June 30, 2019 · 3 min read
When talking to almost any ambitious young person in tech, I find myself referring them to Marc Andreessen’s “Guide to Career Planning”. It’s an excellent series that I wish had been written before I graduated from college—if I’d read it then, it might have changed my entire career path.
There are two points in particular that I highlight. Stated here in my own words:
For tech, this means: move to the San Francisco Bay Area. This is where you will find the most opportunities and build the best connections. Andreessen says:
In my opinion, living anywhere other than the center of your industry is a mistake. A lot of people—those who don’t live in that place—don’t want to hear it. But it’s true. Geographic locality is still—even in the age of the Internet—critically important if you want to maximize your access to the best companies, the best people, and the best opportunities.
When I graduated, I didn’t think it mattered much what city you lived in. My plan was to do an unconstrained, nationwide job search, then go wherever the best job was. Logically, this made sense.
What I didn’t realize is that you tend to stay in a city longer than you stay in any one job. Especially since, in the world of tech startups, you’re more likely to find a great opportunity through the network of people you’ve worked with in the past than through a public job posting.
So, do the opposite of what my plan was: Pick the city with the best overall opportunities, and then pick the best job you can find there. That will set you up not only for growth in one job but also in the next, and the next.
When choosing where to work, optimize for the growth potential of the company you join. This is a combination of their current growth rate, and the total size of the opportunity they’re attacking. Ideally, join a hypergrowth company with a huge potential market.
Why? Because the growth rate of the company sets a ceiling on your personal and professional growth.
I learned this the hard way the first time I joined an early-stage startup. They’d just raised a Series A from a top VC, and I was employee number 15 or so. They seemed to have everything going for them: the founder was an experienced exec from a top tech company, they were addressing a huge market, they had a product and a strategy that made a lot of sense to me (at the time). But the company never figured out how to grow. I ended up getting promoted from engineer to tech lead, but I was never made a manager—even though I’d been a manager at Amazon previously—because we just didn’t need that many managers.
In the meantime, friends of mine from college ended up joining companies like PayPal and Facebook in their early years, and within five years or so they were engineering VPs.
The thing about a high-growth company is that there is an enormous amount of high-value work to be done. The company is so desperate for people to take ownership, that you can basically have as much responsibility as you can pick up and run with. You won’t get sidelined working on a project that isn’t very important to the company, because no one is working on anything that isn’t crucially important to the company—there’s just no room for that.
If I were joining a startup today and optimizing for growth, I’d aim for something around Series B or C: far enough along that they have proven product/market fit and have a strong growth rate, but early enough that they still have 10–100x growth left. This would translate to a last round valuation of over $100M (but probably under $1B). This is going to be a company that not only has a ton of great projects for you to tackle, but also, if things work out, and you stay for a few years, your equity will be worth a lot—if not enough to make you financially independent, then at least enough to give you a cushion of a year or so in order to found a startup.
Those are the top two points for people in the tech industry who have already graduated or are graduating soon. But the whole series is worth reading (and has more points if you’re still in school and deciding what to study). Read it: “Introduction”, “Opportunity”, “Skills and education”, “Where to go and why”.
Thanks to Cameron Koczon (@FictiveCameron) for creating the “Pmarchive” and keeping it up.
These days I do most of my writing at The Roots of Progress. If you liked this essay, check out my other work there.
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