Saturday April 6th
Grokking a Career in Tech
This week, I’ve had some thoughts about a lot of things in Tech
- I’ve been speaking with a lot of people over the past few weeks, and my inbox has been full, and my time has been limited, and my alarm has gone off because I have lived on limited sleep, and people from the outside world have asked to meet with me and I have forgotten, and I have spent hours in the early morning watching streams of Super Mario Maker; it’s been an experience.
- This week, I’ve thought about mentorship a lot. It wasn’t clear to me what kind of mentorship I was looking for when I was in LA, but it’s become clearer to me now. I took this opportunity not because of the money, or the company or whatever, but because of the promise of mentorship. And so far, I’ve really felt like I’m in an organization that has that, and I’m happy about that. But this is not what this is about.
- I’ve been thinking a lot about the kind of mentorship I want next, because it’s really important to me. I think about it a lot; I obsess over it. A student reached out to me a few weeks ago and asked if I would be a mentor for a project and I couldn’t bring myself to do it, because although I really wanted to… I mean…really…really…did…I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
- Because mentorship is hard. In my mind, especially when you’re dealing with people who are not visible in particular groups in the workplace (such as myself), you want to do a good job. They put their trust in you, and you have to be there for them, have empathy, and meet them halfway, while helping them gain confidence in their ability and in themselves. It’s a balance of just the right amount of room to find their way, giving them support when they require it, and getting out of the way when they’ve found their wings. Mentally, it takes a lot out of you, and it’s really crushing when you do a poor job of it.
- That being said, mentorship is important in tech. I think it’s a natural extension of the culture, especially in engineering, which is largely a collaborative endeavour. I feel like the best engineers I’ve met intuitively understand this.
An Engineering Problem
- This week, a coworker told me “if it’s clearly defined, it’s school; if it’s not, it’s engineering”. He didn’t mean that as an absolute, but it’s a point worth noting. I mention this because I’ve met a fair number of my peers who have applied the solution “Get a CS degree” to the problem of “I want a job in tech”. Except, it isn’t quite so, especially if you don’t come from certain schools.
- I have this theory that getting a job or internship at a competitive tech company (ie one that has good engineers that you can learn from) is an engineering problem; there isn’t a clear solution. To be successful, you cannot expect that by following a specific recipe, you will necessarily obtain the same results. People have different ways of getting there, but your chances increase if you have found ways to chip away at the problem (eg have other internships, contribute to open source, worked on projects, etc).
- I think about this because I am far from typical. I don’t have a CS degree, and by all statistics, should be a burn-out failure. If the tech industry would only open its gate to people solely on the completion of a CS degree, it would, in fact, be statistically impossible for me to have ever found a way to be a part of it. But I like trying to solve problems with no clear solution. It’s something that I’d like to get better at doing, and I’m fascinated by problems such as these. I’ve met people who say “I’m just going to do exactly what you are doing”, and I want to tell them that it doesn’t quite work that way, because I’m me, and this is an engineering problem.
So How do people solve hard problems?
- This is a question I’m still trying to answer. This is currently an obsession I have as an engineer, because I’m not quite there yet. But I want to be. I want to be able to solve difficult problems. And I’m trying to do so, every single day.
- Part of it is sticking with a problem; yes, that’s true, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll solve it if you don’t develop an intuition for and ask the right questions.
- Hunger; I resonate with this so much, because people talk about talent, and being really smart, but there’s also wanting to be there. I wanted to be a part of what was out here, and I wasn’t sure about what was between my problem and the solution. I think about this Hinton’s interview and what it means to stick with a problem that has no obvious solution, and the kind of personality and mental fortitude it must take from a person. The people that resonate with me generally have this, and I relate to this a lot. Anyone who has done anything really hard, who has felt like giving up, can relate to this. Because this journey has been nothing short of a miracle, and just really, really hard. But I really, really want to be a great engineer. Even if it takes me my entire life. I mean, N00gler hats are cool and all, but I’d honestly give it up in a heartbeat to chase a mentor who could help me with that goal; to help make me a better problem-solver and a better engineer.
Wall of Text
- So I guess I should go write some Haskell now…but that’s about all I have for today. Be well.
Written on April 6, 2019