What is the most useful piece of career advice you got as a student, and who gave it to you?
Being a student is super-power! Interested in a cool company or organization. Be bold and email, tweet, or linkedin contact the CEO or president or any other leader in the organization. Professionals enjoy supporting and mentoring students, providing advice, and even helping them find opportunities.
So if you see a company working on cool projects or see someone who has your dream job, drop them a line. Worst case scenario they don't respond. But you'll be surprised how accessible senior professionals are and willing to help you learn more about your dream job.
When you were a student, did you do anything outside of school to build skills or get knowledge that has helped your career?
Volunteer with non-profits! I currently work in artificial intelligence and natural language processing research. But I came from non-tech background. I studied creative writing in college!
I was able to gain a lot of my technical skills and experience volunteering with non-profits. It started off simple with things like building a website and setting up social media accounts for non-profits. But quickly, I gained more complex experience with data analysis, programming, and data visualization. Non-profits are traditionally understaffed and there is a lot of interesting work that needs to get done. Volunteers get to try out and gain professional experience quickly and also make the work a better place.
Did anyone ever oppose your career plans when you were young or push you in a direction you did not want to go?
I come from a very risk averse family. My parents are both immigrants from India and struggled when they moved to the US. Understandably they wanted the best for their children (my sister and I) and felt careers in stable fields like medicine, pharmaceuticals, accounting, and engineering were the safe path to prosperity and stability. As a result, we've butted head several times over my college degree and career transitions.
I bucked the trend in college. I studied English and created my own major with a focus on political science, philosophy, and economics. My parents were very unhappy with the decision but I held my own ground and cultivated diverse experiences studying abroad, volunteering with nonprofits, and interning with a NGO. Ironically, when I graduated the first job out of college was working in IT with an insurance company. It was a solid safe job that my parents were thrilled I got. But I was incredibly bored and frustrated so I left. This didn't sit well with my parents, but I chose to pursue opportunities I felt were right for me at that time.
My next job was at Harvard, first working as a business analyst. Again I found myself under challenged and bored, so I switched to a research analyst position with the Office of the President and Provost instead. It was a prestigious position and an interesting job, which I did for 2.5 years. When I found myself limited in growth and advancement opportunities, I knew it was time to change.
My parents were very unhappy with that decision. But it was right decision because it gave me a chance to both grow financially (paid significantly more) and change into a field I found very exciting and challenging (Artificial Intelligence). I've spent the last year learning as much as I can about artificial intelligence and machine learning at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence and the Allen Institute for Brain Science. I'll be transitioning again to work at startup as a data scientist, where I'll be developing AI bots.
You'll find in my story that I've changed jobs many times. Every change was met with resistance from my parents, because they were afraid of the risks I was taking leaving a stable job. However, each risk I took was a calculated one and each one paid off (higher salaries, new skills, and most importantly learning what I didn't enjoy). It's ok not to know what you want to do in life. Honestly, after 5 jobs in 4 different fields over 10 years, I'm still not sure. But that's the beauty of taking risks, experimenting, and being open new opportunities - you'll learn new things and increase the probability of finding that opportunity that may you life calling. If you are met with opposition along the way, be respectful but also be willing to push past it.
How did you start building your network?
Honestly, I'm pretty terrible at developing a traditional networking (I still don't have a business card). My philosophy is simple, be kind, compassionate, and surround yourself by people who share the same values as you. My professional network really is set of people I've come to know through volunteering, having similar intellectual and professional interests as me, and people I've directly worked with. If I see someone that I admire working on projects in an area I find interesting, I'll reach out and see if there is any way I can volunteer to help them and as a result learn more about their work.
Context: I'm already taking steps to reach my goal. I've enrolled in college, which is the most important step. Another step I have taken is that I am already editing for people online. I want to be ready for my career and having some experience under my belt is sure to help. College: N/A Other Education: N/A Activities: N/A Job Experience: N/A Soft Skills: N/A Hard Skills: N/A Other: N/A #computer-science #computer-software
Context: I will attend UC San Diego and double major in political science and economics, during my undergrad I will work towards getting internships with economists and government officials to make connections in the community and to also learn under them. College: N/A Other Education: N/A Activities: N/A Job Experience: N/A Soft Skills: N/A Hard Skills: N/A Other: N/A #computer-science #computer-software