Back in grade 3, my teacher had everyone in the class write down what they wanted to be when they grew up. It was a big question that had many possibilities. I could have written down any number of choices: pilot, doctor, lawyer, accountant, maybe even a management consultant. Well, that last one probably not but you get the picture. To this day, I still remember what I wrote down: Scientist.
Why did I write down scientist? Maybe I was a bit precocious but my Dad had a stacked bookshelf of books and encyclopedias that I remember perusing and browsing through in my spare time. What kind of kid reads in their spare time? Weird kids that grow up to be management consultants I guess. One of my fondest books was a book called “The I hate mathematics book”. It was a book where the author took a different stance on mathematics – instead of teaching kids math, it taught kids how to use math to play tricks and take advantage of adults. For example, one of the tricks was, when doing chores, to ask your Mom or Dad to pay you a penny for your efforts, and every time you do the chore, they would have to double your previous payment. After 30 times of payment, they would have to pay you almost $11 million dollars. I may have had a natural inclination towards the sciences as well which explained my choice as a scientist.
As I grew up, my views about the world and my future career changed. I believe much of this influence came from some of my parent’s friends – they had four kids and two of them were on track to become doctors. My only experience with doctors was when I was a patient and I had been enamored with the idea of becoming someone that could make their mission helping others. As my parent’s friends and I chatted, it was around high school and I was being asked to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Looking back, this was definitely an important period in a kid’s life but it is way too early to ask them what they want to do. At the time, the only idea I had was to be a doctor and I decided that when I got into university, I would work towards that goal.
During my last year in high school, I remember submitting several applications to universities across Canada. My Mom and I even met with the Principal at our high school once. I do not say this to brag but to give you some context – I was most likely one of the top ten students in the high school class of 200+ students. My Mom was worried because she had just heard one of the teachers explaining that college was a good option if students could not get into university because you could get into a college and then transfer into university without losing too many years in the process. In any case, when we saw the Principal at our school, my Mom asked the Principal whether college was the best option and the Principal looked me directly in the eye and said “Oh you will have no problem getting into college”. After that, I was accepted to several top universities in Canada and decided on UBC. Many of my applications to the universities were based on the idea that I would go into medicine – biology + chemistry undergraduate degrees, life science courses, etc.
When I got into university, my first year in a Science undergraduate was may be not the best. I had underestimated how difficult university classes could be and I needed to double and re-double my efforts in studying while keeping away from many of the things that students had to manage in a new setting: a potential lack of discipline, lots of free time in between classes, the freedom to do whatever you want, drinking, partying, etc. It was at the end of my first year that I realized I had another decision to make – did I want to continue on with my plans of pre-med courses (biology, chemistry) or did I want to do something else?
As I thought about it, I received some great advice – you did not need to do pre-med courses in order to get into medicine. What I mean is that while there are specific pre-requisites, you do not necessarily need to do a biology or chemistry degree in order to get into medicine. This surprised me, mostly because I had always thought that was the way to get into medicine. I looked back at my first year courses and looked at what I had done well in and what I had enjoyed and it turned out that math was my best course.
Could I have done a mathematics major degree? Yes, probably, but for some reason, a little voice in my head told me that I should be more practical. What was my backup plan if I majored in mathematics but did not get into medicine? Would I teach? Do my masters or PhD? Volunteer overseas to teach English? It was at that moment while looking through the UBC course catalog that I decided to go completely crazy and do a combined mathematics and computer science major. Why computer science? A lot of the courses aligned quite nicely with my interest in mathematics. It was also a very applicable degree at the time – maybe one of the few degrees that you could get an undergraduate degree in and then get a job right away in the up and coming tech industry. Oh and why was it completely crazy? Because I then decided at that point that I also wanted to join the co-op program AND become a residence advisor AND I still had plans to get into medicine so I had to take all the pre-med requisites. After going through a very heavy course load and working part time or full time jobs at the same time, I have a huge amount of respect for those that work while putting themselves through school.
What do you like doing? What are you good at? Where are the areas where you can do something similar yet tangential to what you are doing now?
My last year in University came by so quickly. I had worked four different co-op jobs at Real Programming 4 Kids, PMC-Sierra, Shell Canada (in Calgary) and Telus. I had worked on campus as a Residence Advisor, a Peer Assistant for their new library, and an Orientations Coordinator (managing the first day of orientations for 4000+ students joining UBC). I completed my Computer Science and Mathematics degree, pretty much taking summer courses every year to make my normal course terms manageable (well 4 – 5 courses each term rather than 6 or 7) and I had completed my pre-med requisites.
I had come this far but I had still yet to get into medicine. I took the MCAT – the medical college admission test which was a pre-requisite exam for many of the medical schools in Canada and abroad. I thought I would do very well but whenever I went to study for the exam, my heart was not into it. I thought about the long hours that you would have to put in to constantly learn new techniques. I thought about the overtime that doctors have to put in to record patient histories. I thought about the many, many years of school that I would have to go through in order to be able to practice medicine. Was it all for nothing? Surprise, surprise, I did not do very well on my MCAT and while I could have re-taken it, I just did not feel very passionate about medicine. I definitely still wanted to help people but there were two things that I learned during that time which changed my views: one, I could help people without being a doctor and two, I wanted to become an entrepreneur.
