20s for education, 30s for experience, 40s for career.

November 20, 2020 | minutes read

In my mid twenties, I was blessed to receive some of the best career, and quite frankly, life advice. During that period of my life, I was working as a director of technology, leading a small group of engineers. But I was getting ready to throw in the towel. I lacked both the experience and confidence needed. So I reached out to my friend Brian, asking him if he knew anyone who could help me with “executive coaching”. Thankfully, Brian connected me with a C level executive: let’s call him Phil (that’s actually his name).

Prod, provoke, encourage

When I met Phil at the Jerry’s Deli located in the valley, one of the first things he flat out told me was that executive coaching is bullshit. Despite that belief, he essentially coached me and gave me some sage advice that now I get to pass on.

Seth Godin once stated that “About six times in my life, I have met somebody, who, in the moment, prodded me, provoked me, encouraged me, and something came out on the other side”.

Phil is one of those 6 people in my life.

The best career and life advice

The sage advice is simple and sounds similar to Nic Haralambous’s advice “Plan in decades. Think in years. Work in months. Live in days”. But Phil’s advice offers a different perspective, another angle:

20s for education. 30s for experience. 40s for career

This advice stuck with me and helps me (re) calibrate my goals and values. Of course, life takes its own twists and turns. But as the Dwight Eisenhower said “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything”

What does that look like in practice?

20s for education is NOT synonymous with school. It really means soaking up as much as possible. This learning might take place in school but not exclusively. Because learning can happen anywhere and everywhere.

Fail and fail a lot.

For us tech folks, this might be learning a new programming language, dissecting the ins and outs of your compiler, picking up marketing or public speaking skills.

The list goes on and on.

30s for experience. This is where the rubber meets the road. Where theory and practice intersect. This may mean you want to switch roles (like how I switched from being a systems engineer to a software developer) or switch companies so that you can apply all that hard earned knowledge that you acquired in your twenties.

Finally, 30s will feed into your 40s, where you get to establish your career. Maybe working for a small company, where you get to wear a bunch of hats. Maybe for a large corporation, where you hone in or specialize in a particular niche. Or maybe as an entrepreneur, building your own product or service.

Now what?

I’m actually revisiting these words of wisdom. Right now. For the last six months or so, I’ve been overly focused on an upcoming promotion from a mid to senior level engineer at Amazon. Instead of chasing this new title — cause that’s all it really is — I’d rather redirect my focus and make mistakes, stretch myself and find opportunities that put me in a uncomfortable (but growth inducing) experiences.

I’m Matt Chung. I’m a software engineer, seasoned technology leader, and father currently based in Seattle and London. I love to share what I know. I write about topic developing scalable & fail-safe software running in the AWS cloud, digital organization as a mechanism for unlocking your creativity, and maximizing our full potentials with personal development habits.

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