Not All Advice is Good Advice


From the time we’re children, we’re trusting people. We rely on those close and older than us to point us toward success and “the right way”. One of the toughest days of our lives is when we realize our parents, or people we look up to, aren’t always perfect, aren’t always right, and worst of all, are completely wrong.

I recently asked Twitter what bad advice we were given when we were starting out our careers. Let’s have a quick look at responses and some thoughts around them.


Women Aren’t Engineers

This attitude from advisors makes me really upset:

The belittling and disrespect shown to women in fields typically dominated by men is horrifying. Telling anyone they won’t ever be good enough for an a job in an industry is purposely oppressive and a reflection on them more than you. Never listen to anyone who tells you that you aren’t smart enough — you’ll go where your passion takes you.

Sadly I’ve worked with very few engineers that weren’t male. Likely a result of biased hiring and the effects of women being discouraged from the field. Let’s be more inclusive in our computer science adventures.

The Internet is a Fad

This one struck with me:

I can’t imagine what my parents thought when I was a high schooler. When I wasn’t playing sports, I was on the computer. I remember when the internet hit: AOL discs in the mail, Yahoo the main search engine, and the wretched sound of 14.4k modem dial tones. One memory that has always stuck with me was my mother shouting upstairs “David, get off the internet, your grandma might be trying to call!”; back then, the internet took over your telephone line.

Internet went from this luxury experience to something that’s completely taken over most of our lives. Online banking and bill pay, streaming entertainment, email…we can barely imagine our life without it. Most of our partners would accuse us of being obsessed with our phones.

Imagine living through the COVID pandemic without the internet. Imagine having a different career without internet. Bottom line is — you don’t need your advisors to see what you see to go for you dream. Make it happen.

You’re Young, Work Yourself to Death

I certainly fell victim to this one:

When I was young I worked my ass off. I went to college full time while working 60 hours a week. I prided myself on doing so at the time, and to this day, I’m very proud that I made all of that happen. I also understand to a degree where this advice came from — you should be young and hungry, you likely have no kids or massive family responsibilities, and you realize you need to work your way up the ladder.

The problem with this attitude is that the idea of “working your ass off” has gone from working 10 extra hours a week to Silicon Valley rookies working themselves into pnemonia and other health problems. I do agree that young employees have to work their way to trust, but the idea of working one’s self into poor health, or at the expense of little extra pay, is unacceptable.

Go to the Best Four Year School

We grow up being encouraged to go the best schools:

I’m living proof that you don’t need to go to a big college to have a successful engineering career. I went to a very small college. I got my Associate degree at a technical college, got my first web job, then completed my Bachelor degree at night school — I even went to summer school!

I’m proud of my path, it served me well, but I’m also able to recognize my path wouldn’t be for everyone. There are several factors that go into school vs. work outcomes: talent, work ethic, opportunity, ability to pay for school, family factors, etc. There’s no perfect path to success in the engineering field — and years of school are no guarantee!

Find Where the Money is Now

Nothing like being told to chase today’s money:

If technology has taught us anything, it’s that we shouldn’t aim for what’s easy, we shouldn’t aim for what’s big today, we need to think ahead. We need to see what could sustain us, but even then, what’s more important is being in an industry we’re happy to be in. Do I wish some days that I was in a boring 9-5 job that doesn’t require much responsibility? Sure. It would eat my soul that I wasn’t fulfilling potential though.

You Won’t Be Given the Tools

This was one of my favorites and one I’m sure we all remember:

I remember the first time my college professor said we could use Google during a computer science exam. I was aghast — “isn’t that cheating?!” No, he just knew the reality of the field — no one has all the answers and memorizing method names was a fool’s game. Hell, to this day I have to look up basic stuff, which to a degree is why I started this blog.

Every generation lets down the younger generation with bad advice; sometimes on purpose, other times for lack of vision. What I’ve learned from my experiences and those of others is that you can’t go wrong trying to inspire. No one will ever get mad when you support them chasing their dreams — but they will suffer if you keep them from the clouds.

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