Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer is redefining the future of tech careers: #startups #entrepreneurs

I think of careers as a set of 3 phases of 12-15 years each. From 21 to 36 you are in the rapid learning phase, from 36 to 51 you are directing and from 51 to 66 you are guiding. These are broad brushstrokes. I am going to focus on the first “trimester” of your career in this post.

Why 12-15 years? Generally speaking, it takes most people 2 years to get a handle on anything meaningful (build a network, understand how things work), then two years to master it, and a year to start being in “the zone”. Boredom hits usually at the end of the “zone” when the juices just dont flow doing the same thing for 5 years. I am going to call this 5 year period as “doing a (one) job”.

Then most people tweak their role or go for a dramatic change in their “job” after 5 years. During the younger years most people I know are eager to learn, discover and grow their knowledge. So, they go through 3 sets of 5 year periods or “jobs”.

For most people the age of 35 (or in other cases 40) typically becomes a “mid-life crisis” point. 15 years of working can do this to anyone. That’s when a “career” change is explored.

I get about 5-7 emails and requests for calls / discussions with mid-career executives each week who want to brainstorm and get my thoughts on their career.

After the obligatory, landscape review, many realize there are few options for those who have achieved a lot by 35 – they are VP’s, Directors, Managing directors and suddenly they realize it is going to be one long haul after this.

Most folks fall into 3 buckets at this point.

1. Some decide they like “mentoring” younger people and continue to find a challenge to help others within their company grow and thrive. These folks have made enough money but not enough to leave the luxuries that their position offers.

2. Others decide they need a hobby (or want to follow their “true passion”) that will keep them occupied because work tends to be on cruise control. Many take up teaching as a side profession since they believe they have learned enough to share.

3. Still others want to venture out on their own. Having heard about entrepreneurship and always having a “bug” to startup, they usually come to seek my help on the choices and get some advice on their idea.

This is when the fun part starts.

When I present the stark reality of entrepreneurship (it is very hard, they will likely fail, though they will enjoy the ride and to build something awesome will take them over 5 years), there are 2 reactions.

The first person had not thought about it in this context and ends up understanding that they are not ready to take the risk and goes back to one of the two previous options before. They will usually say “I always wanted to start, but I kept pushing it out, since I was getting promotions, got married, had kids, school, mortgage, etc. Now it looks like it is too late”.

The second person realizes this, and understands that it is “now or never”.  The overwhelming dissatisfaction with their job pushes them to leave their high-paying, easy job to the unpredictable world of entrepreneurship. They end up taking a LOT more risk later in their career, which they can ill afford it, than when they are younger.

If you are an Indian or have many Indian friends, you will know a term that parents use (typically after they graduate) – “Settle down”.

I absolutely loathe that term.

“Settle down”.

What does that even mean? Actually I know what that means, but I guess I detest it so much, that when folks mention it, I get upset and “forget” the meaning.

Settling down is for ground coffee. You ask hyperactive kids, who have had a candy binge to, “settle down”.

Settle down to a 21-30 year old strikes me as the worst advice you can give.

[Side note: To my american friends, settle down means, get a steady job, buy a house, get married, have kids immediately, buy a car and go for Art of Living classes – all within the span of 10 years].

Why would anyone wish that on their children?

Here is what I think will happen in the next few decades.

Thanks to rapid “softwareization of work”, most people wont get a simple “middle class job” which pays well enough to “get married, buy a house and a car and have kids” all within 10 years.

Instead I think parents will have to start telling their college grads to take risks early. Jump into entrepreneurship right after college.

Why?

Simple.  Most roles at large companies will start to resemble small entrepreneurial team roles. We are already starting to see that in larger software companies and I think the pioneer of that model is –

Yahoo!

Yes, Yahoo!

That’s the future of careers and hiring. Check out their buying binge since Ms, Mayer has been the CEO.

I am positive that the impact Marissa Mayer will have is more on careers, hiring and the future of entrepreneurship than on advertising technology which is Yahoo’s business,

To all the CEO’s sitting on piles of cash and need to hire awesome teams – here is the playbook.

[Ed. That they have not produced any meaningful new products at Yahoo is not lost on me. Give them time. Innovation is never linear.]

So what does this have to do with careers?

Most parents for the next 10 years are better off telling their kids to start a company, be an entrepreneur and get acquired by someone like Yahoo. Here’s why:

Option 1: Be awesome at school, take on a $30K -$50K student loan when you graduate, then get a job – at Yahoo! – to get paid $60K / year as a starting salary.

