Partly as a self-reflection exercise for the end of 2017, and partly just for fun, I answered the 11 questions from Tim Ferriss’ new book Tribe of Mentors. Here are my favorite (slightly abridged) questions and answers.

What are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

  1. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. The sheer volume of psychological research was both fascinating and surprisingly accessible. I’m not sure how exactly I’ll use the information yet, but it seems like it’ll be applicable to future decisions.
    • Side note: this book is dirt cheap for the amount of useful content you get
  2. Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. The bite-sized format of the book made it easy to carry around and read in my spare moments throughout the day. It’s also a humbling book that’s helped me quell some of my frustrations with work and relationships.
  3. For the developers: Clean Code by Bob Martin. The information is straightforward and makes writing code easier. It also feels good to put the information into practice and know that I’m becoming a better professional software engineer by doing so.

If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it - metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions - what would it say and why?

Plan smart, work hard. I’ve discovered that I can be neither efficient nor effective if I just dive into my work without a plan. I need to ask good questions about my to-do list, then break them down into specific steps, then tackle each one with a ruthless sense of urgency – all of those have to be done separately. Only then do I truly feel like I get anything accomplished.

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever mad? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)

The TalentBuddy (RIP) Node.js course. This opened the gateway for:

  • Fluensi, a text message based study tool that a friend and I created (got JavaScript + backend development experience, and taught me hard lessons about how not to build software)
  • purchasing the Understanding AngularJS Udemy course (more JavaScript + frontend experience)
    • (I wouldn’t recommend this now as AngularJS is long out of date. Learn Angular 5.)
  • an agriculture web app for my dad (full-stack experience + long term project management) All that experience ultimately got me in the door at a company I love working for.

On a more meta level, it taught me that self-education is worth my time and money. I spent $100 and ~1 month on that course; in the long run that’s a trivial investment, and I can’t begin to put a price tag on the return.

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world?” What advice should they ignore?

(Not sure how useful this is considering I graduated 7 months ago, but anyway…)

Advice I would offer:

  • Know your values. If you’re actively looking for work – which you should be – know what you want in a job and in a company. What’s your top priority? Money? Continuing your education? Stability? Location? Know what you want, seek it out, and (if you have options) don’t be afraid to turn down companies where you don’t think you’ll fit in.
  • Treat interviews like a conversation, not an interrogation. Smart companies are looking for a good cultural fit as much as someone who’s technically capable; you should be too. Ask about people’s experiences at their company: favorite things about it, what their day looks like, etc. Take a genuine interest in them. You’ll actually get something out of it.

Advice I would ignore:

  • The idea that you need to “sell yourself.” Quit trying to be so competitive for its own sake. Find something you really enjoy right now (it doesn’t have to be something you’ll enjoy forever) and just get after it because you want to. People will notice.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

(Again, maybe not terribly useful since I’ve only been working for 5 months)

“Move fast (and break things).” That worked for Mark Zuckerberg’s college hackery and the early days of Facebook. I think that’s the exception, not the rule. Be a professional. The quality of your work and your long term reputation (between you and your boss, and your customers and your company) are far more important than getting that next feature out the door. Especially in the wake of high-profile security breaches (looking at you, Equifax), some people are rightly skeptical of the software industry. Do all you can to break that stereotype.