By Wares Fazelyar, AYEDI Advisory Board Member
There’s a stage in life where you’re incessantly asked what you want to do with your life, what you’re studying, what you plan to do after you graduate, and so on. Maybe you know the answer to these questions and have everything figured out to the smallest detail. Or perhaps you’re not sure and these questions evoke anxiety. Maybe you have some idea, or maybe you feel completely lost. You may turn to mentors and friends who’ve been through it before you for advice. Maybe you read advice from strangers on the internet. Or it’s possible (probable) that you endlessly scroll through your social media feeds to numb the existential dread.
Whatever your situation and state of mind, there’s a high chance you’ve heard a number of commonly recycled cliches: “volunteer! Get involved!”, “be curious! Take risks!”, and perhaps the most endearing, “enjoy life, you’re young! Don’t stress!”
You think to yourself, “these pieces of ‘advice’ don’t do anything for me! If anything, hearing them so often only gets under my skin. And how am I supposed to simply ‘not stress’ when I‘m expected to balance school, work, family, extracurriculars, and my social life all at once?”.
So what am I here to tell you then? What revelation do I come bearing that stands out from the barrage of “boomer advice” (chill, I’m a younger millennial, bordering gen Z). Believe it or not, here’s my advice to you:
- Be curious. Ask questions
- Take risks
- Get involved. Volunteer
- Enjoy life, you’re young — don’t stress!
Okay, I’m kidding (kind of). I’m not here to “give you advice”. Rather, I want to walk you through how the first two points have helped me get to where I am today. But first, takeaway #4 — why I say “don’t stress”.
Life Comes at You Fast
As young adults, many (sometimes unrealistic) expectations are placed upon you from family, society, and even from yourself, for good measure. Stress is inevitable in life, and as you enter adulthood, life seems to become “real”. The choices you make begin to have real repercussions; the pressure to make the right ones becomes higher than ever before. So yes, while it’s not as simple as “don’t stress”, you do need to learn to be okay with discomfort. From here on out, you’ll find yourself face-to-face with hardship time and time again. But more consequential than the situations you find yourself in is how you react to them.
As you learn to manage expectations and the stress that comes with them, don’t forget to take a step back and enjoy.
Now, as promised, I’ll share a bit about how being curious and getting involved led me to where I am. How did this guy who studied political science and middle eastern history and languages end up a software engineer? Starting from the present day, we’ll work out way backwards.
Wares, the Programmer
Currently, I’m part of the Sales Engineering team at Replicant, a San Francisco-based startup doing incredible work in the conversational AI space. If you told me two years ago that I would one day learn to code and then make a living through it, I would’ve told you that you’d lost your mind. I knew that programming was definitely not my thing. Even if I was remotely interested in it, there was no way I was going back to school for another two to four years. But while I was at my previous job, I met Saba, a HR professional-turned-software-engineer working at another startup in the same building. I was curious about her drastic career shift and learned that one can learn enough programming skills to get into the industry much quicker than I thought possible.
Take away #1: Be curious, ask questions. Everyone you meet has a unique story and each one of them knows something you don’t.
Wares, the Salesman
“But Wares, you were sure that coding wasn’t for you…?”
That’s true. At the time, I was doing top of the funnel sales as a Business Development Rep at Nudge. I learned a lot in that role, but beyond the skills I picked up, I also learned that I didn’t want to be a salesman for the rest of my life.
Once that realization set in, I was itching to find my next challenge. Saba had changed careers after studying at LightHouse Labs, a full-time, intensive, 12-week web development bootcamp. I knew coding wasn’t for me, but if I was being honest, I hadn’t ever really given it a chance. I simply assumed that it was too “technical” and complex to bother with. After all, I wasn’t a tech bro. I liked history, literature, and global affairs.
However, it quickly dawned on me that I wouldn’t know for sure if I’d like programming until I actually tried it. I couldn’t see any better time to try it out than now, so I took a leap of faith and enrolled at Lighthouse Labs.
Take away #2: Take risks — as a young adult, you’re largely only responsible for yourself. You likely don’t have any financial dependants, and you can afford to fail. It’s okay to fail. Learn from your setbacks. You can recover quickly and try again. It’s better to learn from failure earlier in life; the older you get, the more those lessons will cost you. The best time to try something new was yesterday; the next best time is now.
Wares, the Unemployed Grad
“What were you doing in sales? You said you studied political science and history?”
Yes, in my final year of undergrad I withdrew my law school applications, graduated and then moved to Istanbul where I continued learning Turkish (we’ll save this story for another day). When I got back to Toronto it was time to find work. During my job search, I was connected to my future boss at Nudge through Rob.
I met Rob through a media appearance where I shared my story as an alumnus of Pathways to Education. I had been actively involved with Pathways trying to scale the then nascent Alumni Association; had I not been so involved as a volunteer, I think it unlikely that I would have been asked to do the media appearance.
Take away #3: Get involved — youth have the flexibility to volunteer their time for extracurricular activities. You never know how the people you meet might fit into your journey down the road. Remember that the purpose of volunteering isn’t to get something material in exchange for your time. Volunteering isn’t transactional. Get involved with things you’re passionate about — the experience, the soft and hard skills, and the relationships you form will be what you get in return.
Tying it together
Here’s how I see it. In order for me to become a successful software engineer in sales:
- I had to have learned programming and had sales experience.
- In order to become interested in programming, I had to meet Saba, a coding school bootcamp grad, and learn about her career change.
- To meet Saba I had to work at Nudge.
- To have worked at Nudge, where I got my sales experience, I had to have met Rob who introduced me to my then future (now former) boss.
- To meet Rob, I had to have been asked by Pathways to share my story as a program alumnus with the media.
- To have been considered by Pathways, I had to have been involved with the Alumni Association.
- I volunteered my time with Pathways as an alumnus because I had a great experience going through the program as a high school student.
On that note, here’s a shout out to all the incredible mentors, tutors, and staff who nurtured my curiosity, fostered my passion for volunteering, and encouraged me to get involved.
I’ve shared a snapshot of how being curious, volunteering, and taking risks has had a positive impact on my life. If you’ve made it this far, I’d love to hear from you. Find me on LinkedIn to share your reflections, thoughts, and stories! And always remember takeaway #4, when things get to be too much, take a step back, breathe, and reset. Young or not, don’t get lost in the sauce — don’t forget to enjoy the journey!