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Career advice I wish I’d been given when I was young (80000hours.org)
423 points by robertwiblin 47 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 218 comments

Some people seem to be missing the context in which this article was written: 80000 hours is about effective altruism, in the sense of deliberately building a career that does the most good in the world (whether that be charitable work, politics, or "earning to give" as a software engineer / banker / etc). The article itself doesn't explicitly state this unfortunately.

So yeah, the advice is very nuts and bolts, and several of the points don't make any sense without that context (e.g. picking the low-hanging fruits). It's assumed that the reader is already highly motivated to have an impactful altruistic career, and that this motivation is a primary source of self-fulfillment.

Just pointing this out because there seems to be a bit of confusion in the comments here.

> Be a pleasant person.

This is the cheat-code for getting everything you'll ever need and most of what you want out of life. Frankly, I would have made it number one.

this is a tricky one if you are lacking in self-confidence or social skills. When I was younger I tried to be pleasant (or my interpretation of what I thought is pleasant) and came across as boring or a pushover. So I went the other way and became a jerk which I didn't do well either. Now I am a little more balanced but it took me decades to get there.

So I think the advice should be to be pleasant but also not to try to be liked by everyone all the time. Be a complete person with boundaries and be friendly as long boundaries are not crossed. Also have goals and don't be afraid to express them.

An important thing that many people can't seem to understand is how to convey boundaries. I feel like the main separator from an unlikable individual from a likable one is how they express their dislikes to others. Tact is one of the most valuable skills one can have.

This seems like a hard learned lesson. Any tips?

It doesn't matter if it is tricky or not. It works, and so keep trying.

The feedback loops are very long so it can be very frustrating to keep trying and failing. It’s also not easy to tell whether something is working or not.

The feedback loop is much longer in some situations than others. If you do something where you're regularly meeting new people you'll end up with much faster feedback on how pleasant your behavior is, and the cost of social missteps is lower.

Many things work. Some are easier to do.

Of the big 5 personality traits in psychology, the three most highly correlated with success are: high disagreeableness, high conscientiousness, low neuroticism.

So there's an interesting give and take here.

Are those three correlated with success? Or simply leadership? If the former I'd like to know how "success" is defined. "Success" is a very broad and ambiguous word.

It's been a while, but my understanding was that it was pretty generic success across significant goals. So that would range from financial success to curing measles.

High disagreeableness means being able to dismiss most people, because most people will tend to pull you in towards a regression to the mean.

Low neuroticism is about stress tolerance. Doing anything major/new/difficult is stressful.

High conscientiousness means you spend time preparing, finish important tasks right away, pay attention to detail, and work well on a schedule.

It's hard to imagine being highly successful at much if you can't handle stress, are disorganized, and are very sensitive to others trying to tell you to do what everyone else does.

High disagreeableness gives you ambition.

High conscientiousness gives you the power to achieve it.

Low neuroticism helps you avoid self-sabotage.

One of the best things I ever did was stop caring what others think and become more disagreeable. It's sort of ironic that people didn't like the agreeable me (I assume too boring) but I'm far more liked as a disagreeable person. I may also be that I come across more honest when I tell people "no", or I contribute what my actual opinion is instead of whatever is easy.

Being pleasant is one of my personal rules/goals for life.

But it is interesting to analyze great leaders who have been jerks. This 30 minute Youtube documentary on the topic is very interesting: "DICKS: Do you need to be one to be a successful leader?" https://youtu.be/gRRvjZ_XNog

In bigger projectd and groups people need structure. If you're goal is provide success and structure for the people involved you can't let other people's lack of structure hurt everyone else. I think the "Kind of a Dick" is more of a cultural shock issue. You can be pleasant, but also blunt and honest about what needs to be done.

It's much harder than you think. You have to truly be a good person and not just pretend to be for materialistic gain.

Fake it until you realize that you're not faking it anymore.

I would not make it number one. Being generally pleasant is absolutely beneficial to yourself and everyone around you, but it is not a replacement for competence. Faking it with pleasantries is toxic, a form of lying with misdirection.

Personally, I prefer working with less competent pleasant people than more competent unpleasant people. You can find useful stuff to give less competent people (and help them become more competent over time), but it's hard to avoid unpleasant people affecting the morale of a whole team.

You can rely on competent people, you can give them a task and forget about it. That forgives a hell of a lot of abrasiveness. I 100% prefer being able to rely on someone rather than have to handhold or redo their work myself.

People aren't really binary like that ... "competent" or "not competent". It's all mushy and complicated. Some of the most competent people I manage at some kinds of tasks are basically a net loss at other tasks. The pleasant ones are lot easier to work into diverse tasks and get a "competent result" even if it is more messy than just tossing them a task an forgetting about it.

I think that's orthogonal to pleasantness. The tasks I have in mind revolve around coding, since that's my job. If the job extends beyond coding, to gathering requirements or coordinating a team, I'd be more inclined to agree. But they don't, for what I'm thinking about.

Well to keep it positive, I'll just say that I find working with competent people to be quite pleasant.

100% agree to strongly disagree :)

Until in their efforts to be competent, they be unpleasant to the wrong person--and now you have a new and different and harder problem.

Arguably, that's being incompetent. If their task involves a social interaction, then to be competent at it they must know how to successfully manage that too, even if they are generally unpleasant.

Lack of competency has a much greater effect on my morale than lack of pleasantness. We're all different I guess.

IIRC there was a study posted to Hackernews about a week ago that showed that humans really prefer competent coworkers over nice ones.

Citation welcome! Otherwise I'll continue doubting this based on my experience.

That comes down to whether you are primarily looking for harmony or success.

I'd say it comes down to whether you have a team of one or not. If you have someone competent but unpleasant and you can isolate them to get useful work done, then it could be successful. But if they have to be on a team, and they're toxic, then no amount of competence is going to balance out the damage, and you will fail.

> Our research showed (not surprisingly) that, no matter what kind of organization we studied, everybody wanted to work with the lovable star, and nobody wanted to work with the incompetent jerk. Things got a lot more interesting, though, when people faced the choice between competent jerks and lovable fools.

> Ask managers about this choice—and we’ve asked many of them, both as part of our research and in executive education programs we teach—and you’ll often hear them say that when it comes to getting a job done, of course competence trumps likability. “I can defuse my antipathy toward the jerk if he’s competent, but I can’t train someone who’s incompetent,” says the CIO at a large engineering company. Or, in the words of a knowledge management executive in the IT department of a professional services firm: “I really care about the skills and expertise you bring to the table. If you’re a nice person on top of that, that’s simply a bonus.”

> But despite what such people might say about their preferences, the reverse turned out to be true in practice in the organizations we analyzed. Personal feelings played a more important role in forming work relationships—not friendships at work but job-oriented relationships—than is commonly acknowledged. They were even more important than evaluations of competence. In fact, feelings worked as a gating factor: We found that if someone is strongly disliked, it’s almost irrelevant whether or not she is competent; people won’t want to work with her anyway. By contrast, if someone is liked, his colleagues will seek out every little bit of competence he has to offer. And this tendency didn’t exist only in extreme cases; it was true across the board. Generally speaking, a little extra likability goes a longer way than a little extra competence in making someone desirable to work with.


> Faking it with pleasantries is toxic, a form of lying with misdirection.

If you consider being pleasant to be the same as being a decent person, and not just being polite, then I'd argue all of those things make you not pleasant.

Even if you're incompetent if you were decent you'd admit to your faults and work on improving them to a required level. No decent person would willingly just let their team down.

I do not confuse pleasantness with decency. Pleasantness is how you appear. Decency is what you are.

No one is saying that is all you need. Being pleasant is necessary, but not sufficient, for succeeding in life.

> Being pleasant is necessary

Being able to be pleasant is necessary. Being generally pleasant, I would argue, is not.

Depending on your definition of "succeeding in life", I'm not sure this is true. The current leaders of various countries, such as the USA or Russia, are arguably counter-examples: they don't seem to me to be pleasant people, yet by most standards they could be said to have achieved success in life.

Are you suggesting that somebody can only be one of pleasant or competent?

>Are you suggesting that somebody can only be one of pleasant or competent?

I assume they are suggesting what they said - don't make it the number one thing.

If it WAS a binary choice, I'd rather have a competent asshole than an incompetent nice guy.

Being nice is absolutely important, incredibly so - I think we often forget that as engineers - but you still absolutely need to be competent first.

Either skill can be learned, so if you're one and not the other, it's fixable.

You should always strive for both.

can you go into more detail here? It sounds like you have anecdotal experience where you find people who focus on being pleasant aren't competent.

You should always strive to be a generally pleasant person, especially when things get tough.

This not an excuse to lye though. When bad news or a disagreement emerges tell it like it is. Don’t bullshit around it. Don’t sugarcoat it. Be direct, honest, accurate, and objective. If that makes somebody sad then so be it. The best way to cushion a devastating blow is with directness and offers, meaningful offers, of support.

Violating your integrity for kindness exposes you as weak and suggests you struggle with communication skills. You will come across as untrustworthy and unreliable.

I don't disagree. I place "pleasant" near "considerate." You can give bad news or disagree and not be a jerk about it. I think some folks are putting it too close to "make others happy."

