About 12 years ago, at the beginning of my professional career as a web developer, I was excited to learn everything I could about the craft.
I would gladly attend any tech conference or meetup hoping to get some cutting edge info about new technologies, languages or tools.
And it worked (for the most part).
Here is me attending one of my first conferences back in 200..9 I believe?
The part I liked the most was the possibility to travel to some new places and stay at the nice hotels, all expenses paid.
Add to that couple awesome technical sessions and it’s a perfect match, right?
Well, yes! and no…
Sure, if you really love what you do (and most of us geeks do or did at some point) there is a possibility that you will learn something new or expand your tech imagination a bit more.
I personally found it hard to recollect my learnings after returning back to work. I would just say something like “Yeah, it was awesome. Learned a lot of cool new stuff”.
What I do remember though is the Untouchable Bus Tour that I took while at the conference in Chicago about five years ago! At the time I just finished the book about Al Capone and it was amazing to see some of the places with my own eyes.
Let’s dive a bit deeper. The whole idea behind tech conferences is to help engineers to stay on top of the game, other words stay relevant on the market.
You learn new hot skills, then either apply those skills at your current job (and hope for the unlikely raise) or go work for another company that allows you to play with the new technologies (and get a very likely raise).
It all boils down to salary increase eventually whether you accept it or not. That’s how the whole system is designed.
Ok ok, you love what you do and it’s not only about the money. Sure. I get it. Been there done that.
Here is the thing though, at some point in life (usually after mastering the craft for about 10 years) you might start asking questions…
I remember when I was just starting out, my dream was to get 100K a year. I thought it would allow me to get everything that I wanted.
It took me about 4 years to get to that number.
At the time I was living in the tiny 10x10ft room in Brooklyn and paid $250 a month for it. I didn’t have any student loans or other debts and my bank account steadily grew every month. Over time I was able to save about 20K or so.
Then I got married, moved to the one-bedroom apartment (still in Brooklyn) and my bank account stopped growing. I was making over 100K and yet we were somehow close to breaking even…
In case where the would be some surplus on the account (yearly bonus or a tax return) we would take a vacation and reset the accumulation process.
I’ve heard there are places out there that pay engineers 250K and more.
There must be, right?
Do you think it would be enough to dramatically change your life?
I doubt it.
More likely your expenses would compensate the gains pretty quickly. A bit bigger house, new car, better school for your kid and you are back to square one…
Don’t believe me?
Here at HBO, I work with a lot of VERY smart and talented engineers, some of them came from Google, Amazon and other well-known tech companies.
Do you know what a lot of them have in common?
Financial dreams, questions and challenges…
One guy withdrew his entire 401K account to make the initial downpayment (yep, he didn’t have any savings after years of working for multiple high profile companies!).
Another one is afraid to have kids because of very high rental prices in the areas with good schools.
Yet another one bought an old house but have no money to finish the renovations which brings him and his family a lot of stress on the daily basis…
How about putting a three-month-old kid in the daycare because both parents had to return to work (and maternity leave is a joke in this country)?
It’s the reality we live in… I could give you more examples like that but I’m sure deep down you know it all better than I am.
There is no escape in 9-to-5 no matter how hard you try… It’s not only about the money though. For example, right now I’m trying to figure out how to take two weeks in July to go watch a few World Cup games. And I only have -1 day available so far… Time to get creative 🙂
The only reason why I was able to buy my own house four years ago at the age of 30 was the e-commerce business that I started years back. I was working on it pretty much every day while living in that tiny room in Brooklyn and it paid off over time.
It allowed me not only to afford the house but also to completely renovate it (without getting separate loans and extra debt).
It gave me the financial cushion and a peace of mind.
It helped me to dramatically expand my technical and business expertise.
It financed my personal development initiatives I wouldn’t be able to afford living on a single paycheck.
I’m telling all of it not to brag, but to stress out the critical role of continuous self-education. Everyone talks about the importance of specialization and I believe in it myself, but it’s extremely easy to get locked down in the executioner mindset and live a mediocre semi-comfortable life.
That’s why I think the knowledge you get from attending tech meetups and conferences is just a piece of the puzzle.
It’s as (if not more) important to venture outside of your known boundaries and attend some personal development, marketing, business and health workshops as well.
The simplest way to start is to pick up the book on the topic you have very little knowledge about. You can look at my reading list if you have no idea where to start.
Remember, the magic happens when you start blending and mixing different areas of your expertise.
That’s when you go from 0 to 1.
That’s when you truly create and not just follow someone else’s blueprints.
That’s when you’ll start to live.