Nobody In This Company Is Going To Do Anything for You – Career Advice For The Ages

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A few years ago in a previous job, my boss mentioned to me “Nobody in this company is going to do anything for you.” Initially taken aback, I realised later what he meant – my career was my own to manage, and nobody else was going to do it for me.

Some of us may be lucky enough to have someone take a real interest, to be a mentor and to actively try to improve our careers. Years before in that same company, I had such a manager — he invited me to meetings I didn’t have to attend so I could observe and learn, he gave me responsibilities and opportunities to lead projects, and he generally just gave me great advice, solicited or unsolicited.

However, a few years later, I realised that if I wanted to dramatically change my role or my circumstances, I needed to do it myself. I entered and won an internal hackathon and afterwards asked to move to a newly founded innovation function. Told that there wasn’t funding for me, I then entered a subsequent internal hackathon and after winning that one, I was finally allowed move team after asking again. I’m not saying this to boast but to show that we have to make our own fortune, to stretch ourselves, show our ability and reach.

When faced with opportunities like this you may find yourself thinking variations of “I’m too busy”, or “my project is too busy at the minute”. The problem is that odds-on, we’re always going to be too busy, so we need to take a step back and ask ourselves what can we do to help ourselves achieve greater things. In that early instance, it was working on hackathons after work, but I’ve since tried to always do more — writing blogs posts like this, teaching an app development course, building apps in my spare time, creating promotional videos for successful projects in work — more.

Most of these have led to other opportunities, none of which would have happened if I sat back and only did my core role.

Control

If we do our jobs as expected, or ‘exceed expectations’ and do a really great job, we’ll most likely do well in decent companies — we’ll get good performance reviews, we’ll get promoted occasionally and will generally consider it a good job.

However — we’ll always be at the mercy of people & events outside of our control.

When I left that company I mentioned, only a small number of colleagues came out for my leaving drinks. Not because I was unpopular (!) but because nearly everyone I knew had been outsourced or had left already, as the company went through major restructuring during the recession in the 2010’s in Ireland. I had teammates who stayed as they were hoping for redundancy packages — but were instead ‘tuped’ to other companies; transferred to other companies with the same conditions for 2 years, with no say in the matter.

The point is that we can’t rely on our employers to always be on our side, or to look out for us, as there could be unforeseen events which they have no control over either. I’m currently in an amazing company, where the leadership demonstratively care about staff and have been fantastic during COVID. My own management have always been supportive of me, and have given me opportunities to grow and lead, aswell as having patience when I say things like “we need to innovate more!” or “we need less hierarchy to be creative!”.

However — I still need to control my own career, as what happens if one day there’s another recession and suddenly things aren’t so peachy? Or what if you’re not in a great company and nobody is helping you at all? It’s the classic cliché of aim for success, but prepare for failure — so we need to grow and protect our own careers.

How can we gain more control? Like I said before — by doing more.

  • Learn new skills yourself. I hear from a lot of engineers that they’d love to get involved with machine learning, but that they never get the chance on their projects. My advice is always — go learn it yourself. There’s incredible resources online, free or paid, and competitions or hackathons on sites like Devpost to try out your new skills on something worthwhile. I built my first Alexa Skill for an online Amazon hackathon — and although I didn’t win, I’ve since built Skills for my actual work, and I’m still getting promotional credits from AWS for entering that hackathon!
  • Speak up and ask for opportunities in work. Is there a meeting you’ve always wanted to present at but your boss always does? Ask can you present at it — what’s the worst that can happen?
  • Likewise with projects or new technologies — if you’re really interested in exploring data science, tell your managers and ask to be considered if the right opportunity arrives. If it’s a decent company, initiative will be encouraged and appreciated.
  • Volunteer (nicely) to change something you think needs changing. I was ranting to a colleague recently about hierarchies and he suggested politely that if someone has a problem with how the team is doing something then they should stand up and offer to do something about it. The key is to be nice about it! More “Can I help improve X?” as oppose to “X is broken and useless!”. Again — if it’s a decent company it will be welcomed. If it’s not welcomed, then it’s just more proof that you need to take more control over your career!
  • Help others. Nothing shows the right way to do something better than actually doing it yourself. Become a mentor, ask junior colleagues if they’d like to present at that important meeting, become the change that you’d like to see.
  • Change job if it’s the best thing for you and your family. There’s always a risk that wherever you move to won’t be any better, or it could be worse, but if there’s an opportunity for major growth or learning, or a big leap in responsibility somewhere else it could be worth taking that risk. If you part on good terms you may end up back again someday anyway so consider it a see you later as oppose to a goodbye!
  • Finally — explore alternative revenue streams. This isn’t a 45 Ways To Make Money Online post, but if you only support your family and life with money earned from a company, you’re at risk if things go south. It’s not easy to make additional cash and I’ve only been occasionally successful at it, but I’m always thinking of ways to do it. The dream is to be not reliant on an employer, and it may never happen, but if we don’t try it definitely never will.

So, if someone tells you in work that nobody in your company is going to do anything for you, smile and tell them you know!

If you’ve any thoughts or comments, I’d love to hear them so let me know below! You can also reach me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Andy.

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Andy O'Sullivan

Andy O'Sullivan

Creator of Boxapopa, the iOS game for young kids with zero ads, just fun! https://apps.apple.com/ie/app/boxapopa/id1550536188