Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Career advice debunked

Notes from a lecture by Norah Denzel at NetApp 01 April 2014. She does not endorse my transcription etc.

A few preliminary notes: She started in storage in 1984, spent 13 years at IBM. Went to Veritas, Legato, then HP, where she ran software: 10,000 consultants in 110 countries. She took 2 years off and went to Intuit, which had/has a very different model: millions of units where unit price less than $100.

She was the first person in her family to have a corporate job. When she was starting out in the work world, she asked people she knew for their advice -- the five smartest people she knew. Their advice follows, along with Norah's updated/amended (emended) version thereof.

  1. It's not what you know; it's who you know.

    Actually, the more important thing is Who knows what you know.

    You can meet all kinds of people, but unless they know your expertise, your goals, what you do—in short, what you know—all those acquaintances are just acquaintances.

    What you need is a sponsor to help you. And they won't help you unless they know where you're going and what you can do.

    Note: telling people what you do is part of your work and reduces your learning curve. You want "epiphanies at scale."

    And don't wait 'til you're done; your sponsor can help you steer your way there.

  2. Climb the ladder of success.

    Actually, it's more like "Chutes and Ladders"; it's an obstacle course. Think in terms of learning and strengthening yourself.

  3. Always tell the truth.

    Best advice ever: "We really like you. You always tell the truth. Always tell the truth, but not so much of it." Press releases are edited/tuned, and they should be.

    If somebody says, "You did a great job on X," the correct response is, "Thank you!" Do not say, "Well, I got a lot of help from Chris" or "Yes, but I wish I had done this part better."

  4. There's success and failure; just succeed.

    Well, you can play "not to lose", but that's a bad idea. Failure is part of success; learn from it and move on.

    I guess this is a lot like #2.

  5. How hard can it be? You were smart in school; just be the smartest person in the room.

    Actually you can learn the most when you're the dumbest person in the room. Being ignorant isn't anything to be feared.

A few more notes...

There are stereotypes; they can't be avoided. The question is not how to stop people from stereotyping or pigeonholing you; it's "When they do that, what are you going to do?"

Another thing. Sometimes you may want to try something more exciting; other times, you might want to stay with what's comfortable. If you have small children at home and/or a lot of other out-of-office commitments, it's entirely valid and reasonable to do the latter.

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