How to Guarantee Job Security

The truth is it doesn’t exist.

There are very few guarantees in life and having absolute job security is not one of them.

There is something you can  do however to make yourself the very last person on your boss’ layoff list.

Stop being a commodity.

Commodities are items, that although necessary, are easily replaceable. In the context of work, it means that the skills you possess can be easily replaced by someone or something else.

I’m the boss. You are the employee whose skills are a commodity. If you aren’t performing as well as I expect I fire you and hire someone else. If I need to save money I can pay you less. If you don’t like it I’ll fire you and hire someone that is willing to work for less.  This is why commodity work by its very nature doesn’t pay well and will pay even less or disappear altogether in the near future.

Commodity work = Zero Job Security

How do you recognize commodity work?

A rule of thumb is that if you can create a manual for it then it’s commodity work. After all, if I can create a set of instructions that anyone can follow, then as an employer, I want to find the cheapest labour. In a sense, I have dehumanized  the work.

This is literally what happened in car manufacturing.

At first it was high skilled complex work. Then came the assembly lines.

Take a complex system and break it into simple parts. Hire cheap labor to carry out the monotonous work. The less the worker uses his mind (the human element) the cheaper (more profitable) the system.

Eventually, thanks to technological progress, car manufacturers almost completely did away with the human worker in favor of machines. This fulfilled the dehumanizing  of work: Human to non-human (machine).

The scary part is that this phenomenon isn’t exclusive to blue collar work.

I see a similar trend in my line of work. Developers, working on tech that’s fairly mature, don’t get paid what they once made. Within a decade they’ve seen a significant drop in incomes. At the very least they’ll observe that there is an invisible cap.

Why is that? There surely isn’t less work. Everything is going digital.  There is more code being produced than ever before. This means there is more need for programmers to maintain it. No, demand isn’t the culprit.

We have just gotten better at breaking down complex systems into simpler parts. We have started to see programmers similar to how the  factory owners saw their assembly workers. If a task is repeatable and has a well defined set of instructions then it’s a good candidate to be outsources to someone that is willing to do it for less money.

We don’t want insight. We just want the labour at the cheapest rate. We’ll provide the instructions. They just have to follow.

If you find yourself in a position where you are being spoon-fed, know that you are walking on thin ice.

What is the alternative?

Become an Artist

Seth Godin calls these people that approach their work as if it were art lynchpins to signify their importance to the employer. Without them the figurative wheel of work would slide off.

In other worlds they are indispensable.

Art in this context doesn’t just refer to the creative or theatrical.

Art in this context requires something more than a manual. It requires you to be human. In a world that is becoming more machinelike what’s really needed is more humanity. Ironic but true.

Do you see your work as your canvas?

When confronted with a problem do you brainstorm creative solutions or just let your boss figure it out?

That presentation deck you worked on, is it just a boring powerpoint or is it a medium to make the audience feel something important?

You always have a choice. You can do work that is important or work that is just a means to  pay the bills. How you choose determines your job security, your pay and your overall satisfaction.

Conclusion: Provide more value than has been asked from you

I wasn’t didn’t go to school for computer science. In fact, I never took a programming class before I started my career as a developer.

Everything I learned was outside of school. I did not spend years freelancing or training before my first job. I don’t consider myself a great programmer by any means even today. There are plenty of people I have worked with that have far more education, experience and technical skill. Yet, my career has progressed significantly in comparison to theirs. In fact, many of them look to me for leadership.

The thing that I realized that makes me better than them is not technical skill or anything that can be easily quantified. It’s everything else. I other words – Art.

For instance I write better emails.

Most people don’t put a lot of thought into their emails like I do. I see an email as an opportunity to create value.

I take complex problems and break them down into explanations that even the most non-technical audience can understand. I use images to illustrate my points. I copy and paste samples of code and result sets. I provide detailed solutions.

These emails help bridge the gap between all stakeholders on the project. They provide reference material that can be shared by others indefinitely. I have sent emails 2 years ago that people still use and ask me questions on when they run into an issue.

The emails also have the pleasant side effect of illustrating my communication skills to senior leadership. People view me as a subject matter expert because these emails give me a certain level of authority.

