The Tech Industry Rewards Gladiators

A lot of people have asked me about how I was able to rise so fast in tech. I’m going to be brutally honest here and not everyone is going to like, nor agree with my answer but this an honest evaluation of what I have experienced being in tech in Silicon Valley for the past 10 years, in both large tech companies and small start ups…

When it comes to how I was able to rise so quickly, my formula is simple: Be hungry, eat, and move. Be a gladiator. Always look for bigger, better, and to climb higher. Staying at one company is a mistake if you want fast growth. I stayed with each company until I couldn’t grow anymore within a reasonable amount of time. Then I moved on and up.

There’s a slow way and a fast way to grow. The fast way is uncomfortable. It means growing as much as you can at one place and then moving on. Each time you move on, you move up. Don’t make lateral moves. When I say move up, I don’t just mean more money. I mean the new job should offer you at least two of the following three things: more money, higher title, or more impactful responsibilities.

Movement is uncomfortable because it is outside of your comfort zone and it often means taking roles that you might not quite be ready for yet. It requires doing whatever it takes through hard work, to be successful in that role. This includes things like learning as you go, researching new topics, and teaching yourself new skills. Not asking or expecting anyone to hold your hand. There is high risk, high reward with this method.

The slow and easy way is complacency and comfort. It lives inside of the comfort zone. The comfort zone is a nice place but nothing grows there. This involves staying at one company, expecting to get a small raise every year and hoping to get recognized for your hard work. This also involves things like maybe or maybe not getting that promotion after a few years or getting passed up for that promotion. (When you eat and move, you are giving yourself that promotion.)

Some people want that stability and safety. I understand that and that is fine for them. It’s low risk, low reward. In my opinion, graduating college and getting that first real job is like merging onto the freeway. If you stay at that job because it’s safe and comfortable, that is the equivalent of getting on the freeway and never leaving the slow lane.  

When it comes to skills, never underestimate the importance of soft skills, personality, and likability. At the end of the day, people want to work with people they like and get along with. Just because you are a stellar performer at work, does not mean you will grow or move up.

Personality counts far more than you may think. For example, being a great programmer will get you a job but if that’s all you can do well, and people don’t like you, it won’t take you much farther than that. People are getting smart in the Silicon Valley and are tolerating brilliant jerks less and less. You need to learn and practice soft skills just like any other skill.

When it comes to a degree and credentials. There are plenty of professions where a degree and formal credentials are necessary. Doctors, lawyers, and hard sciences for example. Tech is not one of them. If you have a degree, that’s great. A degree will give you a good foundation to get a job and get your foot in the door but it ends there. The rest is based on your actions. Once you’re in the company, you’re all just gladiators in the same arena. Your degree might give you an extra piece of armor but trust me, you care more about your credentials than anyone else does.

Look, I understand many people worked very hard and spent a lot of time and money to earn their degree. They may even feel that it entitles them to something. It got their foot in the door but like I said, now everyone is in the same arena. I’m not saying a degree is worthless but chances are, it is worth less than they think it is. If a company isn’t willing to give you a chance because you lack formal education credentials, it’s their loss. That kind of outdated, dinosaur thinking is a contributor to how company culture can cause companies to fail.

A gladiator is someone who has grit, never gives up, and is willing to use unconventional methods to not only succeed in the arena, but to get into the arena in the first place. There are many approaches to success and sometimes the non traditional ones can make for the fastest growth because you aren’t stuck to one growth trajectory ladder.

I think in today’s world, especially in forward thinking tech, there are many companies where you can get into the arena (get your foot in the door) by using unconventional methods like networking or your connections for example. Once you are in the arena you are in control of your destiny. You can succeed based on the experience you gain, your drive, the skills you learn, and your work ethic. So start brainstorming the different ways you can get yourself into the arena.

If you’re already in the arena, it doesn’t matter what your role or title is, pay attention to your contributions. Are you a contributor? What have you contributed? How has your contribution positively impacted the company? Think like a business leader. Be a gladiator!!


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