A life lesson
Good is the enemy of the best
While retraining my friends to become programmers, I've noticed something interesting. People who are already employed are eager students. The longer they've worked outside IT field, the more diligent they are. Those who are still students, however, sometimes blatantly cut corners.
After talking to both groups, I realized that every last student believed that once they graduated they would magically and immediately find jobs.
Now, for anyone still wearing rose-tinted glasses, here's how the real world works.
Everybody has needs. Needs for family, friends, home, job, hobbies, etc.
But I'd like to talk about one of the most vital and ever relevant needs: the desire to live well and make good money.
Most people have this need. Almost everyone tries to satisfy it through work, professional activities, and a career. It seems entirely logical to achieve this goal through professional development and self-fulfillment. Who doesn't want to be a top expert or world-class pro? Recognition, respect, a high income, big opportunities – sounds fantastic, doesn't it?
So, what plan do these millions or billions of potential top-notch pros have? More often than not, this is the plan: graduate from high school, get admitted to college, graduate from college, work, build a great career, and then retire.
This plan looks good, but it's not.
The difference between a good plan and a bad plan is that a good plan leads to success, and a bad plan doesn't.
The plan described above leaves out so many elements of real-life that I don't even know whether to call it primitive, outdated, or just plain wrong.
What factors does this ever popular plan for success fail to consider?
1. The winner takes it all
5% of top experts earn 50% of all salaries. 20% of top experts earn 80% of all salaries.
Some companies are looking for the best employees, others – for the cheapest. The former don't mind paying more, but they want to get the best their money can buy. The latter want to pay the bare minimum for the lowest quality they can accept.
You will start your career from the lowest point on the left part of the curve. Obviously, it's best to be toward the right. You have a long road ahead of you. You need to get to the right half as quickly as possible. The difference between the professionals on the right and those on the left is their experience (i.e. high-quality experience).
As long as you're on the left, the number of potential employees at your level is much greater than the demand for them. This means it's a buyer's (employer's) market. You have to compete with people like you for any position, no matter how modest it is.
But as soon as you've accumulated enough experience to move to the right half, the rules of the game begin to change. Demand begins to outstrip supply, and salaries start to get bigger. Five years of good work experience can bring you a tenfold raise in salary. So, think, look both ways, and learn.
Joining the ranks of the top 5% is even better. Your income will only be limited by your clients' or employers' budget. If they want to get the best expert, they'll have to pay more. Just like at an auction.
A smart and hard-working person can join the top 20% in 5 years and graduate to the top 5% in the next five. Of course, you would need to do a lot of self-study, switch jobs often, and sometimes overwork yourself.
But you don't really need to work long hours (for long). The best professionals don't work more; they work better. Better than anyone. That's why a top professional can't be replaced with ten average ones.
Suppose you got 48% of votes in a presidential election, and the runner-up got 47%. That doesn't mean you got an absolute majority or twice as much support as your rival. You won by just 1%! But you're the new president. You get everything, and the runner-up gets nothing.
2. The loser gets nothing
If you've ever applied to colleges, you know that sometimes there are 2,000 candidates for 200 spots. If there are 10 applicants per opening, only 100 out of every 1,000 applicants will be admitted, while the other 900 will be left with nothing.
What do you think will happen when you graduate and start looking for jobs? The competition will grow exponentially.
Suppose you're graduating from a law school in Berlin this summer. Let's say there are 10 law schools in Berlin, sending 1,000 lawyers out into the world every year. There are two vacancies with an annual salary of €80,000, 8 at €40,000, and 30 openings in government institutions at €20,000.
Bummer #1: We have 1000 lawyers applying for only 40 positions. Thus, only 40 out of 1,000 graduates will get the jobs they have been studying for. The rest, who wasted several years to get their degrees, will have to work as sales managers, etc.
Bummer #2: Suppose that you're one of the top 40 graduates. What are your chances of finding employment? Far less than 100%, because there are such things as family connections, lawyer families, etc. The majority of these 40 job openings will be filled by the children, nieces and nephews, or grandchildren of company executives.
Bummer #3: Suppose you are the top student of the year. You don't have any on-the-job experience. You will compete with people who already have 3-5 years of practical work experience under their belt. They have experience, reputation, and connections. So, you'll probably have to start at the bottom of the ladder.
Bummer #4: You will have to work for peanuts for the first three or so years, gaining experience and teaching yourself necessary skills. Only then will you be able to compete for good jobs that have potential, bring valuable experience, and offer high salaries. You should have started this process back in college. But if you graduated from a typical university, you'll have to do it all on your own.
3. You have nothing
All you have is a diploma. In most cases, potential employers believe it isn't worth the paper it's printed on. Usually, an employer is well aware of the true value of your degree and knows how microscopically useful it is compared to work experience.
You're a college graduate? Well, who isn't? There are tons of people with degrees. Having a degree doesn't guarantee anything. It's like a certificate that says you aren't stupid. College doesn't give you any super cutting-edge skills. Usually, one year on the job brings you as much knowledge as all four years of college. That's how it is, whether you like it or not.