Life Lessons after being in Tech for 15 years

Dinakaran Sankaranarayanan


Life Lessons after being in Tech for 15 years

I wrote something last year after completing 14 years in the industry

And I thought I would give it a try again this year. I do not want to make this a yearly affair. But 15 years had a nice ring to it. A decade and half.

While I do not have any concrete well-defined thoughts around my career, work and life, I will try to distil all the learning here.

Never lose your curiosity

Tech is all about being curious. Being a Curiosity Rover helps. What one lacks in talent can be bridged by being curious. Jump into the deep end of the spectrum and get to know more. Improve intellectual curiosity.

I was curious about totally irrelevant things and start reading about obscure things just because I find them curious. There is no immediate benefit of getting to know more about it. But I still do.

And it so happens that a few months or years later, this extra bit of knowledge gained out of this curiosity help me to deal with situations better.

Increase luck surface area

Luck, Randomness and Serendipity play a major role in success. In addition to putting in all the efforts, increase the chances of getting lucky. A chance encounter may help to meet someone who can change your life.

I had one such mentor who helped me realize my hidden potential. While meeting him was pure luck, there were little things and efforts made earlier that helped the universe align and made this chance encounter possible.

Not making a decision is in itself a decision

Most of us suck at making decisions. But what we may not realize is not making a decision is also a decision. The more we delay, the more our options keep running out.

Making decisions without complete information is a skill. Some decisions are reversible and involve less risk. We should be able to decide quickly and make attempts to see how it pans out. Only for decisions that are irreversible, additional care and research are required.

I regularly get into this habit of analysis paralysis and that impedes my decision making capability because I want to cover all bases. Thus delaying decisions leading to sub-par outcomes.

Perfection is the enemy of progress

Do not wait for the perfect moment or opportunity. It may never come. Start with something and optimize as and when required based on the learning and feedback. It may not be very obvious where the path leads us to, but standing at the same place can lead us to nowhere.

I write a newsletter and blog once in a while and less than 10 people may read it. But the benefit of writing every single week makes me read and keep expanding my knowledge. I have no idea what benefit would I derive from this, but like Steve Jobs says, We can only connect the dots backwards.

Avoid the sunk cost fallacy mindset

I had gained decent expertise in a particular stack for nearly 10 years. And then it went out of demand. I realized it in Year 7, but I did not quickly move on. I persisted and waited for 3 more years, only to find fewer and fewer opportunities thereby making myself relevant.

It was only when I ran out of all options did I make the decision to move on. There may be times when all the experience we gained over time may become irrelevant. There is no point in continuing just because we spent a lot of time and energy to gain experience. Overcome the sunk cost fallacy.

Deal with Imposter Syndrome

Nobody understands every single thing that they are doing with their life and career currently. I repeat. Nobody really understands and have figured out stuff.

Everyone is still figuring out and dealing with their inner demons as they learn new things and face new challenges. So avoid the imposter syndrome. All of us are struggling in our own ways, it is just that we don’t get to hear or see their stories.

Habit Formation and Daily Routines can do wonders

While all of us have goals, what we lack is a system to achieve these goals. Habits and Routine can help us to reach goals. Building a daily morning routine can help in the long run immensely. The idea must be to improve 1% every day. Atomic Habits is one of the best books that I have read about Habit Formation.

While it is very difficult to maintain routines day-in and day-out and I tend to slack every now and then, I try to maintain the routine.

_“Most people overestimate what they can achieve in a year and underestimate what they can achieve in ten years” - Bill Gates

Connect yourself with a like-minded community

Find and be part of an online/offline community. Connect with people who have similar goals as you. Learning and Building new habits can be easier in an environment where we get to meet and connect with people with similar goals.

Getting to watch the struggles and victories of others injects a strong sense of urgency and creates a realm of realistic possibilities and outcomes.

I started following lot of people in the tech community through Twitter , Youtube and other social media. It helped me to get introduced to a lot of other like minded folks. These helped me to read more and more relevant content.

Change is Messy. Move out of your comfort zone

Change is always messy. Progress and Results/Outcomes take a really long time. It is boring and unsexy. The only option is to show up every single day with focus and persistence. Focus on the process, not on the outcome. Be Consistent and Persistent.

There tend to be times when burnout creeps in. Take a break. Re-energy and start again once. All of us go through this and it is quite natural too. There are weekends when I literally want to do nothing. I do not push myself too much when that is the case. I take frequent breaks as and when required.

Invest in small bets

There may be 100 different paths before us to choose from. Choosing anything that is drastic from what we do currently may become a challenge. Efforts required may be huge and can become a non-starter. It can demoralize us. Remember the Goldilocks rule. Goals should not be too easy, but also not too hard. It should be possible to reach with sustained efforts.

Online self-learning is unparalleled

Blogs, newsletters are in plenty. Youtube is the best learning management system ever. Make the best use of the newer tools available on the internet, for free. Use Feiyman’s approach for learning. Learn anything in the most original and extremely accessible way. And try to explain to others, as if explaining to a 5-year-old.

Build a learning system/ process

Replace Work-Life Balance with Work-Life Integration

There are no Monday - Friday 9 am - 6 pm careers anymore at least in tech. So what is a good measure of whether you enjoy your career and work? If you are curious to read anything loosely related to your work when you are free or at weekends, then you are on the right track.

There are no boundaries here. One can read about an interesting thing about work on Sunday night without getting overwhelmed and totally do nothing on a Monday morning. Reaching this level means you do not despise the work and your career.

Again there may be times when you are swamped with work and all you want to do is take a good goddamn break. And this is alright. But being able to spend free time over reading something around work instead of binge-watching something on Netflix or doom scrolling social media can help in the long run. Power of compounding.

Life is not fair, get used to it

  • Life gives you what you want when you are not ready for it.

  • Life gives you what you want when you no longer need it.

  • Life never gives you what you want at the exact moment when you need it.

Such is life. Get used to it.

If you don’t ask , the answer is always NO

As simple as that. This had a profound impact on my life these days. There are times when I wanted to ask someone for help, but would not muster the courage. Then I keep wondering if I should have reached for help.

But these days I ensure I always ask people around.

Focus is the superpower of the century

There are one million things to learn but very few hours. Being super focussed is a superpower and not all of us possess it. Anyone who is able to reign on all the distractions and able to focus on the long terms goals would stand tall over others.

Same efforts but outcomes change our perception

There are times when we make all efforts and the outcomes will make us feel good or bad about ourselves. Positive results would make us overstate our ability about how we planned this well and executed it flawlessly. And not so positive results would lead to disappointment questioning our ability and be hard on ourselves.

Instead of comparing ourselves with others, comparing our present version with the past will be more meaningful as it gives us a lot of context on the path we have come across over years.

Obstacle is the path

Stop running from obstacles. Obstacle is the path. When faced with any challenge, develop a growth mindset and try to deal with it in the best possible way.

If it is an obstacle for you, it may be an obstacle for others too. And those who reign and are persistent will emerge successfully.

Having said all of these, there are times when life sucks invariably. No amount of self-motivation, productivity can help. Things do not go as planned. I forget every single wisdom and make decisions that lead to terrible outcomes. Such is life. There is no option but to endure it.

Life is all about the journey, not the destination.

It took me really a decade to understand and internalize this simple fact of life.