Throughout the summer we’ve had an intern working with us to help test new product features before they go live with our customers. Evan is a Junior from Carnegie Mellon. Here he is in the office showing his support for Team USA during the World Cuphttp://ow.ly/i/65IGx —nice team spirit.
One day Evan invited me to lunch, here’s what happened.
At Bloomfire we’re an early stage SaaS company building software that helps companies change the way that people work together to improve business results. After all, if companies want different business results they need their people to start thinking in new ways and doing things in new ways.
In the spirit of this mandate I was more than happy to share my insights with Evan.
Throughout my career I’ve always taken a particular interest in speaking with people just starting theirs. Partly I think this is because I never received very much early career advice and in hindsight, there are some things I’d do differently.
So when Evan sticks his head into my office with a lunch invite, unpainted on this particular day, I gladly accept and half kiddingly make the comment, “Great, you buying?” He says yes. I rarely have anyone buy me lunch, and I fully expected to pick up the tab.
Lunch day comes, and we decide to walk over to ThunderCloud Subs a local Austin sandwich joint. Good subs, but not quite the subs I grew up on in Philly. While walking over, Evan and I talk about his his degree program in Information Systems and naturally my career and what he wants to do with his. Evan is naturally curious, I like that.
As I scarf my Italian sub, I offer Evan a couple of observations about the current labor market, his employability over time and what I think he should look for in an employer.
One of my first comments to him is that I wish I had taken on more risk earlier in my career. He asks me what I mean by this, and I explain that I would have focused on working with start-ups and early stage companies sooner in my career.
I explain that he has to take personal responsibility for being employable over the next thirty years. The portfolio of skills and competencies that he will build needs to be diverse and adaptable to changing market conditions. The early stage experience will teach him more sooner, both about business and about what he likes to do and doesn’t like to do.
Also, there are always start-ups and early stage companies. Being employable in this ecosystem is the “Jobs Act” of the next three decades. He listens, but this is different than what I think he had on his mind. Which takes us to my next point about big companies.
My advice here is to look at the firms that see the world differently. I like big firms because of the opportunity to work internationally; I don’t like them because they can be a trap over time and they can also underdevelop talent.
And I particularly like the firms that are working hard to reinvent a different future. You know who these companies are. I tell him to avoid the firms whose business model exists because of regulation or who are focused on defending the status-quo. The status-quo isn’t that great and there are many things that companies can improve upon, so my advice is to be a part of the solution.
I love his degree choice and tell him as much. His ability to understand how information technology impacts people and business is a valuable skill set as every industry and every business transforms itself through IT.
As we wrap up our lunch, I feel a bit of envy. My thirty years in the workforce has gone incredibly fast. I’ve lived and worked all over the world with some really smart people and worked on some great projects and continue to do so—I’m glad I can say that. It’s been and continues to be a great ride.
And this is where I wrap up our conversation. I tell him to continually challenge yourself and work with people you enjoy being around. Build a portfolio of experiences for yourself and realize that the people you spend time with in the workplace will determine a lot of your satisfaction with the paths that you have chosen to go down.
I chose wisely and I think Evan will as well. Good luck at school and beyond Evan, I think you’ve got a great career ahead of yourself—and by the way, thanks for lunch!