Being pleasant costs you nothing and yields tremendous benefits. And you can still disagree with people and not be a pushover. I can have a debate with someone and not be a rude, unpleasant person.

> Being pleasant costs you nothing

This lie is repeated pretty often. I had several periods in my life (few months of sleep deprivation after my daughter was born, stressful periods during university, etc), when it required a huge amount of conscious effort to be nice with colleagues, not to mention dealing with assholes.

Agreed. Emotional work has quite the cost.

Imagine if those assholes had simply been pleasant.

What goes around comes around, in a nice way, too. :)

Just don't forget you can't please everyone and don't get upset if someone doesn't like you.

This needs more explanation. The stereotypical "Mr. Nice guy" isn't very successful.

There's a big difference between 'pleasant to be around' and the stereotypical 'Mr Nice Guy' who goes out of his way to do anything and everything he thinks someone might want or need.

Simply bothering to learn someone's name, greet them when you see them, and be interested in what they're doing or saying will make people want to interact with you more.

Tim Cook is both exceedingly pleasant and extremely successful. The world needs more like him.


Respectfully, Donald J Trump (and basically every leader in the world)

I like this list a lot more than Sam Altman's How to be Successful.

Sam does have some excellent pointers about everything from compounding your impact to having an exploring mindset. But his list feels as if it's written mostly from the perspective of a racehorse breeder who wants to win the next Kentucky Derby with one of his beasts. (Doesn't really matter which one. Also doesn't hugely matter if some of the others collapse during the quest.)

The 80,000-hour author is much more in step with advice that can help people at almost every decile of achievement.

Sama's post as you say is only within three purview of a very narrow industry and career niche. For those who are knee deep in it, it resonates strongly.

But not everyone is in said industry And applying perfectly good advice for one industry isn't necessarily appropriate for others.

That's something that I dislike about a lot of advice posts out there -- that there are few disclaimers about for whom it is written for.

Some recommendations in this one are highly specific (e.g., keeping security clearance as an option) and probably applies to the author's choice of field (something politics in DC) but not (?)most fields. I certainly don't want to work for anyone who requires me to have a security clearance. Everything I've heard about programming in a security clearance environment is a nightmare.

Also, I'm not sure how you get to 30 in software without having a full resume (1-pager, only relevant experience). You don't need 10 10% side projects and you definitely don't need to take unpaid internships.

> Crowdsource your career decisions. I’ve done this for most of the last few decades, polling people I trust, and the advice seems generally good in hindsight.

I've been trying this recently and I can't get really good advice. Is the issue that I haven't built up a useful enough network? The advice tends to be in 1 of 3 categories

1) You're smart, you should just start your own thing and make (b/m)illions.

2) Come work with us, we have a role that kind of fits your skillset and pays you less.

3) You already make a lot of money and/or are successful in your career just chill\coast and collect a paycheck.

All of those sound like someone hasn't really listened to you tell your story and your desires, and taken the time to apply their own deep insights on what is important to you.

In other words, listening first, finding out what matters to you (not them) and caring about what you care about.

I don't know many people who will do that, but I know a few(†), so I'm inclined to think it's that you haven't built up a useful enough network, or to put it a different way, made enough good and insightful friends.

(†) Most of them not in IT.

1 and 3 also have the clue word "just", that says someone is shrugging off the enquiry.

Even if you got one of those three responses, it would be a fine in a conversation, if you had the time with them to explain why the initial response is mismatched to your goals, and that idea was developed with further conversation.

> Crowdsource your career decisions.

This is just bad advice, other people will give advice they wish they had been given, it is a mistake to confuse this with advice thats useful to you.

At the end of the day your career is too big and unique to you for anyone else to give informed, accurate or useful advice on.

With hindsight you can cherry pick the good advice from the bad, the informed from the uninformed, making this advice seem useful. But when actually trying to make a decision you have just flooded yourself with a lot of advice that may be helpful or harmful and you have no idea which.

I think the rest of this advice has the same issue. Advice that sounds good given hindsight, not so useful without it.

Honestly combining 3 and 1 is my current route. Low stress lucrative job, that gives me plenty of time for extracurricular.

> Back in my 30s, [about half] of the things on my resumé [...] didn’t pay me any money. Those projects sounded fancy and helped me to get good full-time jobs later on.

The rest seemed reasonable, but this is not actually doable for a lot of people who need a regular source of income to live.

If you are going back in time and wishing to set things up for success, there is usually a lot you can do to remove rather than add to your responsibility burden when you are young. Young people are often rushing to "make it" -- get the car, get the house, get the relationship, get the family, etc, etc. Once you have those things, your options narrow considerably.

While working for free is not an option that is available to a lot of people, I think the sentiment is still valid. No matter how many responsibilities you have in life, when you are young it's probably best to try to delay adding more so that you can spend some time exploring options that will be much harder to explore later in life when you are more established.

Most people spend their first few years of adult life in unpaid education producing things to help them get good full-time jobs later on and most see that as a reasonable thing to do.

Most people with money.

Most people with _access to_ money

there's also a middle-ground - take lower-paying positions that allow for a great deal of learning and responsibility; it can increase knowledge and employ-ability later.

Does anyone else find things like this from sites like 80000 hours really alienating? Do people really think like this? I don't know anyone who takes their career so seriously.

I think this article just reflects the worldview of a 40something career DC bureaucrat, I'm sure much or all of this advice is relevant to someone living that life. I personally just have little in common with the author, other than living in a major city. I'm guessing much of HN doesn't have much in common with him either.

With that being said, some of the advice (like about not trading time for money) is pretty relevant for upper middle-class tech professionals too

Some people don't have a choice. It sounds lovely to have anything else in your life worth taking seriously, but that's not an opportunity that is available to everybody.

What if you have no community, no chosen family, no friendly acquaintances, and you know that will never change? If your choices are essentially between dedication to work and dying of despair in an empty room, what's wrong with choosing the path that tries to help those who will follow?

Is this a thought experiment? How can you know you will never have a community, chosen family, nor friendly acquaintances? You can work on gaining those just like you can work on a career.

yeah but the people who are on hackernew either don't care or don't know how to begin working on those things.

What if you spent 80000 hours on your mental health instead of this? You do have a choice

If someone spent 80000 hours on their mental health 8 hours a day, they would be 30 years older having contributed nothing to the world.

I would assume that for most people, "spending time on your mental health" is not something you do in solitary as a 9-to-5 job. It is more likely to mean building friendships at work or elsewhere, working towards meaningful goals, and leaving time to rest your mind and body. If this precludes a 100% dedication to some startup idea, then that's just something to accept about onself. Everything else will just lead to nothing but burnout, which kills all capacity to contribute anyway. Stuff like having a positive influence on the people you meet can also be a contribution, and there can be personal value and gratification even outside of "contributions", such as simply learning something new (maybe even something without economic value). Personally, I feel like it's highly arguable whether yet another SV-style startup is likely to result in a net positive contribution to the world anyway. Often, the drive to optimize everything for productivity seems to stem more from a need to prove ones worth to oneself and a lottery player's fantasy of riches. I commend everyone that takes their inspiration from more than those things, in business or outside.

That sounds great to me. We need more mentally healthy people.

As someone who agrees with your point about not taking your career so seriously I agree with point 1 on the post.

> Don’t focus too much on long-term plans.

As someone who has just worked hard on the thing in front of me without long term planning it has paid off pretty well. That along with being pleasant seems to go a long way. I didn't need a list or a philosophy to figure that out I just happened.

12 was where I felt alienated.

> Avoid spending time to earn or save money.

When the author starts talking about their time being so valuable that they throw money at things and don't cook etc. to me they sound like a rich out of touch robot and not a normal relatable person.

That’s crazy that you don’t know anyone like that. It’s a common thing for people to take very seriously.

I guess I'm off-put by something more specific in the article than "taking your career seriously." I know lots of people who take their career seriously in a certain sense. They devote a lot of hours to their career and see it as a source of meaning. However, the center of their focus tends to be "internal" in the sense that, at the end of the day, they are most concerned with the value that their career adds to their own lives.

This article seems to have a very different focal point. It's not about making your career more fulfilling for you. It's not about how to have a career that fulfills your own desires of pursuing your curiosity or doing the sort of good that you enjoy doing (like being a doctor or teacher). Rather, the article is written as if from the perspective of an outside person viewing this person's career. It's about having a career that will please other people. Crowdsourcing your decisions will make you choose the things that other people find worthwhile. Taking on many projects will help you build a diverse resume to impress other people. The last point even specifically says not to spend too much time looking for a job that you find pleasant because there might be jobs that can "do more good" in the world that aren't pleasant.

The whole emphasis on taking a job that benefits the world without necessarily being pleasant for yourself just seems so robotic to me. At the end of the day, why do you care about being altruistic? Presumably because it's a path towards creating a world where people can enjoy life more. If you accomplish this by living a life that you yourself don't enjoy, it just seems antithetical any motivation for improving the world that I can imagine.