I took something everyone does every hour of every day in most organizations and transformed it into a medium that enables me to tell my story. No one asked me to do this or taught me how. There was no rule book that I followed.

Art is valuable because there are no rules. This is what makes the artist and his art valuable.

Do more than what is asked.

Put yourself into it.

Share your story.

Make your work yours.

This way your work will have your essence which makes it one of a kind -irreplaceable.

Programmers, writers, engineers etc can be replaced but YOU can’t.

On the other hand if you find yourself in a place that punishes your for making art, that discourages you from doing things differently, that wants you to only follow instructions and any deviation is frowned upon – Leave.

If you don’t then you will be forced to sooner or later. That, I can almost guarantee.

 

 

 

 

 

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Late Night Interview: What keeps me up at night

What keeps you up at night?

I am going to be 30 in a week. Leaving my twenties isn’t scary in itself. What worries me is whether the window to have done something remarkable has closed.

I don’t want to end up with just an ordinary life. I want to leave a mark. Create something. Do important work.

The thought of none of the above happening is what keeps me up. The thought of failing.

What do you consider remarkable or important work?

I value creativity, independence and ownership. I feel this urge to create. To look inward and to express it outwardly.

If I can make a living creating value through the act of creation I would consider it important and remarkable.

Can you create something remarkable without getting paid for it?

I guess I could.

It’s not about money though really. It’s about time.

I work 8-10 hours a day. This really limits the amount of time I can explore creative outlets for self expression. If I can get paid to create then I can just spend my time creating stuff.

It’s never really been about money for me. Its been about having the luxury of time to explore. Right now I don’t feel like I have much of that because of my job.

Do you not feel you aren’t doing remarkable important work at your job?

I sometimes feel like I do. And sometimes I don’t.

I work for an international bank as a Data Architect. I leverage the banks data to deliver insights that can be exploited. There is a fair bit of creativity and autonomy involved.

I don’t have a set start and end time. I can work from home whenever I want.So the schedule is fairly flexible but I do average over 40 hours a week. I can contribute ideas and find creative solutions to the banks problems. So yes there is creativity that I exercise regularly.

However, I also spend a lot of time in meetings that I would rather not attend, reading emails that I would rather not read and worrying about deadlines. The work keeps piling on and getting things done trump finding new ways to do things. There is a lot of bureaucracy and admin work to stay on top of as well. So a good chunk of the work is the opposite of what I consider creative.

The projects I work on are definitely important from the bank’s perspective. But, they aren’t personally important to me. The work I do belongs to the bank. I don’t have complete ownership. It’s not on my terms. I can leave and someone else can take my place and it won’t make a difference to the bank in the grand scheme of things.

If you could leave your job now what would you do?

That’s what I’m trying to figure out. That’s sort of why I started this WordPress blog in the first place.

I always liked writing. So I figured if I keep writing my thoughts, feelings and aspirations then maybe I’ll uncover a pattern.

I also write down 10 ideas a day. I was posting them up here but started to just do it in Evernote. I’m hoping that doing these things might bring me closer to what I want to do.

We should continue this another time. It’s getting late and you look tired.

You’re right. I am beat. Goodnight

 

 

 

 

 

How to Choose Your Undergraduate Major

When I was in high school I had no idea what I wanted to do.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I knew what I liked.

We all know what we like.

Don’t believe me?

What did you spend your time doing when you were young and had all the time in the world?

Did you read books?

Yes?

What sort of books?

Did you try to write your own stories?

Or maybe you made things. Or  you broke things just to put them back together.

For me, it was reading and writing.

I have always been an avid reader.  I still read more than anyone I know.

I remember my mother buying me a set of Encyclopedias when I was 8 years old. World Book Encyclopedia Volumes A – Z was a godsend to appease my unflinching curiosity.

I used to try to write as well when I was a kid. I didn’t do it for validation or to make money. I did it because I enjoyed the process of creation. There was a certain magic I felt when I would read the stories my hand had crafted. This satisfaction carried over to school when I would have to write essays and term papers. Where others felt frustration I only felt intellectual satisfaction.

So when it came time to pick a major you would expect me to have gone with the obvious choices for someone that liked to read and write – something in the humanities or social sciences.

Wrong.

Trust yourself

No one will ever know you like YOU.