Before you make that decision to get into a job, industry or field of work, ask yourself what you really want and whether there are other ways that you can accomplish your goals. Really question yourself and question everything that you may have assumed.
Since I had stopped trying to get into medicine, it was a good thing that I took something that I could get a job in and my focus and sights turned to the tech industry. It was not a good time to be looking for work – I had graduated in 2008 and that was right in the middle of the recession where companies were not inclined to hire and many, many experienced workers were out of work and willing to take on jobs with less pay just so that they could get money. After interviewing at several of my co-op companies and other tech companies, I had nothing more to show for it then some good experiences and lessons learned. Starting to get a little desperate, I started applying to jobs abroad, mostly in Canada but also in the States to see if I could get a job somewhere, somehow. Luckily for me, the Government of Alberta called me for an interview for a position called “Emerging Technologies Specialist”. I interviewed, they liked me and offered me the job – again, I had another decision to make at this time – do I take the job, move to Edmonton, away from my family or should I refuse and try to find something local? My reasoning at the time was that I would take the job, do the work for a few years but look to relocate back to Vancouver at some point in the future. Well, several years passed by and while the GoA job was very cozy and not stressful at all, I just didn’t think that I could last for another 20+ years to get the full pension. I was getting bored and maybe more dangerous, I was becoming a bit complacent with my skills and experience and not doing what I knew that I could be doing, which was incredible work that had a significant impact on others.
I was really quite lucky then to have met a Senior Manager from Deloitte who asked if I was interested in working in management consulting. I knew next to nothing about consulting but I knew it represented a great growth opportunity – I would be able to work on many different business and technology transformation projects and have the chance to help organizations improve in some meaningful way. After a few years at the GoA, i jumped to Deloitte.
It’s not just about keeping your eye open for opportunities. Look to see who the most ambitious people are in your network and stay close to them. If you don’t have any ambitious people in your network, put yourself in a place where you are likely to meet them -> Toastmasters, Rotary Club and other personal development-focused sessions
I’m not sure if I had mentioned this before, but I was actually a really bad consultant in my first couple of years at Deloitte. I made sloppy mistakes. I sent out e-mails where I had misspelled an e-mail address. I did not interact with clients. I did not check my e-mail once I was off work (this may have just been a Deloitte thing but it was certainly frowned upon by partners and managers as I later learned). Looking back, I bet it was only a matter of time before I was let go.
Magically, one year, I turned everything around. I decided that I would produce high quality work. I would take on additional responsibilities to help out my project manager. I took it upon myself to meet directly with clients and take some of their feedback (and abuse) on our deliverables. When I turned things around, I started to get onto more and more projects (when you do good work, everybody wants you on their projects). Things were looking really great. In addition, in my spare time, I had got into reading, writing and other personal development activities. Many of these ‘hobbies’ started bleeding into work. I volunteered to write for a monthly Deloitte newsletter where I interviewed Deloitte team members on the projects that they were working on, the advice they have for other consultants, lessons learned from client interactions, etc. When writing became a bit much, I started exploring videos and recording / editing video interviews. Part of it was that I was lucky to have some hobbies that could translate into work activities but I also believe there are different ways to incorporate your hobbies, no matter what they are, into your work in some way.
What do you like to do in your spare time? How can some of these skills and lessons be used in your work? For example, if you are vegan like one of my best friends, could you hold sessions on healthy eating and living?
From my work at Deloitte, I switched to EY – it was really the same type of work for more money so I thought why not? At EY, I quickly established myself doing many of the things that I was starting to get good at in Deloitte – design started featuring heavily in many of my deliverables. While it may not be the best thing to be known for, I like to think that I do some excellent work designing powerpoint and teaching others on how to speak and present professionally (again, a way that I introduced one of my hobbies (Toastmasters) into work).
This is a bit of a longer post but I wanted to end with some of my thoughts on what’s next for me and how you can figure that out for yourself. I look towards some of the more senior roles in my company and at other organizations and I believe that my next stage of life is to understand how to sell, develop relationships and to do business development activities. Some of the other things that I may need to learn include managing others, managing projects, learning more technical skills and writing and communicating. What is all this heading towards? Maybe a senior management role. Maybe my own business. I’m not sure but I do know that I need to develop the skills so that I can put myself in a position to succeed.
Where does that leave you? Here are some questions to ask yourself as you look to reinvent yourself:
- Have you been in your job for several years (3 – 5 years)?
- Are you still growing? Improving? Do you feel challenged in your day to day activities?
- Is there a logical career path? For those that are higher up from you, what skills do they have that you don’t?
- What are some skills or hobbies that you enjoy doing outside of work? How can these be used at your current job to increase the number of the things you love doing?
- What do you hate doing at your job? How can you get rid of some of these things either through money, time or hacks?
- Do you feel complacent in your work? Is it just a daily grind where you look towards the weekends every time you get into work on Monday?
- Where do you want to end up? What do you want to do? A good way to know this is to look at what you do on Saturdays / Sundays when you have nothing to do and can do anything you want. Do you read? Do you garden?