I know people who are spending the better part of their youth working hard to become doctors or something similar. They are working very hard and (like the author) thinking about ways of impressing others in pursuit of getting into med school and getting into competitive specialties or whatever. But there are two differences. (1) They know that this sort of impressing others is something they only need to do at the beginning of their career, and (2) they actually like helping others so they will eventually reach a point where their own pleasure and their altruism is aligned. This article seems to be suggesting that we live a life where these things are not aligned, and make no attempt to align them. I understand that there are jobs that aren't fun, and someone has to do them, but I don't expect ambitious people to work hard to find these jobs.

The point of a job should be to improve the world. The point of a career is to be able to do more impactful jobs by increasing skill and understanding.

Personality and job fit are only important as far as they allow you to do the job better.

Do you understand why I would call this perspective robotic though? I could never live like that. The reason I take a job is because I think it will improve my life. A paycheck is obviously part of that, but so is doing a job I enjoy. I would prefer a job that does 10 units of good and gives me 10 units of pleasure to a job that does 20 units of good and gives me 2 units of pleasure.

That makes sense. But do you see why it might be conflicting to some people if they have the chance to do, say, 40 units of good for 8 pleasure instead of 10 for 10? Where do you draw the line?

At a the UK university I attend I know a sizeable group of people who think exactly like this and have probably already read this exact article. Diligent people dead set on making the most change they can with their skills.

One the one hand I agree with you, sometimes a career is just a thing one does to live comfortably. On the other hand, it's 80,000 hours of one's life, and it can be squandered if one does not at least occasionally think about what they're doing with that chunk of time and whether they can improve how they spend it.

I got the die-hard DC public/private/nonprofit bureaucrat vibe from it--which is pretty frightening.

Garlic and crucifixes don't work on those.

> Avoid spending time to earn or save money.

This could be dangerous advice. Sure, if you value your time at $20/hr, maybe saving a few bucks now doesn't make sense. But no one is paying you $20/hr for the time your spending doing that. Unless your other option is to work more at an hourly job instead of bargain hunting, that time is worth $0/hr (plus whatever you value your sanity at).

But more importantly, when you save it gives you the change to purchase greater opportunity in the future, which make have a greater than $20/hr value down the road.

The real lesson should be one from economics, combine time and money based upon their current relative marginal value.

When you have heaps of time, thats the exact moment when you should be using it to set yourself up for future earning and saving of money.

When you work long hours and make enough money, use that money to buy back some time.

And if you "work long hours, make few money", my condolences, but that also gives you an important insight into the value of doing the former if or when you can...(under the assumption that the work isn't effectively future investment)

The further up the scale you go the more tenuous the link between hours worked and income becomes. Sure, if you are a part time worker paid by the hour or on minimum wage then increasing your hours will work.

For most people here I would expect adding an extra hour to their week will have little impact. They would be better tightening their spending if they want to improve their financial position.

Yup. By spending money, every 20$ you spend, uses up 1 hour of your life. If you want more time back, you need to save money.

Might have been better worded about recognizing tradeoffs. But you might be missing the point a little bit. The point is NOT to try to maximize money, but to maximize time. He's very forthright that he's paying more for time; and not being payed hourly for his time.

For example, health is important, but if you're hell-bent on the cheapest living/commute option you might not have time to exercise regularly or spend time with loved-ones etc. Personally, I just went from 20m commute to 2h daily commute; so I'm strongly considering moving closer to work which will be more expensive.

> when you save The decision should definitely not be made at the expense of healthy saving, but that varies from person to person. E.g., I am currently saving ~40% of my income, so I have plenty of cushion to buy more time.

> "Find easy ways you can come across better."

Listen, I know that we live in a world in which many things other than objective merit matter when it comes to success/relationships/upward mobility. I realize there's psychology involved, perhaps even evolutionary psychology (i.e., hard to change).

But I hate this advice. It reeks of elitism, with a nose high in the air.

"Want success? Look good and smile."

What about: "Find easy ways to be open and accepting of what others have to say, despite your instinct not to listen."

Might be overthinking this one, but this line of thinking is frustrating.

Having recently lost 80+ pounds (~40 to my goal) the transformation in how people perceive you is remarkable and very noticeable.

Make no mistake, if you're very overweight, or otherwise visibly not taking care of yourself, you are absolutely losing opportunities. As a fat person, I know anti-fat bias is bulls hit; I also know it's really, really hard to control for.

The advice may not apply to you, because past a certain point it does become elitism.

Big time congrats on dropping the weight, and it's great to hear how it seems to be "noticeably" changing the way people perceive you.

It's a very difficult thing to do, and ever since my younger son started battling (and winning) his weight issues, I have become much more sensitive to how unfairly some people treat overweight people.

> As a fat person, I know anti-fat bias is bulls hit;

Can you explain why you feel like this? I can definitely see why the opposite is true (visibly not taking care of yourself means your subconscious is more powerful than your conscious mind which doesn't breed trust) but find it hard to see any redeeming qualities in being overweight.

There's nothing good about being overweight.

However, being fat doesn't mean you're stupid or lazy. There's a skinny person inside every fatass. I lost the weight and I am not any more qualified to do any job than anyone else, but I know for sure job interviews would go a lot better. People automatically like a beautiful skinny person more than a fat person, and that's a huge bias to overcome.

"However, being fat doesn't mean you're stupid or lazy. "

As a fat person you

a) may not care about conventions.

b) you have little self control

c) you may be impulsive in things

I don't have any friend who is seriously overweight and successful. But I know a shitload of people the other way around. I just tried recently to do business with a seriously overweight person and, feel free to blame me, would never do that again.

So congrats for losing weight.

I really don't think you understand what's involved in an eating disorder or how hard these attitudes make it to lose weight.

If being fat really is just a personality failure (no self control, impulsivity), that would imply that fat people shouldn't even try; they're defective.

There are serious environmental issues involved. For example, the stress of constantly being perceived as a non-person leads to serious anxiety and, for at least some fat people, self-hatred. I was never going to be successful making a change until I learned to love who I was, even when looking in the mirror.

Fat-shaming attitudes do a lot of harm here. Really it's a behavioral health issue and should be treated as such, not shamed.

I would also point out the links between obesity and for example poverty. Coming from a wealthy, successful background (did you have access to a gym growing up? Did your parents have time to teach you good habits? Could your family afford healthy nutrition?) can make it hard to empathize with that, but you don't really understand the problem until you do.

I work with many people every day; I could pick any trait and cherry pick interactions to come up with all sorts of conclusions; fat people are very helpful; fat people are controlling; skinny people are fucking assholes; skinny people are great. You can justify any bias that way ("that black guy I worked with was terrible; won't do that again"). You might have no fat friends because you come into every interaction with a fat person prejudiced against them. You might not know any _successful_ fat people because society doesn't afford fat people the opportunities it does thin people.

Edit: one more note: even for really motivated fat people trying to make a change, there's a lot of really bad advice out there. I've been successful in my transformation because I've ignored a lot of advice; e.g. I weigh myself every day to create a feedback loop. Doctors hate it. Or look at the demonization of fat and the promotion of sugar as a health food.

"I really don't think you understand what's involved in an eating disorder or how hard these attitudes make it to lose weight."

No, I have worked in the diabetes field and I do know, how difficult it is. But on the other hand, you don't get seriously overweight overnight and you have to start countermeasures early.

"Or look at the demonization of fat and the promotion of sugar as a health food." Yes, it should be the other way around. Please also take this into account: https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/49/15/967.full

"skinny people are fucking assholes". The sampling size is too bigt to make any statements about "skinny" people. Also, being seriously overweight in Europe is a tiny majority, compared to some states in the US.

> ("that black guy I worked with was terrible; won't do that again").

Terrible comparison. People from 1950 were just as black as they are now. However, people from 1950 were nowhere near as overweight as they are now, even if we control for Flynn effect.

I remember reading a couple of years ago that an average woman today weighs as much as an average man from 1960, that gave me a pause.

" ("that black guy I worked with was terrible; won't do that again")."

I once started a business with a black Nigerian partner. In fact, I would not consider a black guy as partner in business anymore. Been there, done it.


Would you please stop posting flamebait to HN so we don't have to keep banning you? Also, you should know that when people keep creating accounts to do this, we eventually ban their main account as well.


There are actually studies that show that, at least for women, you can show that extra weight correlates to less salary:


Recently I heard an interesting story on This American Life that speaks to this:


> Might be overthinking this one, but this line of thinking is frustrating.

I think maybe you are. I read "Find easy ways you can come across better." as "learn to communicate your intent clearer", as long as your normal mode of communication isn't being an asshole. If you're not an asshole, explaining yourself clearly and effectively without being too verbose is the same as coming across better.

Edit: And if someone is an asshole, that can be interpreted as "find a way to be less of an asshole."

It's not elitism, it's pragmatism. Work is a collective, social endeavor. Getting along better with others is going to help, whether that's by communicating better, being generally more likable, or being tall and good looking (yeah, it sucks that this is a thing, but who are we kidding?)

Most of these things are under your control, so work at getting better at your soft skills, they're at least as important as your technical expertise.

I'm not entirely sure what your objection is. Forgive me if it seems like I'm talking past you; that's not my intent, but I don't really know how to address your argument head on.