The world told me that majoring in any subject that enabled me to merely practice my passions – reading and writing –  weren’t good enough. You should pick something practical I was told. Unfortunately, I listened.

I decided to be practical.

I felt, at the time, that I wasn’t mathematically inclined so I stayed away from anything that needed a lot of numbers. At the same time, I stayed away from subjects that didn’t require any numbers as well, because in my mind somehow I associated careers that required math with worldly success.

The practical choice I felt, with the little research I did, was business management. I saw classes like marketing and though “Memorizing and a little writing… I can do that!”.  I saw subjects like economics, finance and accounting and assumed the math couldn’t be that bad. Someone told me it was all basic arithmetic (They were wrong. Finance is actually pretty math heavy).

I soon realized the folly of dedicating 4 years to something you aren’t passionate about. You leave with little value in relation to the money and time I spent.

(I actually found a deep appreciation for business and finance years after I was done with my undergrad. I learned more on my own than I ever did in school).

I think back to what I had learned in my 4 years there and the only subjects that come to mind are the electives that I took. The reason is clear. I chose my electives because I was genuinely interested. Which is always the right reason.

Actually, it should be the only reason.

The right approach

Don’t get caught up thinking about the future all that much.

People change and so will you.

It is very likely that by the time you are 10 years into your career what you did in your undergrad will be entirely different than what you are doing.

I majored in business but ended up as a software engineer. Pretty ironic for someone who felt he wasn’t good at math. I do still read and write a lot though (even if it’s mostly code).

Having said that  below are some points if you  ever find yourself feeling like you HAVE to pick a major rather than WANTING to pick one:

  1. Think about what you are good at, what you enjoy doing and what you do the most. Usually there will only be a handful of things that all 3 of these things apply to.
  2. Find people that you admire professionally. This could be your dad’s friend or a public figure. Connect with them in anyway possible. Leverage platforms like Linkedin to see what their skills, experience, education and interests are. Try to identify majors that align with their skill-sets and education.
  3. Get immersed into the subject. If its computer science; join meetups for developers, subscribe to tech blogs, start hobby projects, watch youtube videos, read books. Do as much as you can before you enroll into the program. This way everything you study will have relevance and therefore will be so much more valuable.
  4. If you still don’t know what to choose then just don’t. Simple as that. Don’t make the mistake of picking something just because you feel like you need to because everyone else is. Take a year off to figure things out. Make it a year of self exploration. Try different things. It beats spending money and time doing something just for piece of paper.
  5. You can always reinvent yourself. Just know that if you find yourself in a major you hate you can switch. A year delay isn’t that big a deal in the gran scheme of things. You might even realize that you don’t need school to do what you want.

 

Closing Thoughts

The important thing is you are engaged. You learn new things. You forge new experiences. New friendships. New points of view.

These are the things you will carry with you.

Your area of study in your undergrad does not have as much impact on your future as you might think.

Remember, your education in this modern economy doesn’t guarantee you material success.

What does matter is your attitude, creativity and passion. What matters is being a contrarian. Standing out.

Doing things just because they are safe or practical is the opposite.

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t be Irrational… please

In the beginning

cavman

Modern humans have been around for 200,000 years. This means that the brain we possess today is fundamentally no different than that of our cave dwelling ancestors.

Thinking about it anther way – The most intelligent human 200,000 years ago was likely just as intelligent as Stephen Hawking – At least biologically. Yet, he almost certainly explained his reality in the most irrational way.

According to him storms were the result of the gods being angry, fire was magical and the realm of the gods, animals were demons or benevolent spirits… the list of his irrational beliefs goes on and on.

Modern Cavemen

modern-caveman

For majority of our existence, the beliefs of our more recent ancestors were probably no different than those of the early cavemen. For instance it wasn’t until the 19th century, thanks to the work of Galileo and Copernicus a few centuries prior, that it was accepted that the sun was a star. For hundreds of years prior, philosophers and free-thinkers were executed on charges of heresy for making similar claims.

So for most of human history , despite having the same biological instrument that enabled space flight, human civilization traversed though time with a world view that had not even the faintest semblance to reality.

The Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution

enlightenment

Then there was this thing in the 19th century called the enlightenment.

