First, let me explain what awesome careers look like. They don''t look like nice linear graphs, where you''re moving up a little bit each month. (Heck, even so-so careers don''t look like that. You don''t move up every month. You get a bit better at your career every month, but you move up in big steps.)
Great careers look more like this: They have some periods of slower growth and some "turning points," where your career shoots up.
The color changes? Those are career changes: software development to product management, sales to cofounder, etc. They also have some setbacks. Because you know what?
Being great requires taking some risks.And taking enough risks means you''ll fail a bit, too.So with that said...
Code. A lot. Schools are great at theory, but not so much at practical stuff. This is especially true at the top universities. Professors are academics and are often actually hostile to more "practical" forms of education. The best way to be a great coder is to just practice —a lot. It doesn''t matter so much what you code (open source, iPhone apps, etc.) as long as you''re coding and pushing yourself.
Be language agnostic. Language is just a tool. It''s valuable to know a language deeply, but it''s also valuable to be learning new things. The best developers tend not to identify as a developer.
Prestige helps. Having a strong name on your resume helps open doors and show competence. If you can get a name like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Dropbox, etc., do it. (But don''t stay long. See the next tip.)
Leave the big companies quickly. If you want to build your career at a big company, then by all means, stay and build your career there. But if that''s not what you want, leave quickly. One or two years post-college at a company like Google is great. 10 years? Not so much. You will continue to learn, but there are diminishing returns of sticking around. (Unless you want to be a big company person.)
Quit quickly. If I look at my friends who have switched jobs, almost all of them were thinking about quitting for the last six to 12 months. Some stayed for two or three years after they started saying that they wanted to quit. They''ve wasted so much time because of a resistance to change. If you''re thinking about quitting, take action now. Start applying elsewhere — or possibly just quit out right. You probably won''t be very successful if you''re unhappy anyway, and there is a big opportunity cost in staying.
Dealing with others
Integrity matters. If you try to cheat and cut corners, it''ll haunt you. Do the right thing in life. It''s not only the good thing to do, but it''s also the smart thing to do. People will trust and like you more. More doors will open — and those doors might just be the breakthrough moments in your career.
Be helpful. When possible, help people who ask for help. The people who ask you for help right now will be much more likely to help you in the future. That "help" might be introducing you to their friends who can help you more directly. So even if you don''t see how that person will be helpful, you don''t know who their buddies are or will be.
Make friends. You actually can''t really be successful by yourself. If you''re an entrepreneur, you need employees and business connections. If you''re an employee, you need a job. Either way, it''s friends who will be key to opening up these opportunities. It''s friends, distant and close ones, who form the important part of your network, not that one person you met at a meetup and never talked to again.
Start stuff. Show initiative.Good things never come to those who don''t wait. Seek out new opportunities. Start stuff — a hackathon, a club, a project, a company, a new running group, whatever. You will learn so much from doing this and it will open doors.
Take risks. Seize opportunities. When you notice that little flicker of opportunity, seize it. Run with it. See where it goes. Don''t walk away just because you don''t know exactly where it''s going to go.
Bias toward "yes." A great career hinges on the "breakthrough" moments. The problem is that you often can''t identify those in advance. You don''t know where that coffee meeting that you don''t see the point of is going to lead. You won''t know that, two months down the line, that person will end up introducing you to a guy who needs some advice and winds up as your business partner. Maintain a strong bias towards saying yes.