But I think that advice is very good advice. It's worked for me at least. About a year ago I started dressing significantly better. T shirt and jeans to dress shirt and slacks. It has made a substantial improvement on my quality of life. People are much nicer to me, which is nice, but the thing that surprised me the most was the extent to which people take my ideas at work more seriously. If I prose something, people are much more likely to go along with it.

My confidence has gone up as well. After having gone from getting blown off when I propose ideas (and then having someone else "come up with" them and getting credit for it later) to having those same ideas get taken seriously and implemented had made me a lot more likely to propose things. It's not as if my company's corporate culture values these things either. Dress code is basically no flipflops.

Has my objective merit gotten any better? Are my ideas or execution any better than they used to be? Absolutely not. But I'm more successful, and more importantly happier than I used to be.

It's a very small thing which has made an outsized improvement. That's his point I think, not that you need to do these things to be successful, or that the little things are more important than the big things, but pick the low hanging fruit before you start stretching for the things which are out of reach. Sometimes the things that have the highest ROI are the things with minimal investment and mediocre return. String ten of those little things together and you might find you've got what you need out of your nine to five.

I think this piece of advice is pretty invaluable and I suspect that you might have the wrong impression of what this means.

I take it as a call to learn how to communicate your thoughts effectively as well as understand what motivates other people. I worked in a technical consulting company and the most effective people were the ones that could sell their ideas to customers/ within our organization as well as deliver technically. I don't think it's enough to purely be a technical person or a good communicator, developing both skills are pretty crucial to getting ahead as well as work effectively in teams.

The working out part is definitely a flex, but it something that most people should do but don't.

> "Find easy ways you can come across better" > ... for people trying to have a big social impact, there might be no more cost-effective self-improvement investment than enrolling in Toastmasters and buying a gym membership...

I think you are right that we should be open and accepting. It just turns out that it is easier to do that towards people who are well spoken and have a good physical presence. I feel that people who speak poorly and don't take good care of themselves are kind of playing on hard mode when it comes to influencing others. Like you mention, this is likely embedded in our evolutionary psychology and is hard to change.

Recognizing that elitism exists and affects you is not the same as being elitist.

"The great achievement of the Enlightenment had been to show that might is not necessarily right. The mistake they made was to assume that the law of the strong had suddenly evaporated simply because it had been shown to be unjust."

Where is this from?

The exact wording is from a Wikipedia editor, but it's just a reformulation of the writings of John Bew in his book "Realpolitik: A History", which I recommend. Specifically, he's talking about the ideas of the 19th century German writer and politician Ludwig von Rochau, who originally coined the word "realpolitik".

Fail. It sounds like you are confusing this point away from self-improvement only to redirect it towards arrogance and doubling down with defensiveness.

You should always seek to improve yourself to perform and feel better regardless of the weak, sensitive, enviable people around you. Improvements that build confidence are internalizing qualities where arrogance, vanity, and acceptance are externalizing qualities. I have seen insecure people get upset when someone else takes risks with originality. Ignore the insecure people.

don't care for this list, primarily because it's focus is that a job is a stepping stone to something else, never a career (guess the field is the career here):

> Don’t focus too much on long-term plans. Focus on interesting projects and you’ll build a resumé that stands out...

> Be a pleasant person. People want colleagues who seem pleasant and happy and good humoured. Washington DC especially operates more on social capital than on merit..

> Avoid stuff that could cause irreversible reputational harm...

> Work to solve problems that aren’t popular. Popularity of a problem is evidence that it is hard to solve, competition is high, and your individual contribution is likely to be small. In contrast, neglected problems often have low-hanging solutions that no one has bothered to look for...

> Some jobs in government may be easier to get than you imagine. ...Rather than consider a life in government, I suggest trying a 3 to 5 year stint, and see what you’re able to contribute.

Why do i see this as a problem? Individually, this is all good advice for the new engineer. But collectively, building your career in a field by using a Gov job or some other employ simply as a stepping stone is incredibly disingenuous. The whole thing stinks of any lack of self-reflection - here jobs are just what you do to gain a better hold of where you can exist in the field. It's very similar to chasing fame in LA, but this time it's DC.

I largely agree with you - I definitely think more experienced folks should take more pride and ownership in their work - but I'm not sure this is bad advice specifically for a brand new employee. Looking back on my career, my first couple jobs were stepping stones, even though I didn't think of them that way at the time. I took them very seriously and lost sleep over my projects there. But I didn't need to. I wasn't very important or useful to those companies; I was just learning, and making lots of mistakes as I went. I had a lot of stress and self esteem problems about that. Looking back on it from the perspective of my current expectations for brand new employees, my feeling is that I would have been better off to have chilled out and recognized that I was providing cheap imperfect labor while ramping up the ability to fill the quota of useful people in a few years time.

Why is it disingenuous? I got a job because I want money to live and do other stuff, they got one because they want to move up. You seem to be suggesting one must treat the job as a life goal in itself, but why? Outside of some cult-like startups, nobody imagines you're spending your time there because you'd rather be there than anywhere else. There's no deception going on.

It suggests that you find low hanging fruit, don't do anything that will make waves, and only really think about the short term. That doesn't sound like you're operating in good faith.

You're confusing a career with the work. I've taken consultancy jobs where I was only supposed to spend a month there, preparing the foundations for future projects by internal developers. It wasn't a long-term plan for my career, yet I did think long-term for the project and the company. They're two different things.

Regarding the low-hanging fruit, this again may involve the choice of job (career decision), rather than the choices you make in the job. Nevertheless, I'd suggest looking for neglected problems may actually be beneficial in the job as well, for the employer - too often employees are jostling to participate in the high-visibility projects, rather than what can make a real difference in the bottom-line.

As for not making waves, that's simply not there. They're talking about "irreversible reputational harm" like committing crimes and doing drugs. No job should require you to do irreversible reputational harm to yourself.

Every job is a stepping stone to retirement.

Most people who enjoy their work don't retire early. So I'd say that statement is not relevant.

The Google Alerts thing is one of the more unique suggestions and one I haven't heard before. What kind of Google Alert would both be relevant to your career and be rare enough that it only triggers a result roughly once every 15 years (assuming the numbers from the post are accurate)?

Wild guess: the name of people you consider important plus the location in which you live/work? Just in case they ever pass by close to you, so you can try to catch up to them and have a conversation.

> Avoid stuff that could have irreversible reputational harm or slow down a security clearance.

This sounds a little strange to me, coming from "Anonymous". Do they think there is advice here which could cause them irreversible career damage?

I suppose it could also simply be the desire to not have half the internet jump down your throat for a typo, as often happens these days.

My cynical asshole take is that because most of this advice is so reductive that it's useless, and they were probably embarrassed to attach a name to such a low-value clickbait post - I feel very stupid to have clicked it.

For example... > Find the biographies of people whose job you’d like to have and figure out how they got it. You can effectively reverse engineer their career path.

If you're famous enough to warrant a biography(and I'm assuming an actual biography, not just a wiki article) then odds are pretty good you came from a very privileged background. Not sure how you can reverse-engineer being born into that.

As an analyst who's read through various biographies and the resumes of people in high power positions, you've generally already lost out if you can't list on yours (subtly or not so subtly): "have rich, educated, well connected parents, and use those connections to land your first few jobs or investments".

I suppose there's some marginal value in learning that you should talk the talk and walk the walk to better fit into that culture (and that will open up some opportunities for you), but merit is not how 90%+ of the world works...

I quite disagree. It's not the "position" these give you, but the mind set. The mind set is what differentiates highly successful. I know quite a lot of people who are multi-millionares, don't have to work - and came from very middle class positions. I once met a billionaire who said "Anyone can be homeless, or rich beyond their dreams. It's their mindset, actions, and opportunities that they seize to set themselves apart. Do what everyone else does, to end up no better"

The "mindset" you're talking about is parent's second part of the sentence, "...and use those connections to land your first few jobs or investments."

I mean - that does happen. I personally know of enough middle class kids for whom none of that is true. They just worked incredibly hard, and didn't give up when people normally do, including not being paid for many years while living at home with a family. Sometimes what people attribute to connections or privelege, is a lot of behind the scenes sacrifice, and fortitude, and patience.

This line of thinking is only valid if the mindset causes success. It seems far more likely that success causes the mindset.

> of people whose job you’d like to have and figure out how they got it.

I would extend this a bit. This could be people you worked with, not necessary to be any famous people with a published biography. Check their profile, see what kind of training, education, and jobs they had will help you understanding how get to where they are at.

Everyone on linkedin has a biography.

I'm sure there are many people from humble beginnings that have biographies. However, they often grew up in different times. There might be some takeaways from their story, but I don't think you can reverse engineer their success path. On the other side of that, I like the quote often attributed to Thomas Jefferson, "The harder I work, the more luck I have." Combine that with "Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity," and I think we are on our way to something.

> Find the biographies of people whose job you’d like to have and figure out how they got it. You can effectively reverse engineer their career path.

LinkedIn provides a biography of sorts for millions of professionals. Do a little Googling and possibly even reach out to some people and you can figure out how just about anyone got to where they are today.

This. I've reverse engineered not only my career but other huge parts of my life from profiles on hacker news.

