I am finally in a position where I am truly happy with my professional life. That doesn’t mean that everything is perfect or that I’m even remotely satisfied — far from it. Shit is more complicated and difficult now than ever, but I love it. I love what we are building, I’m incredibly fortunate to work with super smart people, and I walk into work every day fired up and ready for world domination. This makes me truly happy. I had no grand plan to be building MVPs at the NYC Dev Shop. It certainly wasn’t a direct path, but it’s been a fun ride so far. So here is my unabridged 4 Part answer to how it all came to be:
- Career Path 1.0: Make Uniformed Decisions
- Career Path 2.0: Learn to Hate
- Career Path 3.0: Don’t Listen to Your Mother
- Career Path 4.0: Learn. Improve. Adapt.
Career Path 2.0: Learn to Hate
Through my history of making uninformed, life altering decisions, I had stumbled upon Engineering Management as a major in college. This major was going to allow me to become a swiss army knife — I’d be able to identify problems and come up with creative solutions because of the engineering discipline, AND I’d be able to understand and evaluate the business implications and financial impact of those solutions. At least that’s what they told me.
Aside from choosing the EM major, I made one other amazing decision during my time at Stevens Institute — I decided to join their Cooperative Education program. As a Co-Op student, I would spend 5 full semesters working at some of the best companies in the world instead of taking classes. As a result, I’d graduate in 5 years instead of 4, but I would have all this crazy stuff on my resume that I could flaunt around.
Here was my thought process around Co-Op:
"You’re telling me, I can stay in college for an extra year without having to pay extra tuition, I’m going to make bank working at legit companies, and when I graduate my resume is going to look better than 98% of my graduating peers… Sign me up for 5 years of college life please!
What I didn’t realize going into the Co-Op program was that it was going to teach me to hate.
Hate is a strong word, and I probably don’t mean it, but I learned to hate career paths that weren’t a perfect fit for me. I can’t overstate how important this was for me as a wandering college student trying to find my way in the world. With a major that was going to allow me to succeed at any job in the world, I had to start eliminating stuff quickly.
Hatred #1: Taking a dump in public
My first Co-Op assignment was at Turner Construction Company, a behemoth of a company, and they hired me for my 1st Co-Op assignment. Makes sense — I had been climbing roofs and pouring foundations with my father since I could walk and I knew how to read blueprints.
Hard hats, jeans, boots, Friday beers at lunch with the crew, telling dudes what to do who have been doing this stuff since before I was born — I was ready for all of that. Nothing could prepare me for the time that I had to use the portable bathroom on the unfinished 27th floor of the tower that we were building. But when it’s an emergency, you gotta do what you gotta do. So I sat down in this thing which had no roof and your feet hung out the bottom. I felt like I was wearing a tube top while going to the bathroom. Of course, my crew sees this going down and proceeds to start heckling me. Needless to say, it wasn’t a very enjoyable experience.
And right then I knew, I had bigger ambitions then dumping in a portable tube top bathroom on the 27th floor of an unfinished building.
Hatred #2: Building things that I don’t understand
Now armed with an awkward bathroom story and some great project management experience, I was able to walk into my next interviews like I was king of the world. I led a team of 10 carpenters on a $3 million renovation project, I did this, I did that. They ate it up. Interviewed for 5 positions and got 4.5 offers (one was bullshit so I don’t count that as a full offer).
I decided it was time to take my talents to pharmaceuticals — another no-brainer: my mother is a pharmacist so when I wasn’t swinging a hammer as a child I was counting pills with mom. I took a position at Ethicon (a Division of Johnson & Johnson), and I was going to do product development. Sweet. I could use my project management to help roll out new products to save peoples lives. The only problems were that (1) it was a 45 minute drive each way to work with no traffic (but there was always traffic) and (2) I had no clue what the hell my group actually built. Totally f’ing clueless about why this white paste was going to help heal wounds faster after surgery. I became the go-to guy for setting up the label printer.
From that day forward, I made a decision to never live far away from work and that passion was incredibly important to me.
Hatred #3: Rotting away at a soulless environment
For my final Co-Op assignment, I went chasing after the money. I landed a sweet internship at an international bank. In my mind, it seemed like the right thing to do:
- I could work my ass off and achieve eternal glory
- I could become some hotshot banker and be ready to retire by 40
- I could chase the American Dream
The only problem, my company wasn’t American and they seemingly didn’t give a shit about us US folks once the financial markets started crashing. The environment was in a downward, death spiral and it was reflected in the attitudes of all the employees at every level of the company — nine-to-five with no accountability. Just survive long enough to get another paycheck before the next round of layoffs occur.
It wasn’t always that way. In fact, it was amazing in the beginning. I used to be incredibly passionate about work. I used to get promoted every six months. By the time I was done there, I outperformed everything that could possibly be measured. But I was being constrained by the bounds of a bullshit system that was designed to keep people in check instead of rewarding outperformance. I felt like I was trapped in the Matrix.
After almost 4 years at the bank and feeling that I learned all that I could without succumbing to the role of a mindless drone, it was time for a move.
I want to be clear. I would never trade my experiences for anything in the world, and I love my “hatred” for where it has lead me. I find myself using so much of what I learned in those early days every single day at the Dev Shop. The most difficult part about it was that each time I had to leave a seemingly good opportunity that other people would have died for.
And that is how we get to Career Path 3.0: Don’t Listen to Your Mother.