Got an email from a Nigerian engineer asking for my take on where he's at. Basically, he's on a steady upward career track but he doesn't care for his field of engineering. So he's got a tough decision at hand - he's already got a great credential and skills, but he really wants to do more abstract/entrepreneurial work - but he doesn't currently have the skillset for it. He had two kinds of questions - a high level strategic question about whether the tradeoffs between switching professions are worth it, because he'd be losing out on a lot of his current credentials/skills and be behind other people. And second, tactical questions on getting started on the creative/entrepreneurial path even though he's got a good full-time job right now that he doesn't love, but doesn't want to quit.
He felt pretty unhappy and stuck when he wrote - good solid job right now, not a ton of other opportunity in his area, and worried about how his skills and life would transfer to his desired field. Here's my reply -
Okay. You're obviously a highly intelligent guy. I think one problem that people have is when they decide to become ambitious, they see there's 10,000 ways they could improve and it's easy to kind of panic or get overwhelmed.
Don't panic. Don't get overwhelmed. Calm down, pick 1-3 things to work on, improve those areas like crazy, then pick the next ones. Rome wasn't built in a day.
Again, you're obviously an intelligent and ambitious guy, so if you put in consistent effort then you'll improve.
For your career, I have very specific advice for you.
Wake up 3-4 hours before your day job. Work online. Use freelancing sites. Lie about the country you're in. Learn about the technology, make a connection with a friend in a Western country so you can get a bank account, do whatever you need to do so you can get work. There's a big stigma against Nigeria. That's just reality, and you need to deal with it.
But yeah, you want to start freelancing. Lie on your online profiles and say you live in England or America or wherever. Or heck, South Africa. Or Jamaica. Whatever you're comfortable with. But Nigeria has stigma and lots of places ban it. Learn the technology to route around bans and get hooked up to a well-regarded financial system.
Okay, so wake up 3-4 hours before you work. Get on sites like Elance.com. Build stuff for cut rate prices. Bid super low to just get work and experience. Then deliver really well. You'll be getting paid to learn new skills.
Study for 1-2 hours after you get home from work - just casually, I mean. Read books, watch video tutorials, whatever. If you do this, that's probably 12-14 hours of your weekdays blocked out. You've then got 2-4 hours each day to screw around and do whatever else with your time.
Again, limit your expansion to 1-3 areas at a time, maybe 5-7 AT MOST, and really execute on those areas. Once the progress and routine is happening somewhat automatically, then add more.
The thing is that for me I have this feeling that it might just be too late to divert from my initial field of chemical engineering and still get as good and competitve as this people.
Don't worry about it. Engineering teaches you how to think logically. Anyways, it's not a zero sum game. You're not competing against the other people. You're trying to get as far ahead and get as much as you want as fast as you can. What other people are doing is irrelevant to that. Certainly, training in engineering won't hurt you. I spend hours and hours and hours studying obscure areas of history, picking through the details. In a way, this is useless compared relative to, say, learning more about marketing or finance. But it means I've got a historian's point of view and anecdotes and a unique take on everything. You've got an engineer's take on everything, even when it's not directly applicable. That's far better than a historian's. Don't worry about what you did in the past. It'll all serve you.
I'll post this up on the blog in a couple days. We've got readers in similar situations as you, who built something pretty cool even though they weren't in one of the world's chief technology centers. Maybe one of them can also weigh in and give good advice.
Hope this helps. Thanks for reaching out, and best wishes,
Any reader feedback on getting started outside of a major technology center for an ambitious smart guy? I know we've got plenty of people in South America, Eastern Europe, South/Southeast Asia, etc., so there's probably similar banking and credibility challenges in some of those places. Input?