If ones believes success comes from privilege, one will never be successful.

I actually don't believe that, but I find it very dubious that you can simply reverse-engineer someone else's career path.

Of course you can reverse the career at a high level. But it doesn't mean someone else would have the same outcomes - even if following the same steps. Every person's life is filled with a unique, dynamic range of possibilities, opportunities, hardships, challenges, obstacles. Some "success" (however defined), can be much easier for some - and much more difficult for others. Those for which it is difficult can either have the patience, fortitude, vision, cognitive ability to make weighted probability deicision, and tenacity to get there, or not - sometimes sacrificing for years or decades.

Someone without "wealth" may easily form friendships, have a great family, and fulfillment there. A "wealthy" person may be great at creating wealth, but poor at creating fulfillment.

> Avoid spending time to earn or save money. I now see time as my most valuable resource, and I’m willing to spend money to save time. I pay for ridesharing so that I can work during transit, I frequently buy meals so that I can save time spent cooking, I pay higher rent to have a shorter commute, and I don’t spend time searching for bargains.

This is stupid. If you're an engineer in the Bay area making good but not FAANG money, this can easily lead you to save absolutely nothing and have nothing to show for years of your life. If you live elsewhere, it's a bit easier, but eating out all the time and spending money when you could do the work yourself, including looking for bargains is going to limit the amount of savings you have significantly.

Let's face it, time is NOT money. That's fucking absurd. No one works around the clock. It's impossible. Even the people that pretend to are not actually efficient or effective. They're just wasting most of that time. Especially in something like software engineering. Time is not fucking money. That's just a dumb saying. The only time this advice might apply is if you're making millions easily and you don't need to budget. Time is still not money and it won't make your pretend work worth anything, but at that point you can afford it. For 99.999% of people, this is just terrible advice. I say this from experience having spent years working in the bay area as a software engineer and then leaving in debt. And that was years ago when rent/prices weren't so high. Stupid advice.

A bit of meta-advice: don’t take advice from people that don’t have any context on you, don’t align with your values and priorities, or may have misaligned incentives.

Aren't you in bucket 1 here? :)

Don't trust anyone, especially me.

The irony is not lost on me ;)

Find the biographies of people whose job you’d like to have, and figure out how they got there. You can effectively reverse engineer their career path.

I highly doubt that one.

>> 16. Some jobs in government may be easier to get than you imagine.

I will add to this my observation from reading Michael Lewis' book The Fifth Risk: if you can tolerate the bureaucracy, it's often possible to get to work on hugely impactful and highly-resourced projects early in your career by going into government.


> I still read a lot about technology, but at the margin I probably get more value from reading histories of institutional disasters and near-disasters, and the biographies of people who helped avoid some of those disasters.

Anyone know of a reading list or a website that collects 'institutional disasters and near-disasters'? e.g. stuff like the recent Accenture/Hertz article, breaking then saving healthcare.gov etc.

“there might be no more cost-effective self-improvement investment than enrolling in Toastmasters and buying a gym membership”

Horrible advice. Do not do.

> I’m also pretty sceptical of ‘earning-to-give’ careers. That’s because it’s very unlikely that you can earn more money than you would have been able to direct in a funding organisation — there’s a lot more competition to become a billionaire than there is to become a leader or grantmaker at a foundation or important government agency.

I'm sure this is literally true, but I'm not sure what I think about it. when you're directing large amounts of money at a nonprofit, for the most part you are just allocating money that has already been donated; you are choosing between charitable causes, but perhaps not advancing the "production frontier" that much unless you are really good at spending efficiently or fundraising. but if you accumulate wealth of your own and donating it, you are actually increasing the amount of money that can be spent on problems. might it not be better to add $1 million to the pool than to decide how $10 million gets allocated?

This advice makes sense... only if you are already fortunate enough that choosing to take unpaid work, buying all your meals out, etc. is a reasonable choice that doesn't impact your personal finances.

For the rest of us, though, we need to get there first. The best advice I have for younger people to help them get there is not to optimize your earnings, but instead to minimize your personal burn rate. It is nice to have enough money for nice homes and other things. It is even nicer to know that if your income went away, you can still live on a low-paying job is you absolutely had to. And it is wonderful to be able to take any job you want, with a high salary being a nice-to-have bonus, not a requirement due to choices you made in where and how to live.

One piece of advice almost never given is that some people just should not work for a boss. It's hard to know when you're that person because you can be smart and engaging and still qualify.

What do you mean? As in some people aren't meant to work under others? Or that you shouldnt work somewhere just because you like your boss?

I mean some people should not work under others. It's not that they are bad people it's just that they are not talented subordinates.

> Work to solve problems that aren’t popular. Popularity of a problem is evidence that it is hard to solve, competition is high, and your individual contribution is likely to be small.

I think this is a relevant advice for us - wannabe millionaires. Or at least for me. Do not be a copycat. Look deeper for a good enough problems. Don't focus on what is hot.

It may not be an advise to surely become the next billionaire, but millionaire may be fine.

I'm 30. Am I still young enough? (I guess the answer is: for some things, not for others and never stop making progress)

P.S.: Anyone looking for a (senior) IT product manager and working on something slightly altruistic, scientific and interesting?

Preferred topics: News, News Aggregation, Knowledge Management, anything from Data over NLP to Deep Learning (ethically though please), generally Scientific Topics.

There’s a queue of probably a million other bored/jaded software people, who would like a job like that.

I know, but I better keep trying, right? There is also quite a range between working for a bank and writing the next wikipedia.

Anything more than just CRUD and with a business model including real value for the customer is already OK (as opposed to some buggy subscription trap selling dreams that will go bust).

Interesting. Wish you best of luck.

thank you, and I wish the same to you fellow traveler :)

Here is the thing.

You probably got that advice when you were young, but you wouldn't listen to it even if it was being served by someone you respected because you didn't understand it because you hadn't lived through the things that would make you appreciate that kind of advice.

A muchh better approach is to go make mistakes and you will learn what you needed to learn to get through life.

I'll give an answer:

The most important thing in life is family.

For family and more, the most important raw material is financial security.

In the US, the main path to financial security is to start, own, and run a successful business.

In the US, for nearly all the businesses, the most important Buffett moat and, thus, protection, is a geographical barrier to entry -- for the business you are in, it is a big advantage to have no competition more than 100 miles away so that if do well in a radius of 100 miles will likely do well. Next, pick a business where you have lots of customers, not just a few really important ones.

This owning a business is important: It can be just super tough even to buy a house when working for someone else. Commonly they just don't have to pay that much.

Beware the usual, mainstream media: They are at best smelly bait for the ad hook and otherwise propaganda for special interests. They are NOT serious sources of valuable information.

DO exploit compound interest, in an index stock fund, real estate, etc.

Unless are already wealthy, avoid restaurants and eat at home. Restaurant food is MUCH more expensive, and the cost really adds up. Eating at home is MUCH cheaper. E.g., I have developed a recipe for a pizza for one meal for one -- ready to eat at anytime within 20 minutes with 10 of those just waiting on the cooking. Cost per pizza $0.40 to $1.00 depending on the toppings. Cost of the flour, $0.09. It's better, cheaper, and faster than frozen, carry-out, or delivery. Do much the same for 6-12 dishes, and call that mostly ENOUGH. The $1 version is better than $10-20 in restaurants. The extra $9-19 really adds up -- put that in a piggy bank and then in an index fund for 30 years and will really have something. I wish I'd known that.

These days often can get buy wearing blue jeans. Do that. They were and are made of canvas originally designed as cloth for sails for sailing ships -- DARNED tough. Don't need the expensive, famous, fancy brands. Similarly for shoes -- boating shoes are good because they are still good in rain and light snow.

For education, learn enough so that you can learn more as needed and how to filter the good stuff from the 99% which is junk, even in the best academics.

What to learn for your business? Mostly have to learn that year by year or even month by month to RESPOND to what the MARKET wants. Master's and Ph.D. degrees (I have both, in the STEM fields, from one of the world's best research universities) can help a little but, except in rare cases, do not replace the learning in response to short term market opportunities.

Make friends, associates, acquaintances whenever and however you can, just casual and even superficial can be much better than nothing.

Don't waste time, e.g., don't watch TV.

Learn about human psychology, e.g., as in common psychological counseling. Hopefully you don't need the counseling, but you DO need to know what it is about the maybe 50% of other people who DO need such counseling. E.g., you need to know about emotions quite generally and also anxieties, obsessions, libido, duplicity, manipulations, deceptions, etc. The best single source I found on human psychology is E. Fromm, The Art of Loving, but alone it is not enough.

Learn about organizational behavior. Learn about management and, in particular, borrow some points from the US military.

Know how politics works, and, when you need to, play the game.

Learn about law -- mostly try to avoid it since there mostly only the lawyers make money.

If you have any hope or intention of getting some financial security, then before getting married have a good pre-nup. To s LOT of people, from whatever in their personalities or backgrounds, the meaning of love is not very strong and, even if it is, usually can blow away, Gone with the Wind, at anytime in about three years. Just accept that in that famous Norman Rockwell painting of Thanksgiving, nearly everyone at the table is acting.

