Relevance, Focus and Long-Term Perspective
Date: Thursday , February 01, 2007
When we think about what makes a successful career in the technology field, we need to understand that it is different from doing a job. A career is much like building a house; brick by brick and a job can be compared to a short stay in a hotel.
What then are the right building blocks for a career in technology? The first requirement of a career in any field is that you must like it and should have fun doing things in that field. That being said, focus, relevance and a long-term perspective are probably the essential elements of a career in technology.
The field of technology is constantly expanding, almost at an exponential rate. In a history spanning millions of years, over 75 percent of mankind’s inventions have come in the last two hundred years. Therefore, it is very easy to get somewhat lost in this ever-expanding field. Essentially, engineers, within a few years should pick one or two niches of technology and grow their expertise in those areas.
Let me give an example. Dr. Amar Bose, an Indian American electrical engineer, innovator and entrepreneur par excellence, went on to start the now legendary Bose Corporation, a name universally recognized for high-technology audio products. Over the last 50 years, Bose Corporation has stayed close to knitting, as they say, remaining focused on the same field and going on to deliver better quality of sound through research in acoustics. No wonder we do not hear of Bose cameras, tennis rackets, toys and so on. Audio products are what they started out with, and audio products are what they produce – and produce them better than almost anyone else. So, focus early, and stay focused.
Relevance – that ought to be the key word in technology advancement, whatever the field. Unfortunately, that precisely is what is missing today. There many enterprising youngsters the world over who are enamored with cool, trendy gadgets with huge market appeal, such as the next big dotcom, or the next sleek iPod, and that’s great. However, taking a problem solving approach will help young technologists develop a more sustainable approach than looking for the next killer application. When you look around in India and the world, there are numerous social, infrastructural, environmental and healthcare problems that need to be solved. Innovation for its own sake is not always productive or help solve these burning problems. Take a field such as technology-driven microfinance. A bright programmer might well write software to run applications in that area, but find few takers for that application today. But there are potentially a billion people out there who might stand to benefit from such an out-of-the box idea. So while this may not be a ‘cool’ product in the i-pod sense, it is impacting millions of lives. Thinking about the relevance of technology and taking a problem solving approach will lead to ideas, products, services that have a major impact and become sustainable in themselves.
The last aspect is to always take the long-term view with respect to developing your skills and career. As Edison said, that a genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. This should be viewed much more broadly by listening to the second part of his quote “I never did anything worth doing by accident, nor did any of my inventions come by accident. They came by work”. To grow in the technology space, one must have a long-term view and not be motivated by short-term gains. Young professionals today succumb too easily to peer pressure and high-flying lifestyles and try to get somewhere fast without having a sense of direction. To achieve success in a career, the perspective must be almost the opposite, which is to dedicate oneself to a field in the long-term without expectations of rewards. Over many years, an individual develops deep expertise, studies others’ work, collaborates and builds expertise, discipline, reputation, experience and network capital, which are essential for being successful. Hopping from job to job every two years does not help in the long run, even though it might fetch a few rupees more in the short term.
So, to summarize – the building blocks for a great career are focus, relevance, and a long-term perspective with underlying dedication. In a technology-driven career one would do well following these guiding principles. I encourage the reader to study Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam’s autobiography since there may not be a better living example of following these fundamental principles with self-discipline. It is simply the story of a young man who was not just highly gifted, but one who also overcame numerous challenges by dedicating himself to a field, constantly made his work relevant and carried himself with a long-term view of his contributions in that field without any expectation of big rewards. Although he may not have aspired to become a President as a young professional, become he did and such are the ways of success for those who dedicate themselves.
The author is CEO and President, Trianz.