What followed was that in  a few hundred years we unmasked the mysteries of the universe,drastically reduced world famine, decrease child mortality significantly, invented vaccines and explored the heavens. This is truly remarkable. To put it in perspective we accomplished all this in less than 0.15% (300/200000 x 100) of the time we’ve been on this planet.

What do we owe this to?

Answer: Reason

We are fundamentally irrational beings.

Human history is a testament to that fact.

Reason takes effort. Our ability to reason has transformed humanity  from a state of serfdom to one where the common man enjoys a level of luxury that even the kings of old couldn’t afford.

Yet, despite all that it has given us, it is constantly under the threat of being usurped by the irrational . This article by the New York Times illustrates that most people even today in the post industrial age are irrational.

We fall pray to false beliefs constantly. We succumb to our emotions. We commit fallacies every day like the conjunction fallacy talked about in the article.

Why?

Yes, we are fundamentally irrational but rationality is something that can be learned. Isn’t this a failure of our education institutions? We teach students things they might never use like calculus yet fail to teach them the methods needed to think logically; to evaluate arguments objectively.

Logic shouldn’t be a subject that a college student is exposed to by accident if he happens to take the right philosophy elective. It should be a fundamental part of their education starting from the time they first set foot in school.

Or else…

sheeple

We create a society that hands over power to those that should never have any.

A society of “sheeple” that take on massive amounts of debt, unprecedented in history, while incomes regress.

We stand idle watching our liberties, that reasonable and rational men fought hard to preserve, be taken away, one by one under the guise of saving us from an irrational fear.

We become a society of fear and fear mongering instead of one of hope and optimism.

Please don’t let that happen. 

It isn’t a law of nature that societal progress follows the arrow of time. We can go backwards just as we can go forward. Ask the Romans, they’ll agree.

10 Ideas Daily [Day 5]: Service Ideas for Small Businesses

1. Database and analytics consulting for small businesses

Small businesses capture significant data about their customers, clients and vendors. However, they lack the knowledge, skills and resources to build systems and applications for analytical reporting.

2. Content Marketing and other digital services

This is pretty self-explanatory. Small businesses could use the help of companies that specialize in internet marketing, social media branding etc.

3. Project management and business analyst services

Big companies have formalized processes and documentation in place created by business analysts and project managers.

Small businesses would work more efficiently if these processes were established for them. A consulting business could establish processes and procedures, formal documentation and training the staff on best practices.

4. Event planning services

Businesses might need to organize seminars to market their services. Rather than spending time in organizing the event a company could be hired to take care of the logistics behind organizing the event.

5. Paper shredding service

There is a lot of paperwork that contains sensitive information that needs to be destroyed. Small businesses don’t have the equipment and more importantly time to ensure all sensitive documents are disposed of properly.

6. Conversion of paper documents into digital

There are many small businesses that still have many of their important documents as hard-copy. This makes analysis and record keeping very hard. It also takes up valuable space.

7. Information Security Services

Small businesses are just as at risk of compromising their customer’s information as major corporations that have been in the spotlight recently. An outside firm could audit the security of the business to ensure the company’s information is safe from online and offline threats.

8. Productivity and software tool training service

Most small businesses like big company’s have staff that use MS Office products like excel, powerpoint, outlook and word. Before I worked for big corporations I worked for small businesses and noticed that the people that use tools like MS Excel don’t use it in an effective way. Onetime or routine training can be provided to the staff to teach them how to use these tools more effectively.

9. A service that connects businesses with college interns than need experience.

Small businesses often try to cut costs yet have a lot of admin work that might need to be done. Interns could help working with this for a wage below what a part-time or full time worker would get. Or they might even work for free for the experience.

10. Designing models or prototypes for businesses.

There are businesses that have an idea for a physical product but they don’t have the equipment, software, skills or knowledge to design one. They could outsource this work to a business than has the technology and expertise to provide them with models.

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Ideas Daily [DAY 4]: Ideas Related to Education

1. Teach enterprise technology skills to college students and recent graduates

There is a shortage of skills in enterprise technology. There is a reason why most of the the work in the United States is done by h1b workers.

Schools don’t teach their students enterprise technology made by companies like Oracle or SAP. Yet, there is a lot of demand for these jobs but not enough of local supply.