You have to be the CEO and COB of your own life; a good co-CEO would be TERRIFIC but in practice is asking for a LOT -- without some really good evidence, don't bet much on a good co-CEO relationship lasting. Here are some things that have a good shot at lasting longer than a good co-CEO relationship -- a leather belt, a wooden chair, Casio wrist watch, a bedroom chest of drawers, a good pair of boat shoes, a bottle of red wine from Corton in France, a piano, a violin, a collection of stemmed wine glasses in the kitchen, nearly any new car, a cast iron frying pan, even most Teflon frying pans, a house that initially meets code, a good index fund account.

From Fromm, "Men and women deserve equal respect as persons but are not the same." Learn about the difference.

Speaking of that line by Fromm, many courts are overturning prenups these days on the grounds of "coercion", lack of information or equal standing. Careful drafting is required.

wonderful stuff!

Find easy ways you can come across better.

Surprisingly few hackers wear suits. And it's probably the cheapest universal social hack around.

I'd say this depends on the environment and the audience. My younger self took many years to realize that wearing too many button-down shirts isn't always a good thing.

I find this website absurd. Is it really just articles by random people which give high-level advice on how to have a career? Because if so, most likely there is little coherence between any of these pieces, meaning that people will really just listen to whichever article they agree with.

Also, lot of this advice in particular, sucks:

"Reverse engineer the paths of famous people" - too bad these paths often start very young due to privilege and wealth, and also have huge amounts of luck involved. The two things you can't really control in this world: how rich your parents are, and how lucky you are.

"Avoid spending time to earn money" - what, like compound growth isn't a thing? I would much, much rather make $20 now than have to make $100, or $500 when I'm 60.

"Work to solve problems that aren't popular" - his/her advice is, work on an un-important problem because no one cares about it, so at least you'll make big contributions. But, ummm, no one will care. This goes common advice, which is to seek leverage in your role - that is, big effects through small contributions.

I could go on. This is garbage and just not redeemable.

Described more concisely here in “four simple steps to become a billionaire”:


1. Take outrageous risks with extremely high upside.

2. Be the 1 out of 500 million for whom it pans out. This one is key so focus on it.

3. Attribute your wealth creation to your own hard work, your own genius and the power of your business plan. Be sure to stress how your wealth was singularly made possible by your unique endowment of elbow grease, street smarts, common sense, all of which your competitors obviously lacked (proven by how poor they are compared to you).

4. Buy a mega yacht and/or athletic team.

I normally agree with the tone of this, but between 1 and 2 I noticed - how many people are there out there really that have ever taken an enormous risk with extremely high upside?

I certainly never have, and neither has anyone I know.

Maybe the 1 in 500 million should be a bit better odds, considering how few people decide not to "play the game" to begin with?

It's much easier to take "enormous risks" when you've got a golden parachute. For 99% of people taking huge risks means career, financial or literal suicide and (at best) poverty for their loved ones.

Or I guess put another way, most people are too busy trying to survive to think about playing the game.

How many refugees are there? I'd say that's a lower bound for you.

Usually, those "enormous risks" require risking destitution, followed by ill health and death. Pulling the following statements out of my ass: you get approximately one of those per life, on average. People are hesitant to go looking for these "opportunities" and are content to let them come in their own time.

Last time I checked, many tech billionaires did not take huge risks. Zuck and Gates were already at Harvard, and they could always return there if FB/Microsoft failed (with upper-middle class families to fund their education). Page and Brin were similarly Ph.D candidates at Stanford. They almost certainly would not have died/faced destitution if Google had failed.

If your startup failing really meant death or destitution, why don’t we ever hear about the high death rates of YC founders who fail (or startup founders in general)?

Because all those people had enough built-up privilege to not have to suffer dire consequences. That's not an option for most folks...

In this context, the 1 in 500 million doesn't mean that there are 500 million other people to compete with - it's the chance of a huge success. So the number of other people trying it isn't relevant.

Yeah, I guess it was the phrasing "1 in 500 million _for whom_" that got me thinking in terms of absolute numbers who make the attempt.

Sounded more like sarcasm to me, but I could be wrong.

> "I find this website absurd. Is it really just articles by random people which give high-level advice on how to have a career? ... This is garbage and just not redeemable."

Thanks for your feedback. If you look around you'll see it's almost all written by a handful of full-time staff - this piece from an anonymous contributor is almost unique.

Most articles we write at this point are less high-level than this one, though pages that focus on general advice which is applicable to a wide range of people naturally attract the most traffic.

> Most articles we write at this point are less high-level than this one

Flipping through a few pages and I don't see anything all hat redeemable. It's all very generic stuff that "motivational speakers" repeat over and over in slightly different ways. Like, I don't see any specific advice for anything that would allow you to take direct, measurable action.

I get why you do it, though. Like you said, those pages attract the most traffic. It's just my opinion that it adds to the garbage online that does the opposite of helping people.

Hi BinaryIdiot - while I don't agree that all of that kind of advice is not useful, most pages of that kind were written some time ago.

I think you'll find that the content we are currently working on, such as our podcast, are more concrete: https://80000hours.org/podcast/

Is there anything about this staff of writers that qualifies them to give valuable advice to the types of people that frequent hacker news?


I count three doctorates, a medical doctor, a Yale Law dropout and a Master’s in Philosophy. More importantly, they actually do research.

Are they giving advice on how to become a doctorate, medical doctor or dropout?

I know several people with letters before and after their names with impressive sounding job titles who are pretty clueless about what they actually want out of life and how to be happy.

Yes. 8000 hours was in YC for non-profits.

I completely agree. All these career advice and self-help are mostly useless. Pretty much success is "showing up" + "effort" + "luck". Luck is who you know, who your dad knows, how the economy is, where you are born, when you are born, what opportunities are available, etc. "Showing up" and "effort", you can control. Luck you can't.

The career advice and self-help industry are just modern day snake oil peddled to the gullible who are either lazy or who refuse to accept that luck plays a role in success.

The ambitious go dig for gold. The smart businessman sells shovels to the gold prospectors. The clever ones write self-help books for all the failed gold prospectors.

"All these career advice and self-help are mostly useless."

Actually, no, most of it is very good advice.

It's just harder to do in practice, and you can't expect to be a billionaire.

Danny I'm all the way with you on your comments, for example:

> Find good thinkers and cold-call the ones you most admire

This one....did any of these "thinkers" reply in any meaningful way? Please give examples.

> when I wrote out of the blue to say that I wanted to work for them.

Did you actually get a job, or even an interview....the author doesn't say?

They replied and they got a job.

Then perhaps mention that. And also why they got the job. We don't need identifying details, but at least the article should expand on that. I'm not having a go, but if you're going to give advice demonstrate how this advice works.

> Reverse engineer the paths of famous people

I agree; I work as a coach and have to say that this path is fraught with peril. The delta from one psychology to the next is significant enough that this activity could easily cause someone to feel exhaustion before they even get started putting the learned path into place.

IMO much better advice is to "reverse engineer" your own past and treat that as a guide, asking yourself when you were happiest, most productive, etc. This can far more easily result in "scalable" information.

It’s also fraught with Survivorship Bias. Look at successes and try to find a common thing they do or attribute they have, ignoring the failures that also did that thing or had that attribute. It’s basically the plot of every business self help book out there.

This comment should move to the top. You see the success stories because they have succeeded. You never hear the failures. And they are everywhere.

> "Reverse engineer the paths of famous people"

would have been better written as successful people, or people in positions you want to be in.

I find reverse engineering how people got to where they are quite useful, and with linkedin its free. I wanted a certain position in 5 years, so I went to linkedin and looked at people who were there now, and I found all of them had at least a masters degree. I got extremely motivated, studied day and night for years and got there.

oddly enough, it really did take me exactly 5 years. I thought I would have been able to get their sooner with some optimization, but I am very happy with the results.

I disagree strongly with "Avoid spending time to earn money". when we are young, that is exactly the most crucial time to be investing our money and spending less. had I contributed 18k~ to my retirement instead of putting in up to the match rate, I don't think my standard of living would have dropped substantially but I could retire 10 years sooner.

> Is it really just articles by random people which give high-level advice on how to have a career?

No, it’s mostly moral philosophy arguments about why you should work on big, important problems


research on what those problems are


and career guides with 40-100 hours of research on some areas where people who want to make an impact could work


as well as a jobs board advertising open positions for people who want to do that.


They’re also not “random people”. I understand if you prefer to only read arguments from high prestige people rather than evaluating them on their merits, one has limited time after all. The Effective Altruist movement was founded by Toby Ord, an Oxford professor, and the associated Future of Humanity and Global Priorities Institutes are based there. Rob Wiblin, the founder of 80,000 hours has interviewed Rachel Glennerster, head of the UK’s Department for International Development and former director of MIT’s Poverty Action Lab and an effective altruist as well as Daniel Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papers fame. You can be confident that they’re not “random people”.

> Because if so, most likely there is little coherence between any of these pieces, meaning that people will really just listen to whichever article they agree with.

That’s ok. If people are persuaded they should work on important problems there are lots to go round. The world is getting better and better but we have a long way to go before fully automated space communism.

