French bread.

    Otherwise we ate in the restaurant of the Shenandoah cabin setup.

    We had a great view of the valley below, went on hikes to the tops of the hills with box lunches from the restaurant, and at night used a simple telescope to find the Andromeda galaxy.

    Nice vacation.

    Back at the office, a stranger was wandering around for an hour or so a day.

    He was talkative. He wanted to talk with me, about whatever, but actually not the SSBN work. So, we talked. I explained that I thought that LBJ, etc. acted stupidly in Viet Nam.

    I had just finished my Ph.D. Eventually four things became clear: (1) That I had finished my Ph.D. had been noticed by some high up people I didn’t know. (2) My SSBN work had also been noticed by some high up people I didn’t know. Actually that work was soon sold to a leading US intelligence agency; I could tell you which one, but then I’d have to …. (3) I was being interviewed for some better position I knew nothing about. (4) My Viet Nam remark caused me to lose the slot.

    Lesson: As soon as get considered for anything above the bottom level worker bee slots, politics in all its forms matters a LOT. Take the old advice: Never, especially on a job, discuss politics, sex, or religion.

    I Notice

    Some families are buying luxury SUVs, summer time pleasure craft, 22′ speed boats, 35′ boats, taking vacations, sometimes outside the US, have US housing prices up, supposedly to a new high, pay for college for their children, have the GDP of the US economy growing for the last two quarters at an annual rate of 3+%, etc.

    Point: Some people are buying houses, moving in, putting down roots, doing will. Some people.

    Point: Not everyone is some migrant laborer going from one short term gig to another.

    Big Companies

    I’d be wary of big companies: E.g., at one point I was in GE, and they decided to do something different. That’s when I got seven interviews and five offers. At one point I was at the IBM Watson lab in AI, and IBM decided to go from 407,000 head count down to 209,000. That and some really nasty, quite illegal, clique politics shot my career in the gut. I really wanted to do applied math on Wall Street, but I never got to the right people; e.g., I didn’t yet know about James Simons and Renaissance Technologies (internal hedge fund 40% per year gains for decades).

    GE has continued to sell off, close down, etc. divisions. IIRC, at times Intel, Microsoft, FedEx, Boeing have let go hundreds of people at a time.

    Wife Work

    Apparently now one of the main ways a young family can buy a house is that the wife goes to work. The two leading careers are quite traditional, nursing and K-12 school teaching. In addition, might do well in office work in an insurance agency, a hospital, or a local government office. These jobs tend to be stable.

    Barrier to Entry

    IMHO, currently a crucial point about a job, especially one that does permit buying a house, not having to move, and does permit putting down roots, crucial for having a good family and keeping a marriage together, is to have a barrier to entry.

    IMHO by far the most common and important such barrier is the geographic one: Get a job where are not in competition with anyone more than 100 miles away. Then do relatively well in a radius of 100 miles and, then, likely can do well. For a lot of jobs, say, Chinese carryout, the radius can be much less than 100 miles.

    Examples include independent insurance agency, auto repair shop, auto body shop, HVAC, plumbing, kitchen/bath renovation, grass mowing and/or landscaping, etc.

    For more, veterinarian, dentist, medical lab, etc.

    If can run several pizza shops, gas stations with convenience stores attached, several franchised restaurants and are good at it, then can do well. Being a little bit good at it, e.g., carefully matching staffing to customer traffic, almost hour by hour, can mean quite significant bucks to the owner each year.

    One of the best career paths is to be a child of an owner of a successful family business, e.g., a leading beer distributor in a corner of a major state, then the child can take over the family business. This situation will improve if Trump can be successful repealing the estate tax.

    Beyond a geographical barrier to entry, get a technological one. But so far, only a tiny fraction of the population can do that.

    If Trump is successful throttling the importation of cheap products and cheap labor, putting back to work a significant fraction of the 94 million US citizens out of the labor force, and getting the inflation-corrected annual GDP growth rate up to 5%, then the US job situation should change enormously.

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