14 Years In Tech 14 Life Lessons

Dinakaran Sankaranarayanan


14 Years In Tech 14 Life Lessons

This 17th of July, I completed 14 years in the Tech Industry. It has been a whirlwind ride. What is life when one cannot take the time to reflect? I wish someone told me this when I started my career.

1. Find / Follow a great boss, instead of a company

This cannot be stressed enough. Finding amazing boss or leaders to work leapfrogs your career by a few years easily. Their culture, ethic and energy can be infectious. In my 14 years of experience, I had one or two people who have shown me what it means to lead. There is a sense of aura when they are around. They shown immense trust, respect and mentor you in remarkable ways and make you realize all the hidden potential. They make you in believe in yourself and get the work done magically. Between working in great companies vs a good boss, always choose the latter.

2. You are responsible for your life, do not claim victimhood

Irrespective of whatever happens to you at work, learn to manage the situation. It is always difficult, but navigating the choppy waters of the professional work environment is part of the necessary growing up. You may end up in a hostile environment, un-supportive workers or a bad boss. But do not claim victimhood. Finding a way out or turning around the situation is part of the unwritten job description. Nothing can come in your way of moving ahead if we are determined.

Luck favours the prepared and determined mind. Put in 100% genuine efforts thereby chances of lucking out on something is more. Make serendipity happen. Luck or Being at the right place at the right time cannot alone is not enough most of the time.

3. Overcome impostor syndrome

There is always this notion of everyone around me being so smart and talented. Despite putting our best effort , one cannot avoid feeling like shit every now and then. One way to overcome is to calibrate focus and document the progress from time to time, journaling helps to a great extent. Focus on the fears and make honest and geniune attempts to address one step at a time. Learn, unlearn and relearn, rinse and repeat.

But stay out of hype of Resume Driven Development. Stop chasing fancier stuff. Build one skill really well, gain absolute mastery. It is fine to be Jack of all trades, but Master Of One is mandatory. And then hope that one skill never goes out of fashion or till the time you pick something else.

4. Keep checking yourself on the job market. Follow the money gravy train

Whether you love your job or company or the great environment, from time to time it is important to keep a tab on the job market to measure worthiness. Forget the money part for a moment. If you can find another job easily, then you are on the right track. But if you are struggling to get a job or even a job interview, it is time to take notice of the situation and introspect. If the job market is not valuing your skills, at some point in time, the company where you work too may end up feeling the same.

Every time you feel comfortable with work and you seem to make no mistakes, it essentially means the work is not challenging and offer no space to grow. Never get comfortable and dread into the rabbit hole of complacency. Throw yourself into uncomfortable zones and develop the skill of coming out unscathed.

5. Walk to the other side to know more

One common issue with working in tech is boxing yourself to specialization and not trying to learn anything extra on what is happening around, even within the same team or company. Getting to know the in and out of work stuff that is happening around us feels like a chore, but many times it helps to do the work better because of the unique perspective that you may end up having. And this can surprisingly help your career. You can only connect the dots backwards.

6. Learn to live comfortably with regrets and failures

Nothing kills us inside than our regrets and failures. It keeps cropping at the most vulnerable time and play games with the mind and heart. While it is hard to escape it, what helps is a few quick wins and measurable way of improving upon oneself.

One positive way of looking at regrets and failures is transporting us to the same situation and looking at the circumstances that led us to the decision. We may have been young, optimized for something else and may end up making similar decisions even if we time travel. Hindsight is 20-20.

Learning to make decisions with 30 to 40% information is a skill one had to deal with and it may be forced upon us. This may be awkward and difficult in the beginning. There may be an air of ambiguity that may engulf and let you wallow with self-doubt. But always remember, what is worse than making the wrong decision is not deciding at all. Analysis Paralysis is a bigger monster.

Embrace imperfection, live with it.

7.Do not take work-life balance for face value

Do not skip the me-me or family time at any cost. Priotize health and family to a higher level. Any single day of missing a walk or planned health routine must be equated to taking a day-off at work for no reason. Time to put the already-learnt but never-followed wisdom into action.

8. Build a morning routine

I cannot stress this enough. Having a routine in life can help to streamline the daily grind better. Building a morning and learning routine, diligently following it can do wonders to your life at many levels. Practising gratitude and journaling can help. Small atomic improvements over a sustained period of time would lead to terrific results in the long term. Atomic Habits by James Clear helped me get some really interesting perspective on this.

9. Talent is overrated

One need not be an awesome gifted developer or nerd to make it big in tech. Talent is overrated, anyone can acquire skills with sustained focus efforts. What one may need is enthusiasm and unbridled curiosity to solve problems. Passion and Perseverance come second to none. Grit by Angela Duckworth conveys this idea succinctly.

10. Shut yourself away from losers and get into the zone of positivity

Push yourself into an environment of positivity, doers and achievers. Dealing or managing a hostile environment is unavoidable, but don’t stay there for too long.

You become what you want to become. It is not necessary to carry and worry about every problem around us. Focus on the circle of influence, rather than on the circle of concern and maximise the circle of influence that helps to better control life.

11. Burnouts are real. Focus on self-care.

Life sucks at times. Motivation and Enthusiasm can sap off at times and everything may look like a drag. Burnouts are real. We are not machines. Take breaks. Skip a planned activity or two once in a while. Go bonkers and do crazy stupid stuff. But make sure to come back.

12. Spend less time on TV, Social Media and Smartphone.

Less time on TV, Social Media and smartphone will suddenly give you more hours to spend. Even if you have nothing else to do, just pass time aimlessly. Spend time on focussed and dedicated time to reading anything - books, blogs, podcasts etc you like and love. This single thing alone helped me to a great extent at work. Avoid any activity which at the end of the day makes you regret is a sign of excess. And reducing the excess will certainly make you feel better.

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport has so much of wisdom in it.

13. On dealing with boss and appraisal

Do not fight for appraisal, performance rating and promotion. It does not matter in the long run. Have regular connect with the boss. Doing work is important, but making your boss realize you are doing good work is equally important. A little bit of marketing, self-promotion is needed.

Learn to go around or work-around gatekeepers. Crash them from time to time if required. It may feel awkward, but there is no other option at times.

Titles are not important in some sense, but titles are at times essential to have a seat in the right meeting room to make the right kind of conversations. It is quite contrary to the first statement, but there is no one universal truth either. Everything changes based on the context.

If you are experienced, Stop doing work that a fresher or 5-year experience guy can do. Look for areas where you can make maximum impact. If you are an individual contributor, the more experienced you are, the greater must be your impact on the company. If no one questions your rather ordinary work , it is a sign of less ambition that is harmful in the long run.

If your boss is not ambitious and seldom dream big, one cannot do much. Both his and your work will be impacted and he may care a little. Jump ship without batting an eyelid. Find a boss who is ambitious and can dream big. They may throw you at challenging work situations that can be dreadful, but make way for many more wonderful memories once we emerge successfully.

14. Help people around

When I was a fresher, I always wondered why no one helped me with anything. It felt to me that they were always working for self-preservation. But now I realize, I did the exact thing to others. I never checked that much on the teammates beyond the professional setup. A little bit of help and guidance could have certainly helped.

Everyone at the end of the day may be fighting a battle and trying to be the best version of themselves. At some level, nobody knows what they are doing. At the outside, it feels like they have figured out everything, but there is every possibility that they are just figuring out, like you and me.