> Also, lot of this advice in particular, sucks: "Reverse engineer the paths of famous people" - too bad these paths often start very young due to privilege and wealth, and also have huge amounts of luck involved.

But they don’t always. Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Richard Branson did not grow up rich. There are in fact lessons in “You can start a business” or “Computer Science is a great area to study if you want to make enormous piles of money.”

> The two things you can't really control in this world: how rich your parents are, and how lucky you are.

How lucky you are is not entirely in your control but you can certainly influence it. Do more things, meet more people, work on hard problems; those are possible for a great many people and if you do them you will come across more opportunities. More generally “The harder I work the luckier I get.” as Samuel Goldwyn said.


> "Work to solve problems that aren't popular" - his/her advice is, work on an un-important problem because no one cares about it, so at least you'll make big contributions. But, ummm, no one will care. This goes common advice, which is to seek leverage in your role - that is, big effects through small contributions.

If you want to do good rather than gain plaudits working on neglected problems is great advice. Climate change has UN panels and mass demonstrations, detecting and reflecting potential asteroid impacts has the next best thing to nothing. If you work on the latter problem the chances of you making a big marginal impact are a great deal higher. More research money and researcher time goes to breast cancer than to curing ageing. The world has insane priorities and it’s entirely possible to make a big impact by working in a field that’s neglected.

> But they don’t always. Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Richard Branson did not grow up rich.

Richard Branson was the son of a barrister....a career, in the UK, not known to be short of money. He was also sent to public school from an early age. I'll leave it at that.

Sergey Brin...well

"His father is a mathematics professor at the University of Maryland, and his mother a researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.[5][8][9]" Hardly a blue collar career.

Lattry Page...again:

From the first para of his "early life" in wikipedia you can clearly see he had a fairly good advantage over the rest of us in his family life.

None of these folks may have been "rich" but they weren't poor either, and they had some fairly good connections to get them started in business life.

I fail to see how a barrister father helps with Branson’s first successful business venture, a magazine. Larry Page I absolutely concede, he seems to have had not just highly educated parents but a father in the field he eventually went into. Sergey Brin’s parents arrived in the US when he was six, as penniless refugees. If that qualifies as starting life on third base there are a lot of people endowed with similar or greater privilege.

> Branson

I'm just kinda pointing out that he didn't exactly come from the the "black stuff"[0]. I'd be curious to know how much his fairly well off father loaned/donated to his Student magazine. Also:

"His grandfather, the Right Honourable Sir George Arthur Harwin Branson, was a judge of the High Court of Justice and a Privy Councillor. Branson was educated at Scaitcliffe School, a prep school in Surrey, before briefly attending Cliff View House School in Sussex."

So, c'mon his family likely wasn't short of a bob or two.

> Sergey Brin’s parents arrived in the US when he was six, as penniless refugees.

Sure, but made pretty good due to financing by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. They already by western standards had an academic prowess, and thus giving Sergey a fairly decent start in life educationally. By Soviet standards these were effectively middle class parents until the state caught wind of his father's intention to emigrate in 78 and by 79 they were in the US. Now I'm not suggesting this was an easy time for them, but they were hardly "penniless refugees" (and skill-less) upon arrival to the US.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boys_from_the_Blackstuff

They started out with some really good ideas a few years back, but the whole "effective altruism" movement seems to have been hijacked by a weird focus on avoiding a hypothetical malevolent AI. It's absolutely bizarre to me.

At least planet-killing asteroids are a real thing that's known to exist.

Not malevolent, indifferent. There are vastly more possible goals that lead to everyone dying than there are of something that takes account of human values at all whether to maximise negative or positive utility in some fashion. AI safety was one of the first EA causes but it’s hardly hijacked the community, just look at the last ten episodes of the podcast. One of the ways to be effective is to focus on neglected problems, and avoiding “everyone dies” even with small probability may have a lot of money allocated to it but it’s not enough and it’s not distributed by expected value, at all.

> #57 – Tom Kalil on how to do the most good in government

> #56 – Persis Eskander on wild animal welfare and what, if anything, to do about it

> #55 – Mark Lutter & Tamara Winter on founding charter cities with outstanding governance to end poverty

> #54 – Askell, Brundage & Clark from OpenAI on publication norms, malicious uses of AI, and general-purpose learning algorithms

> #53 – Kelsey Piper on the room for important advocacy within journalism

> #52 – Prof Glen Weyl on uprooting capitalism and democracy for a just society

> #51 – Martin Gurri on the revolt of the public & crisis of authority in the information age

> #50 – Dr David Denkenberger on how to feed all 8 billion people through an asteroid/nuclear winter

> #49 – Dr Rachel Glennerster on a year's worth of education for under $1 and other development best buys

> #48 – Brian Christian on better living through the wisdom of computer science

> #47 – Catherine Olsson & Daniel Ziegler on the fast path into high-impact ML engineering roles

The point is there's zero evidence to show "AI kills everyone" is even a small risk.

By your logic, my plan to dedicate $100m to making offerings to Beelzebub to spare humanity is outstanding value for money dedicated to a neglected long-tail risk. Beelzebub has very few worshipers, and the odds of his choosing to exterminate mankind are low, but if he did, it would be very bad for us.

I wish I'd bought more Microsoft/Apple stock.

Keep a journal would be the bit of advice I'd give.

> Avoid stuff that could cause irreversible reputational harm, or slow down a security clearance ... avoid saying stuff online that you could regret later.

Avoid jobs where it matters. A corporate drone cannot say what he wants, neither online, nor elsewhere, because the HR department could be watching. Ever since cashing out from my startup, I care even less about what any culturally-marxist corporate HR department may think about me.

> Reflect seriously on what problem to prioritise solving. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about global health and animal welfare.

No, don't waste your time on problems that you cannot possibly solve by yourself. Work on stuff in which you can make a difference.

As a 52 year old Scottish person who's doing ok('ish), and typically in a Scottish fashion has no problem being forthright, I don't have a problem stating that for any normal human being in a professional career....this is mostly a pile of wank.

I guess my point is, sure it's nice to reflect on your <30 life, but no-one normal in their late teens and into their 20's needs to apply any of this bollocks.

Go enjoy your 20's, you never get them back again, they were the best years of my life and I did very little tech. You're likely never going to be Mark Zuckerberg or the Google twins (god forbid). If you do come up with a cracking idea (like the Stripe brothers) then go yourself, but this list is what is wrong with our industry when it comes to younger folks entering the biz. You don't need these crutches, you either got it or you don't. But I implore folks in their 20's to go get some life experience, and then develop a "life changing" or "disrupting" app.

And you know there's nothing wrong with being an expert mort, with a blog and now and again being invited to talk at a session on your favourite tech you got invested in.

Happy to answer questions.

I was heavily involved in the startup scene all through my 20s, now in my 30s and still loving it. Turns out you can both be involved in tech and startups in your 20s and have it be the best time in your life. Everyone has different interests in life and we all have our own paths. I agree, enjoy your 20s, but you don't have to avoid tech, startups or hard work in order to accomplish that. Some of my favorite memories from my 20s are in the office late at night with my co-workers/life long friends trying to change the world. I'm still very close with many of those people and it doesn't feel like any of that time was wasted.

To clarify, I didn't avoid tech. I kept my eye on the game and learned new stuff and old stuff (Distributed computing, Java - circa '97, CORBA, DCOM - that was the thing of its time and then XML blah blah blah) but that was on my time when I felt like doing this.

But I'll never regret prioritising the fun of hooning around on my motorbikes, camping, bike meetups, beer, smoking a doobie and all the other things....and I met some seriously wonderful folks in my life during this time, loves and lovers in my life, and then those that were not and are still amazing friends, writers, poets, comedians, mechanics who are all still friends (some have passed away sadly). I learned so many good things from these folks in my 17-20's that influenced my attitude when it comes to working in "IT", and I hope better things than youngsters these days seem in earnest try to learn from hucksters such as Zuckerberg unicorns et al.

(Sorry that last sentence is a bit tortured)

[edit] didn't answer todd3834's comment properly.

In the late 80's/early 90's (I was kinda 17-20'ish) I worked as an apprentice Data General engineer. Basically we resurrected and refurbished old DG mini's for export to places in South America where an S/130 would be a fairly decent bit of kit for a local authority already running some older Nova kit. I had a lot of fun doing that. I learned wire-wrap, component level debug all sorts of things, I knew the 74 series TTL logic book almost back to front, it was fun and paid for the beer...but it wasn't hugely serious thing. It was something I could do despite being a total dunce at school. But I loved bikes and cars and a bunch of other non-IT things just a bit more back then...[big gap]....and here I am :)

[edit 2:] I also loved :)

A bit of perspective. When you were young growing up in Scotland (if it was anything like my experience 2 decades later in Ireland) being a bit of a shit was cool amongst your peers. Playing in bands was cool. Smoking doobies and getting wasted on Buckfast was cool. I've moved away from the Anglo-sphere culture as an adult, so my perspective may be a little off, but my observation is that 90s cool is now very uncool. What's cool today is tech. Having a startup is the new band for kids.

