Saturday, August 28, 2010

Career Management

When it comes to career choices there is a temptation to make sweeping generalizations. I offer my own story here requesting that you take it with a grain of salt. I think the takeaway should be not the actions I took but the process I followed. There are some people out there who develop a strong affinity to a particular subject at a very young age. For them the road ahead is more clear, for the rest of us it's more tricky. During my high school,  I did very well in the exams but I didn't display out of the ordinary brilliance in any one particular subject. When the time came to make a decision about an undergraduate degree, I chose engineering because I didn't like biology. This was the first and last decision I made by the choice of elimination.  

It is not that I disapprove completely the choice of elimination process. Sometimes that's all we have got. But once we reach a certain age, even if we are not a born genius with some introspection we can unearth what we are really passionate about. And without passion one would always find the cost of excellence too high. Again I believe this issue will be a common one for most of the above average students, those who can and will do well in their studies but haven't yet unearthed their strong foot. In other words there is no escaping this intellectual exercise for discovering your passion. One criterion I found useful and I touched upon this in a blog post earlier in my own blog is - if you can pick up a book on an industry and find yourself tempted to read a few more pages before lying down, that could be an industry you are passionate about and could excel in. And as you grow in your professional life you will get exposed to new roles and industries and may develop new interests.

In my case, software engineering was the subject that piqued my interest the most in undergrad. The fact that most of my peers found it boring didn't bother me at all. I remember browsing the Software Engineering Institute website with child-like enthusiasm. Having discovered a real interest I yearned for more opportunities to learn more. I was fortunate enough to have two great friends who encouraged me to take up GRE and apply to the top Master's programs in USA.  A year later, I was attending classes taught by Prof.Mary Shaw and Prof. David Garlan. These were the same people who wrote our undergrad texts! The icing on the cake was getting an internship at the same Software Engineering Institute I read so much about. The takeaway here is to follow your passion and chase excellence. I could've followed the herd and carried on with the job offer I got from Wipro. But I knew Wipro was not the best place for me to pursue my interests- not being complacent is vital.

My consulting experiences after Carnegie Mellon exposed me to the financial services industry and I was hooked like never before. I spent a lot of time reading about the business of my clients and acquiring knowledge that was not entirely necessary to perform my daily job. My benchmark was to be able to grasp the big picture of the op-eds in NYTimes written by folks such as Paul Krugman. I also extensively conversed on topical issues with friends from the industry to learn from their insider perspectives. As I learned more about the broad landscape I gravitated towards certain areas of the industry- Investment Banking. While I was in this pursuit, financial services transformed from the hottest career path to the deadbeat one. Nevertheless today I'm pursuing an MBA at one of the top business schools to succeed in making this transition to a career in Investment Banking. The takeaway here is to not let macroeconomic developments completely change your career choice. 

If you find yourself passionate about an industry/function, figure out ways to excel in it- whether it means pursuing a new degree or just spending sometime in the public library and then get your foot in the door. Do not worry too much about whether your friends are interested in the same industry or whether the media recommends this as "the next big thing". Chasing excellence always pays off. There will always be great careers waiting for the best, no matter whether it's a recession, recovery or a bubble.
I wish you all the very best! 


  1. Hi,

    It was great post. It was nice to see how you personalize this post and connected the dots between your past and future goals.

    Nice inspiration to write my Career Goals Essay...Keep Writing :)

    Sometime visit my blog and advice me to write better:)

  2. Thanks Sanket, good luck with the apps

  3. Why do a bachelors and masters in software engg if you eventually want to get into investment banking? Thats a few precious years wasted pursuing the wrong degree, dont you think (at least in hindsight)?

  4. @anonymous- In your life and career you will be exposed to new things in different times. I pursued a master's in software engineering as I was interested to learn more about that field. And thanks to that and my consulting experiences, I've a strong understanding of the technology space. Now, if and when I do work as an investment banker, I'd be able to make intelligent recommendations for my clients within the technology sector for the same reason.
    In other words, you always build on your previous education and professional experiences, there are a lot of transferable skills and knowledge than that meets the eye on first glance.

  5. Excellent Post!!Makes a good SOP :-) Did you mean it as an SOP or is this just a jotted down thought in the blog?

  6. @anonymous- This is just a thought I wanted to share. When you write your goals essay, hopefully this framework will give you more clarity.