Career Planning Advice

Sometimes reality just steps up and smacks you in the face. That happened to me today as I read Marc Andreesen's post about career planning. I have a long list of things I want to achieve in life because I'm goal oriented and I really really love solving problems. Since moving back to Louisville 3 1/2 years ago, I've repeatedly been told about the great opportunities here, the advantages of being a big fish in a small pond, and how a tech company can be built here just like it could in the valley. But it can't. And when I read Marc's post today, I finally realized that my life goals will not be achieved if I stay here. Below are some quotes from the post.

Once you have picked an industry, get right to the center of it as fast as you possibly can.

Your target is the core of change and opportunity – figure out where the action is and head there, and do not delay your progress for extraneous opportunities, no matter how lucrative they might be.

Never worry about being a small fish in a big pond. Being a big fish in a small pond sucks – you will hit the ceiling on what you can achieve quickly, and nobody will care. Optimize at all times for being in the most dynamic and exciting pond you can find. That is where the great opportunities can be found.

Apply this rule when selecting which company to go to. Go to the company where all the action is happening.

Or, if you are going to join a startup or start your own company, always make sure that your startup is aimed at the largest and most interesting opportunity available – the new markets that are growing fast and changing rapidly.

Also apply this rule when selecting which city to live in. Go to the city where all the action is happening.

For technology, at least in the US, this is Silicon Valley. For entertainment, this is Los Angeles. For politics, Washington DC. For coffee, Seattle. For financial services, New York – unless you are convinced that there are equally compelling opportunities someplace else, like London or Hong Kong or Shanghai.

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. You can always cite exceptions, but that's what they are: exceptions.

No one cares who the top filmmaker in Chicago is – hell, people often don't even care who the top filmmaker in New York is, and quite a lot of films get made out of New York. On the other hand, the top 50 filmmakers in Los Angeles are all very important people in their industry.

People give me a million reasons why I should stay, but they aren't reasons that matter to me. I like to work. I'm not afraid of big ponds. I hate that Marc is right, but he is. It's not that you can't be successful outside of the centers of industry, it's just that you don't get as many opportunities as you do when you are in the thick of it all.

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  • Jason

    Funny if you think about it: the Internet was supposed to destroy geographic hubs like NY, Silicon Valley, et cetera. If anything, it has strengthend them.

    There is some truth to the “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere” line of thought.

    That being said, I still don’t like the idea of career planning. It suggests that we have a better grasp of what is going to happen than we do. More importantly, planning out serendipity makes life dull.

  • Lord

    Unless, of course, your goal is to create the industry.

  • I’m sure there is an argument to support both views. Here is a video clip that supports the strength in geographical cultures.

  • Career Planning is an evolving process that must be updated like a good business plan in order to be effective. I like the advise given because it emphasized the fact that you must be pro-active in your plan and have it evolve as your career evolves – Take ACTION! We encourage our students to devise a Career Advancement Strategy if they want to succeed.


  • The Original

    You write of life’s goals, not just career goals. As am older person, I have learned that my life’s goals have changed by circumstances occurring in my life. getting married, having children, caring for a dying parent, divorce, gaining and losing a job and God’s interventions. Don’t put all of your eggs into the career basket. The philosophy you cite is just that and yours will change (even if only slightly) with each life’s experience.

  • However, sometimes time of life and life goals matter. What’s good for an ambitious single person in his or her 20s isn’t going to be necessarily good for people with families 10 years later. Also, there are a lot of advantages to smaller places, not just for life outside of the career, but in some cases you can get further in an outpost than in the capital. I was a night editor at UPI at 23 years old and writing for Business Week at 25 in part because I was doing it from Mexico City, not in New York. And although I don’t agree with your sentiment here, you’ve said it very well and it’s a very valuable discussion. You framed Marc’s post very well. Thanks, Tim