Honestly I prefer it this way. I think growing up in the destructive cool environment stunted my personal growth a bit even though it was fun for a time. Whilst I certainly had fun I do regret not studying harder in maths and science in school (though I partially blame the teaching methods here). Now that I'm in my 30s I love studying and applying calculus etc and wish I was much further down the road with these topics. By most peoples standards I'm doing quite well for myself however I have some ideas I'd like to execute that are currently way out of reach due to a knowledge gap. This is hard to close when also working full time with a family. I would have preferred to have better (and more relate-able) role models, more optimistic support, better career guidance and have personally understood and practiced compartmentalisation better as a teen and 20 something. I think I could have had both some destructive fun and also had better personal growth.

> being a bit of a shit was cool amongst your peers.

I'll generously interpret that as maybe "being a bit of a cool lad"...except to say that no, I wasn't "cool". There was nothing special, hell I couldn't play a G on any instrument back the, I'm tone deaf). We were just a bunch of mates, boys and girls and in between, who got on well together, shared our good times and bad times. There was no showing off and we welcomed anyone who fancied hanging out.

> I think growing up in the destructive cool environment stunted my personal growth a bit

I'd like to clarify that no part of my 20's was "destructive"....other than the destruction of a motorbike somewhere up Glendevon. I'm not advocating a destructive lifestyle, I'm advocating don't get locked into work and this type of advice in your 20's and then suddenly you're 60 and where did life go?

> I'm advocating don't get locked into work and this type of advice in your 20's and then suddenly you're 60 and where did life go?

Yes I fully agree with this. In Singapore where I'm currently based the academic focus is so strong that it ruins childhood. It also destroys creativity which makes people less employable despite their great theoretical base. There is a fine balance to aim for.

Just gave you a wee upvote there. I agree. I'm very worried that the Singapore style of academic focus will infest our western education system - the UK Tories seem infatuated by it, I'm in agreement with you, it kills childhood.

There's a lot of things I could say about this such as the benefits of the Nordic style of educating kids, but I now need head to bed.

People should do what they want to do. You don't want to be anybody else otherwise you would be that person. I know how I would do my life over, but I don't think anyone else other than me would like to have my current life nor my hypothetical do-over life.

> As a 52 year old Scottish person who's doing ok('ish), and typically in a Scottish fashion has no problem being forthright

You could have been more forthright, is that to be interpreted as “As a working class Scot with the tall poppy lie down attitude we’re known for I think the author has a big head and should be dragged down unto the bucket with the rest of us crabs” or “As an upper class Scot I find this talking about how to be successful vulgar, one is supposed to be successful without talking about it unduly.”?

> I guess my point is, sure it's nice to reflect on your <30 life, but no-one normal in their late teens and into their 20's needs to apply any of this bollocks.

The point of 80,000 Hours is to help people become abnormally effective at solving big, important, neglected problems so if you want to be normal they have nothing to say to you.

> Go enjoy your 20's, you never get them back again, they were the best years of my life and I did very little tech. ...

This is all fine advice if you have no interest in making a big difference in the world. That’s not what 80,000 Hours is about and it’s not who they’re writing for though they do advise people to do work they’ll enjoy and be happy doing because they’re more likely to stick with it.

> You could have been more forthright, is that to be interpreted as “As a working class Scot with the tall poppy lie down attitude we’re known for I think the author has a big head and should be dragged down unto the bucket with the rest of us crabs” or “As an upper class Scot I find this talking about how to be successful vulgar, one is supposed to be successful without talking about it unduly.”?

Um, no. Scots can be forthright regardless of class, which I imagine you're alluding to. You've no idea what my social background is, and for your insolent comment, I'm going to leave you guessing. Not that it mattered.

> abnormally

And there is the problem.

> This is all fine advice if you have no interest in making a big difference in the world.

Oh jesus.

Seems like you're just doing the same as the article author ("I did X and you should do the same"); why should a young person follow your advice instead?

> You don't need these crutches, you either got it or you don't.

On what do you base this? Have you "got it"?

Um no....I'm just saying don't be beholden to these mythical lists, go do your own thing. I don't advocate my life to anyone, I just described how things worked out for me, the life that I've had without a prescribed list. I advocate creating your own life and experiences then come back when you're 30 and see what you can do. And this doesn't need to involve bikes and doobie smoking :)

> On what do you base this? Have you "got it"?

Well sometimes some folk just get it lucky and the timing is right for their thing.

I didn't say you were advocating your life. But you are advocating your own list, it's just shorter

- Enjoy your 20s

- Reflect when you get to 30

I'm sure this worked out to your satisfaction, but then again so (probably) did the list in the article to the person who wrote it. So why is their list bollocks and yours isn't?

> Well sometimes some folk just get it lucky and the timing is right for their thing.

Maybe, but how do you know that's all there is to it?

I'm not advocating, it's just a wee bit of advice based on actual experience. You have a choice to:

- Enjoy your 20s

- Reflect when you get to 30

Or jump on the grind at 18 or 19.

So here's the thing. What is it you want to do? Grind away at work, sat behind a desk, in your 20's, during the most possibly healthy and active part of your life (yeah I know smoking doobies and drinking beer isn't healthy - just do it in moderation).

Or you could be doing things such as mountain climbing, cycling, lots of other physical activities. I did all these things in my 20's and by god I'm so pleased I did because now in work I don't have as much time to engage in these things. My late 20's set a health baseline, sure you can't bank this, but at 47 when I had a full cardio check due to panic attacks, it seems those years between 17 and 30 have (so far) held me in good stead. No guarantees though.

But you know it's up to you, but don't be clouded (I'm sure there's a better word) by articles such as this as a panacea for success, both career-wise and in life.

> So why is their list bollocks and yours isn't?

Because the wrote this in hindsight. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, you can be really preachy about it. By god I've got a catalogue of hindsight, but do I regret apparently wasting my 20's, not at all.

I like how your hindsight is experience, and their experience is hindsight.

By the way, nothing on their list suggests grinding away behind a desk and not doing climbing or cycling. You can think about your career whether you're working 80h/w or 10h/w.

Frankly, I think your reading of this list is biased and prejudiced (based on preconceived ideas of "this type of lists"), and it shows you've dismissed it out of hand rather than critically analyzing it. That makes me wary of taking your advice generally.

>(god forbid)

AFAIK they are my ideal. They are the best founders in my opinion

If you really feel this way, go read the comments in the thread about Eric Schmidt leaving the Alphabet board of directors. Larry and Sergey are far from an "ideal" and the blind hero worship is unlikely to serve you. It's fine to recognize their successes, but understand that they made plenty of mistakes.

Sorry my friend, you couldn't offer me a million dollar a year salary to work for Google and the "others".

> Don’t focus too much on long-term plans.

I always have long-term plans. But, I abandon them as soon as I find a better way to achieve my goals. Goals do not change so often, tho.

> Find good thinkers and cold-call the ones you most admire.

I will change this to read, read a lot. If you are introverted or realise that this advice does not scale (millions of developers calling the same poor guy) books are your best option. The advice, teachings, etc. that someone will give to you personally probably are also part of their writing.

> Crowdsource your career decisions.

It is essential to get good friends that will tell you that you are wrong. And you need to listen.

> Be a pleasant person.

Always. :)

> Assign a high value to productivity over your whole lifespan

Yes. But, do not worry when you wast time. It happens, it is part of being human. If you regret each time "wasted" your life is going to be just regretted. Acknowledge that you did not do what you planned, adjust realistically.

> Don’t over-optimise things that aren’t your top priority.

Good enough is that "good enough".

> Read a lot and read things that people around you aren’t reading.

Yes. Look for the best book on each category and read those. Then go to a shop a read anything that gets your attention (Judge the next book you are going to read by its cover).

> Avoid stuff that could cause irreversible reputational harm, or slow down a security clearance.

Be a pleasant person. :)

> Reflect seriously on what problem to prioritise solving.

I do not agree with this one. To try to solve the heat death of the universe is an interesting thought experiment and abstract thinking is a good skill to have.

> Work to solve problems that aren’t popular.

I will change this one to solve problems that you care about and/or understand. There are billions of people on earth; anything you try to do someone else is already doing or did it in the past. Stop worrying and do what matters to you.

> Read more history.

Science, history, biology, literature, mathematics, culture, architecture, all books are your friends.

> Avoid spending time to earn or save money.

If you have the luxury, I saved most of the money I earned when I was young. That has allowed me to be free to make decisions that I would have not without money. Now that I have a good job, I prefer to pay than to spend money.

> I’m also pretty sceptical of ‘earning-to-give’ careers.

Do whatever motivates you.

> Find easy ways you can come across better.

Be a pleasant person. :)

> Find the biographies of people whose job you’d like to have, and figure out how they got there.

Do not. What worked 40 years ago, may not work nowadays. The realisation is that any job is achievable if you follow the correct career path. Being a billionaire is not a job description.

> Some jobs in government may be easier to get than you imagine.

Any job is achievable if you follow the correct career path.

> I think there might be an over-emphasis on ‘personal fit’ in effective altruism.

Be realistic but do not abandon too soon.

Whoever the author is, they are probably from a commonwealth country, based on their spelling of “prioritise” and “organisation”.

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