A business can be built outsourcing the teaching to individuals in developing countries who have the skills and marketing the courses to American college students.

2. Create a website where community college students can trade/sell used books.

I noticed that students in community colleges in Southern California still rely on paper ads posted on walls to market their used books. Facebook is also used via a Facebook page.

A website that can streamline the process would be a lot more efficient way to do this. It would allow students to search for a book based on their college, course code, author, subject etc.

3. Highly customizable career counseling that is relevant to the needs of the knowledge based economy. 

When I was in school I felt the career counsellors were out of touch with the market place. I never found their advice particularly valuable or helpful. I doubt things have changed all that much in the last 7 years.

4. An agency that connects college students with companies for short term employment opportunities. The agency is responsible for screening, training and placing the students on the job and providing ongoing support and feedback to the students.

In my experience there are virtually no well paying (or even not so well paying) professional jobs for students fresh out of college. Even entry level jobs require a few years of experience.

My university did have a respected co-op program but I didn’t feel like it was good enough.

Instead an agency that would build partner with universities and companies for in demand jobs where companies have a skill shortage might be the answer.

The agency would provide training and support to the students. This would give the companies that hire them confidence and provide students with the experience they need once they graduate.

5. Start an organization that provides workshops on in demand technology skills to kids in lower-income marginalized communities.

I am a firm believer that there is a shortage of skills in the United States when it comes to tech. For instance, many kids know how to use smartphones but they don’t understand or appreciate the engineering behind it.

In a world where every part of our lives is getting a technological makeover, those that don’t have easy access to the knowledge get left behind. Children in marginalized communities often don’t have adequate exposure to this knowledge that separates them from being mere consumers to producers.

6. A Social Platform for students to connect with mentors.

Think of something like Linkedin  where the people on there are divided into 2 groups.

Group 1 are mentors who are on there to share their experiences. This is something that I can relate to now. I enjoy sharing my experiences and advice with young people who are interested in a career in my industry.

Group 2 are students that want to know exactly what the profession they are in is like. They want that personal connection with someone whose shoes they plan on filling in the future.

7. A platform where students can provide ideas and detailed solutions to problems that specific businesses face. The students own their ideas and solutions. The businesses can then hire the students for a paid internship to help in the execution of the idea.

This is pretty self explanatory. I’ve always felt that the best way to learn is to solve important problems that reward you once they’re solved. That is how it works in the real world. The current education system takes the opposite – Solve problems that are hypothetical and irrelevant to the student.

8. A platform that pulls in all the free content (video lectures etc) and organizes it to mimic actual university programs.

This might already be done but I haven’t seen anything that is highly polished and organized across various disciplines.

9. Have a platform where all printable content created by students is uploaded into a uniform cloud service shared across schools.

There is so much content created by students. So much of it is lost and forgotten. This is a shame because the content created by students can be personally empowering.

Students would be able to see how their writing for instance progressed throughout their years in school. The content could be analyzed to help improve the curriculum or the education system as whole.

Perhaps the next great thinker can be discovered while she is still in school.

10. An incubator for high school students with ideas instead of college.

In a knowledge based economy where information is democratized  the currency is creativity and execution. There needs to be a formal alternative to the traditional university for ambitious kids with great ideas.

Students should be able to acquire student loans and put it towards an incubator that will teach them the skills needed to execute their ideas.

Worst case  -They will gain valuable practical experience on what it takes to be a a resourceful entrepreneur.

Best case  – They will start a successful business that’ll pay off their loans and then some.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Ideas Daily [Day 3]: Career Advice

 

Below are 10 post ideas on career advice. These ideas are general and not targeted towards a specific career.

  1. How to get out of a job you hate and into one that you like
  2. How to get a good job with no experience
  3. Well paying careers (>$80 k) you can get into with no college education.
  4. How to negotiate a signing-bonus and other perks
  5. How to ensure job security
  6. In demand careers for the creatively inclined
  7. Essential skills for majority of knowledge based jobs in the corporate world.
  8. How to pick a career when you have multiple interests and/or are good at many things.
  9. Careers that pay the most with minimal schooling (>$150 k)
  10. Changing careers at any point in your life.