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If you had just left university...

26 October 2017

I took part in a webcast yesterday and on the panel with me was a young chap from the UK who is studying electronics engineering and other subjects at university.

He had already applied for jobs at a number of "big" companies and been put off by the myriad of "tests", quizzes and other hoops that candidates are required to jump through before being considered for a position.

"How do you spell broccoli?" was apparently one of the questions. Incredibly relevant for someone who might be hired to design and build a new generation of electronic aircraft control systems, don't you think?

Of course this is nothing new. I recall back in the early 1970s that I applied for a job as a computer engineer with the now long-forgotten Borroughs Corporation and had to go through the same long-winded set of interviews and tests.

Once I'd show that I could tear down a printer and re-assemble it without having too many pieces left over, named the capital cities of several of the world's larger countries and demonstrated that 1+1 equals 2, my test results were dispatched to "Detroit City, USA" for evaluation.

The whole process of interview, test, call-back, lather, rinse, repeat took over three months so in the end I took up another position and had great pleasure in saying "thanks but no thanks" when they finally told me that I had passed the tests and that they were offering me a position.

That was my first experience with "big corporations" and it taught me a lot about their inefficiencies and their weaknesses.

It also taught me that there was probably no way I could enjoy working for such a slow-turning wheel.

As most people know, I have little tolerance for excessive bureaucracy and situations where "the process" becomes more important than "the goal". Such often tends to be the case with these large faceless corporations where, in order to ensure that things run smoothly, every single task has been relentlessly examined and codified by a team of experts who have then written up several volumes of "process and policy" documents to tell everyone else how to perform that task.

Whereas you or I, and many small businesses might open a door by simply turning the handle and pushing -- "big corporates" would probably spend a day analysing the problem first, then calling in consultants to advise on which way the handle should be rotated and whether such an action might produce a sprain injury to the wrist.

You get the idea.

Fortunately, the world is a much different place nearly half a century since I first went looking to become a computer engineer and now young people with energy, knowledge, passion and a desire to succeed no longer need to follow the formal paths of career progression.

They can forget about "doing their time" as the young lad who gets sent to the stores room for "a left hand screwdriver" by those more senior than himself. They can skip the bit where you must be seen to show total respect for your bosses, even when you know they are factually incorrect in respect to the laws of physics or some other immutable truth.

Now, anyone with "the right stuff" can come straight from an institution of learning and, providing they're willing to put in the hard yards and employ or partner with someone that has some business nous, go straight into business for themselves -- without even the need for a huge chunk of capital from mum and dad.

If you've got a good idea and the skill, knowledge and drive to turn it into a reality, you can pull out your pencil, do some 3D renderings and get a kick-starter campaign going to fund your dream right from the get-go.

Okay, you're probably going to fail... but failure is often a necessary precursor to success. Some lessons are best learned by the cold, hard reality of failure.

Entrepreneurs of today have so many advantages when compared to their peers of half a century ago.

For a start, there is the internet.

The Net can be an incredible source of information that no library from the 1970s could even come close to matching. It's also an almost endless source of funding -- by way of kickstarters, Patreon and other vehicles that are designed to deliver money into the pockets of the deserving (and sometimes not so deserving).

Then there's the ability of the Net to connect you and your product to the marketplace.

Fifty years ago, the single most expensive cost many entrepreneurs faced was that of marketing. Promoting a new product, especially to a global market, required huge wads of capital. Advertising was very expensive and usually took the form of ads in magazines, newspapers, radio and TV.

These days, a few cleverly placed comments on social media, a series of YouTube videos and a fancy website is all it takes to get yourself noticed and to introduce your product to potential customers.

It has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur, especially in the tech arena.

So I suggested to the young lad who was disappointed at his first attempts to snag a job with the "big corporations" that, instead of becoming a virtual tea-boy for a bunch of process-focused bureaucrats, he considers the option of becoming his own boss and developing his own ideas right from the get-go.

I also pointed out that even if he snagged a job in a big corporation, his work would undoubtedly be boring because, as a junior, he'd be given all the shite jobs that nobody else (more senior) wanted to do.

Was I wrong?

What would you do if you'd just finished your education and were trying decide what to do in today's world of massive opportunities?

Would you chase down a nice safe job in a big corporation where you could be comfortable but bored out of your skull?

Or would you instead take advantage of all the opportunities that the Net and the services available through it offer to anyone with the drive, ambition and skills needed to realise their own dreams?

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