This was a talk I was going to give to Computer Science students at my school in summer 2019 and winter 2020.
So you majored in computer science. So you know how to code. You probably have been told to death by friends, family, and school how smart you are. You are so lucky, you have so much job security unlike my ____ field.
Most of you will go work doing software at a software company. Let’s say 70%
You will be able to afford a house and spouse and kids and live pretty well in whatever part of the country you choose to live. Despite tech jobs increasing and still providing a high salary, few people in the USA seriously takes the time to study the degree. Everyone wants the job and pay though, so your interviews are going to suck. You are going to constantly have to prove you actually have your degree and can code. You will play office politics. You will frequently feel inadequate within the company and simultaneously smarter than people at other companies. You will probably want to hop around different companies every 2.5 years to get higher pay and promotions. I suggest making friends at every company and following where they go, it will be infinitely easier to get hired if they vouch for you. You will get to work on interesting tech problems and feel like a pointless cog in the machine every now and then. You will wonder if you should start a startup or go work for one. 10 years down the road you will still be making good money and some of you will be making crazy money. Your path is pretty well-traveled.
20% of you will do software work at a non-tech company
You will be able to afford an apartment or house without kids at the start of your career. If you get married, you can live pretty nicely. 10 years down the road you will be probably be at the same company and making good money. The interview will be respectful and you won’t have to jump through a bunch of hoops to prove what your resume says. Nobody will question your computer science knowledge because you will be one of the few people at the company who even understands tech. Your job will be relatively easy and stress-free Your job is pretty secure. You may be seen as a “cost center” in your company. Your job may not be very prestigious within the company. You will be surprised by how little the rest of the company knows about tech. If you are especially ambitious, you can excite the sales or marketing team with automating things they did not know you could automate. Many of your coworkers won’t be as ambitious though. You will sometimes wonder if you should have gone to work at an exciting tech company when you hear a couple of your friends made twice their salary in stock grants this year. You will have interesting business logic related problems to work on every now and then.
10% of you will do something outside of tech
You majored in Computer Science to appease your parents or chase money or don’t even know why you did. Now you finally have the freedom to live your dream. Or you will have a quarter or mid-life crisis and leave your software job. Maybe you’ll go back to school and go in another career path. Maybe you will decide you want to become an actor or make videos. Either way, your computer science knowledge will put you ahead of everyone else in that field. You will be able to automate even the small things and be more productive than your peers. You will always have a little more cash on hand than your peers (but not that much money!) while getting through struggling phase because everyone in your industry will always be looking for something related to tech. In fact, you will constantly be pulled back into computer science because “Can you help me finish my online portfolio?” If you are ambitious enough, you can use programming jobs and favors for opportunities to be close to get through doors in your industry and set you apart.
A couple of you will be a very early employee at a startup
You will work in a small, intense team and it will be mentally rewarding. Your interview may have just been a conversation. If you have a crappy coworker or cofounder, you will be spending all your waking hours with them. If you have all amazing ones, you will enjoy your work immensely. Your work/life balance will be all over the place. Your salary will be lower than average and maybe even in flux for awhile. You will wonder if you should have tried harder for a big software company when you hear your other friends starting salaries. You may get annoyed that you toiled away for 3 years while the company was still risky and now they are giving a huge signing bonus to that new executive. If the company goes under, you will feel you have wasted your time and may even become disillusioned with Silicon Valley and the startup scene. If the company does even remotely well, you will find yourself being promoted quickly without effort. After all, you have seniority and helped build everything. If you pick the startup very carefully and get lucky, you may find yourself a millionaire. One of my friends and alumni here only worked two years in his life and did this. You will have to try and be one of the first 5 employees at a company that sells for at least a billion or one of the first 100 employees at a company that goes public. You will become intimately familiar with stock tax implications.
One of you will seriously start a company
Not a side project that goes nowhere, not that one time you made a game and hey it even won some awards. No, you are actually 100% focused on making a company that may eventually become the type your peers would want to work at. You may live on your friend’s couches for awhile and your family and girlfriend will question what hell you are even doing. I did so for about 5 years. Actually am I still doing that a bit, but now its for fun. You will deal with a bunch of drama related to your cofounders that would have been easily avoided if you guys knew what you were doing and could communicate better. People outside your company will think your life is exciting because of that press article 2 years ago. People who know intimate details about your company will be very concerned, including yourself. You didn’t raise any money, but HEY! You got to pitch to a bunch of millionaires including SNOOP DOG and ASHTON KUTCHER and didn’t raise any money. That’s pretty cool, right? You may wonder why you did not or could not have gotten a tech job. The opportunity cost wasted becomes ridiculous. Every step forward with your company will feel like two steps back. Every problem will somehow feel worse as you get further. That part is hard to understand, but I am told that never goes away. Your path is wide open and the world will take you all over the place if you allow it.
Your first step is selling
If you choose to go on that last path, your first task will be learning to sell. Selling will be more important than coding. You can hot dogs on the street or air mattresses in your apartment and make money. You can code a Boston Dynamics robot and be broke. They may look like a 100% R&D shop, but even they had to sell to get their U.S. government contracts and Google to acquire them.
Lucky for you, selling is easier than learning to program. Some parts of programming are difficult hard. Sales is not. Sales is tedious hard. The basics don’t change. I’ll just tell you right now. You make a funnel.
Let’s say you have a hot dog stand. If you shout at 100 people a day on the street, 50 of them stop and talk. 25 of them will look at your hot dogs and 10 will end up buying. There’s your funnel. 10 out of 100 people end up buying. The rest is just getting more people at the start of the funnel or improving any part of the funnel. If I shout at 100 people in who don’t have their headphones in, it turns out 75 of them stop and talk. Now I get 15 sales for same effort of shouting at 100 people. I can also get a tape recorder and play it on a loop and reach 1000 people a day. Now I get 10 times the amount of sales. You may also want to add a step to your funnel for people who come back to the hot dog stand every day for lunch. Don’t get too fancy here.
The only other rule is to make more money than you spend overall and ideally increase that amount over time.
Ok ok, you can code and sell. What startup will you make?
Don’t have an idea or anything? You could pick a random one or one you saw on the internet. Most people get bored once they are a few months in though.
Here’s something you can do to bide your time. Go to China or INSERT RANDOM COUNTRY that your friends don’t typically vacation in and simply show up for a few months. Tell people you are looking for a tech or venture capital job or startups and you may find yourself in some interesting scenarios where you find opportunities. I have seen it work for more people than you think.
If you really want exact instructions, here is a way to be around entrepreneurial and ideas and only work about 15 hours a week. Buy a programmable robot, you can just Google programmable robots, and show up in a country that is doing well economically. Let’s say China. Show up and start going to school events and tell everyone you meet you teach programming to kids for $100 USD a lesson. Find about 10 kids and do this while you figure out what you want to do.