While you’re on school you see the trail, you just have to walk it. Choosing college was your first decision. But when you finish it the trail stops. Now it’s up to you.
My country told me to go to primary school (1st-4th grade). My country told me to continue (5th-9th grade). My teachers told me I should continue. My psychometrics told me I should choose the “math, science and technology field” (10th-12th grade). I accepted it.
During this time I hardly excelled at something. Still, I was fairly good at studying, so I kept on. I was very objective, logical and liked solving problems – thus, it was obvious to become an engineer. I enjoyed reading about technology, working with computers, and playing games – thus, it was obvious to choose a bachelor in computer science. Finally, given that I wanted to become an engineer in computer science, the university was obviously going to be Instituto Superior Técnico (our Portuguese little MIT). So it was.
Notice that up to this point my decisions were minimal, it was almost like the society or the destiny kept leading the way, holding my hand. After my master’s degree came the “now what?” moment. Thankfully, I didn’t had to find a job, I had to choose a job. And that offered me a lot of paths to choose, all in different directions. Have you hear about analysis paralysis? My options were:
Join a software house. Here I could develop my programming skills and become a tech expert. I would create, update or maintain software. That’s it; for ever. I could hope to become a senior developer or at most a senior project manager, but I would be always working with the same solutions of the same company.
Join a consultancy company. This is the total opposite of the previous path. Here programming is just the starting point. I could use my existing programming skills to create or update solutions using different technologies, for different clients, in different countries. No routines. Projects quickly come and go. I would have a career path – from programmer, to project manager, to general manager – and along the way I would shift from hard skills to soft skills. That would come at a cost: higher expectactions, more overworking, less life. “Keep up or get left behind”.
Join a startup. I would integrate a small and highly motivated team in order to create a product/company from the ground up. I would work closely with other like-minded persons and my deliverables would be clearly noticed. The environment would be friendly, cozy, fun, crazy… risky. Indeed the startup may fail, fail to ship, fail to lift off. One can hardly promise you a career or even a salary! (But you aren’t there for the money, are you?)
Make a startup. I would prototype my idea, pitch it, and ideally change the world and leave my mark! The great thing about tech startups is that they need few resources to get started – most of the times a laptop, an internet connection and a geek are enough to get the thing rolling. Then I would need a salesman and a marketeer. This path has all the benefits of joining a startup, plus the idea’s ownership. And all the disadvantages, plus a lot more responsabilities. If anything would go wrong my head would be the first to roll.
So which path to take? By taking a specific path, which paths will get behind and which will come ahead? You have to choose and to live with your choice. Just make sure it’s the rightest choice with the amount of information you have at the moment.
I took the path of joining a consultancy company. For now.
[Update: Well, that turned out to be a bad choice.]