Prowling around Twitter like a roaring lion looking for an article to devour, a technical blog post to consume, a funny video to laugh at, a business post to bookmark, a software engineer to follow, I came across a video where the Vice Chairman of Morgan Stanley, Carla Harris was interviewed….
She said something that struck my nerves deeply. In her words:
I realized that being smart and working hard was not enough. It still wasn’t getting me at the top of the class.
..and later went on to say:
I realized that there was somebody who had to be behind closed doors arguing passionately on my behalf. But at the end of the day while performance currency gets your name on the list that’s being discussed behind closed doors, when your name is called, if no one else in that room can speak on your behalf, they just go to the next name and it has nothing to do with your ability to do the job.
Your politicians have cracked this code that’s why they are up there grabbing juicy opportunities while you’re here arguing baselessly everyday on which is the better frontend framework, or trying to show off your technical prowess by telling every Tom, Dick and Harry that you are the best backend developer the world will ever know (now, this is not bad at all)…but apart from your work that can probably speak for itself :
- Who can speak on your behalf?
- Who can send in that letter of recommendation?
- Who can boast and argue passionately for you that you deserve a seat at the table where you can influence a lot of decisions in place of the other engineer that’s equally as good?
- Where the hell is your advocate?
- Who has encountered you in ways that can spread your gospel to their networks?
In the short span of my career (~6 years), I have discovered that the folks(asides being born with a silver spoon) that appear as incredibly lucky due to the kind of opportunities they have access to in their career or business have a ridiculous knack for connecting with people.
They don’t have to be extroverts. They simply possess the willpower and drive to observe people, get to know people, appear in gatherings that involve people that are aligned with their goals, and connect people with one another.
One of my close friends looked at me a couple of months ago and said “Sam, you are very lucky” and I didn’t fail to ask him how. With all honesty and sincerity, he let me know that over the few years I have been neck deep in the software engineering and technology world, I’ve had several access to opportunities that are hard to come by especially if one is from this region (Accra, Ghana)
Perhaps he is right, because I know for sure that anyone that has had a fair bit of whatever is classified as “success” achieved it with some dozes of luck here and there(..in combination with hard-work and book/street smart).
Perhaps, a few portions of that luck was unconsciously engineered to work in my favor. Perhaps, the thousands of people I have connected with, and stayed in connection with, are speaking on my behalf in hundreds of places I’d originally never have access to. Perhaps, I’m not just doing the work (coding everyday & speaking to my laptop alone), I’m also actively sharing that work with other people. Perhaps, I spend a huge chunk of my time actively stalking people I want to be like and connecting them with other people I’ve met.
As a software engineer, your daily work involves putting lego blocks together in form of 1s and 0s and stringing language APIs together logically to build products.
You are building on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Heck yeah, you’re also building on Saturday, because it’s fun, it’s addictive, you feel incredibly happy and satisfied by your work, the dopamine effects of creating products slaps greatly!….but pause and ask yourself these questions:
- What time of the week, or month, or year have I dedicated to connecting with people?
- Who am I talking to about my work?
- What time have I set aside to connect that random designer with that other frontend developer?
- How am I helping that CEO in ways that it will be hard for them to forget that I exist?
- Who am I sharing my work with?
- Who am I helping to become better at their work?
- Which clubs or communities are am I affiliated with?
- Have I been too embraced and locked up in my work that I fail to connect with the 1% of the 1%?
The best way to ensure that lucky things happen is to make sure a lot of things happen — Bo Peabody
It’s great to be smart, hardworking, and world class in the work that you do, but there’s a high probability that if someone doesn’t discover you, or you don’t deliberately do the leg work of connecting with people…you’ll keep hacking away in a rabbit hole while folks with half your intelligence, but rich in people currency will have a mighty seat at the long table of opportunities, wealth and opulence.
Build powerful alliances and maintain a diverse mix of relationships. We are in a very competitive economy. In fact, in the technology industry, there are tons of smart people, even smarter than you. When 10 people are drafted for an opportunity, and y’all have an amazing body and portfolio of work…WHO WILL SPEAK ON YOUR BEHALF?
I have observed something else under the sun. The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time. — Ecclesiastes 9:11
I’m reminded heavily of the PayPal Mafia and how they kept connecting each other & speaking on behalf of each other in new circles. Yelp, Youtube, SpaceX, Tesla, LinkedIn, Slide, etc and a group of modern millionaires & billionaires emerged this way!
I’m reminded of how people with similar ideas and information tend to hang out with another. You can see clear examples of this in the various elite clubs, groups, political parties, cults and communities that exist in the world. Majority of the times, the only way to break into a circle is for someone within that circle to speak positively on your behalf.
I’m reminded of how I have spoken on behalf of certain people that got them great jobs instantly without rigorous interview processes. I’m reminded of how so many people have spoken on my behalf that got me great gigs, jobs, opportunity to travel the world while speaking at technical conferences, and meeting great decision makers that I’d have never dreamt of sharing the same room with.
I'm reminded that when someone powerful speaks on your behalf, protocols are broken, "due processes" are discarded, the power of network effects start to work for you. "We don't employ people from this region" becomes a fallacy. New roles that have never existed within an organization will be created for you, because someone spoke on your behalf!
I’m writing this short piece because I have seen that millennials would rather have advocates for their romantic relationships than for their life-long careers and businesses.
- Who’s speaking on behalf of your startup or company?
- When you make mistakes, who will speak on your behalf to afford you a second, third, fourth, fifth and infinite chance
- When everything comes crashing down (which always happens at some point), who will be your advocate?
And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none.
A new day, another opportunity to invest in yourself, invest heavily in connecting with people and transform your entire life.