Option 2: Start a company. If you succeed, sell it to a Yahoo-like company for $ Millions. If you fail, get acqui-hired by someone like Yahoo for $hundreds of thousands. If you fail miserably, get hired for at least 25% more than your peers who took option 1 straight out of school. Voila! You are ahead anyway.

Either way, option 2 is worth the risk.

Tell your kids to be an entrepreneur.

Settling down is for old geezers. By that time – the risk is clearly not worth it.

20 thoughts on “Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer is redefining the future of tech careers: #startups #entrepreneurs”

  1. I think while you may tell your kid to be entrepreneur it is highly likely that he would take it up only if he has the entrepreneurial streak. At least Indians are less likely to take the leap if the alternative is a good paying jobs. In a job as long as you can keep up with the johnnies, manage some politics, manage boss etc. you are likely to be doing ok. Nothing wrong with that either. I am an entreprenuer myself but I can easily understand guys who feel job is better. I would not have chosen anything else but it has not been an easy ride.

    1. Those “jobs” you mention are going to go away. Every good middle class job has its lifespan. Give it another 10+ years. The software developer role will vanish.

  2. Mukund,

    I agree wrt lifespan but I feel that in future jobs will be there only for those who constantly upgrade themselves. I am also sure people who prefer jobs will likely adapt to the new paradigm and upgrade themselves to expand the lifespan. IMO, Entrepreneurship is also a mindset.

  3. I agree software developer role will vanish. I say this seeing engineers from rural engineering colleges walking across start-ups with their resumes in Bangalore and giving money to placement/training companies and getting cheated.

  4. Right on target. I think, our careers will become more like that of sports persons / movie stars. You have a short window when you make it, after that you are seen in background or just perish. The concept of a job and settled life style will go away is a thing of past.

  5. Can’t tell you how much do I want to forward this mail to my parents. Unfortunately, they don’t have access to email as they live in a village.

    Thanks. The post made my day.

  6. Mukund, granted that risks will be significantly higher, but are you saying that “the old 35+ geezer” is doomed to fail, that there is no chance in hell that he will succeed?

    The point you make overall is well taken though.. start young…

  7. I loved this article. Loved.
    It breaks some myths, connects to a set of people, at many different levels, and de-glamorizes the whole walk down the start-up lane, without ever being too harsh or too romantic about possibilities. Yet, you summed up, what I believe is an amazing forecast in the changing economy and yes, Indian friends are realising too, the “settle down” jobs are slowly vanishing and if they exist, they are duller than ever compared to the possibility of our times. Like Ravi Gururaj said that day, it’s the best time, “to do your own thing”. It is as best as it will get!

  8. Thanks for the article Mukund. Its very True. Indians do tend to settle down early in their careers. But i think the trend is changing now. If you see the younger generation today, they are more towards technology and entrepreneurship rather than the old school term “Settle Down”. I hope our system and culture also adapt these changes rather than sticking to the old system. I am not against Indian culture or so, but we need some revolutionary changes in some of the methods that we follow. For eg: Schools need to focus on innovation rather than marks. As of today marks are the criteria for a success rather than the quality and knowledge of a student. This needs to change. Encourage and support innovation from young age so that youngsters today can do something on their own rather than going behind salary goosebumps.

  9. Liked the “settling down” part of it. But could not understand why “Marissa Mayer” was mentioned, she cannot be a role model in Indian context. As such India is as different than US as anything could be. Either we don’t have local(Indian) examples (heroes) here or we don’t know how to “tell a stories well” or all our heroes exist only on bollywood!!

  10. Good one, Mukund. Definition of ‘jobs’ are gonna a change for sure and it is very likely that you will rarely see professionals getting tied to ‘one’ job/project/startup for long as the years pass by. While there could be a few exceptions, in most of the cases it could be the ‘free agent nation’ coming true !

  11. This was my favorite post because it is spot on. As a mid 30’s professional turned entrepreneur, the career arc you highlight was/is perfectly accurate. Settling is not a choice for someone that truly believes in themselves, and as Teddy Roosevelt said in his great Man in the Arena speech …'(strive to be someone) who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.’

  12. Mukund, great post. Curious to know why you (and proteans) think that the software developer role will vanish. And will it be replaced by some other role?

    1. Software will eat up the software job as well. Every middle class job over the last 300 years has had a 20-30 year run. Software engineer is the 1970’s Auto worker in Detroit.

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