Marc Andreesen on Career Planning

Marc Andreesen has written a very good series of articles on career planning that is worth a read, regardless of whether you are just starting college or have been working for decades. Marc has a lot of good thoughts on how to choose a career, a college, and a job. He then goes on to explain his ideas around what skills you need to develop to be succesfull.

The series so far contains three articles:

The Pmarca Guide to Career Planning, part 1: Opportunity

“Instead of planning your career, focus on developing skills and pursuing opportunities.”

That quote pretty much sums up this article.

The Pmarca Guide to Career Planning, part 2: Skills and education This one has some good advice on choosing colleges and majors, but the real wisdom is in his advice on which skills you need to have, regardless of your chosen field. I won’t spoil it for you (seriously, go read it), but Marc really nails the key skills and why they are important.

The Pmarca Guide to Career Planning, part 3: Where to go and why The final article in the series discusses how to choose the place to work, not only in the sense of which company, but where (domestic vs. international). Marc discusses the different types of companies you can work for and why you would want to work there. Marc has a bias towards small high-tech startups (surprise!), but does discuss other types of companies, as well as starting your own.

That’s all he has written (for now). All in all, there is a lot of good advice in these articles. Read them yourself and then pass them along.

Salaries: Keep Them Secret or Make Them Public?

I found an interesting pair of articles recently covering the topic of salaries. The first article, Why secret salaries are a baaaaaad idea, makes the case that all salaries should be public within a company. The arguments are pretty compelling, especially since I just finished reading Ricardo Semler’s book Maverick, which is an extraordinary book about an extraordinary company in Brazil.

Among other things, employees set their own salaries, which are public. The argument for doing this is essentially two-fold: 1) It keeps the employer honest, discouraging inequities in pay, and 2) It keeps the employee honest as well, as employees that are higher paid will feel more like they have to work for it, since everyone knows how much they are making. I see the point in this, and at least conceptually I like the idea of having an open company, in which most details are known to all (in the case of Ricardo Semler’s company, profits and expenses are open to all as well).

This evening however, I found an interesting article by Eric Sink (who coincidentally lives only about 45 minutes away from me) that makes the case for keeping them secret, but acting as if they were public. His rationale is that people value their privacy, and communicating everyone’s salaries to the entire company violates that. He advocates keeping the salary list “clean” though, as if the salaries were public:

So I think secrecy about compensation is important, but it should be for the purpose of protecting the privacy of individuals, not for the purpose of obscuring the fact that management is doing things they know to be unfair.

All in all, I think this is an interesting topic. I admire companies that disregard convention and defy traditional rules of business, but on the other hand I can see the point of the traditionalists with regards to things like salaries as well.

What are your thoughts? Ever work for an “open” company? What was it like?

Afterthought: It’s stated above, but I’ll repeat it again. If you want to read about a company who has open salaries, and why, you need to check out the Ricardo Semler book Maverick. It’s not just about salaries, there are lots of other innovative ideas in there as well. It’s well worth the time to read.

5 Tips for Interviewing Well

I’ve been interviewing people (mostly programmers and management/leads) for about 7 years. I would guess I’ve interviewed over 100 people (if you include college recruiting job fair “mini-interviews”). In that time, I’ve seen and heard some amazing things. I won’t share horror stories, because that’s not terribly helpful. Instead, I’ve put together a list of 5 ways to interview well. Without further ado:

1. Show up.

This seems obvious, but let’s elaborate a little bit. Show up on time - early even. But not too early, as that’s often more annoying than showing up late. 10 minutes early is fine; 30 minutes is not. You may want to ask the company you’re interviewing with how early to show up, as sometimes there might be paperwork to fill out. Be prepared -have extra resumes, samples of your work, etc. Know something about the company you’re interviewing with. You shouldn’t have to ask “What does your company do”, unless it’s one of those super-secret startups that wants you to sign an NDA to walk in the front door (in which case, run for the hills).

2. Make a good first impression.

Dress sharp: when unsure, wear a good quality suit that fits well. It’s perfectly fine to ask the company you’re interviewing with what the appropriate attire would be; these days, corporate dress codes are all over the map. You should always strive to be dressed at least one or two levels above the person you’re interviewing with (unless they’re wearing a suit - no need to don a tuxedo).

3. Ask questions.

Nothing makes a job candidate seem less enthusiastic than when they ask no questions. Here’s a tip though, don’t ask too many questions about money. It can make you appear greedy, and people will start to question if that’s the only thing that matters.

4. Don’t complain.

If you’re leaving a bad situation (boss is a jerk, company went down the drain, etc), it’s tempting to complain about your situation. Don’t. Nobody wants to hire a whiner, which is exactly how you’ll come across. It’s ok to talk about things you didn’t like, but don’t dwell on it. Talk about the things you liked about your job as well.

5. Don’t lie

You can recover from just about anything else on this list, but this one is fatal. If you pad your resume, you will be found out - don’t even bother. Furthermore, “I don’t know” is an appropriate answer to a question. If I ask if you’ve done X with ABC database, don’t try and bluff. Just say “No, I haven’t yet had the opportunity, but I’d like to learn how”. I can’t emphasize this enough. I’ve passed on several otherwise qualified candidates because they put some skill on their resume that they didn’t actually have. Lying never, ever works in the long run.

Above all, be yourself. Be relaxed, be natural, and be honest. You’ll do fine.