I was having dinner last night with someone that has been in the financial services industry for the last 8 years.
He made a comment that I completely agree with. He remarked that many people go in his field (and others like it) thinking that it would be the “safe and stable” option. But as we’ve seen in the last few years, that is simply not true.
I grew up in a fairly traditional Chinese home. There was a strong influence in my household to rack up fancy degrees, get nice jobs at brand name firms, and rise the ranks in an environment of “safety”. I certainly haven’t had the most non-traditional career (unfortunately!) but at almost every step, I faced resistance from my family, who were puzzled about why I was taking a risk in joining companies that were completely unknown to them (and most other people) at the time.
I was talking to the father of my partner Lee the other day, and he also jokingly remarked “I never understood why Lee left a steady job at Paypal to help start LinkedIn. Why didn’t he just get a safe job like being a stockbroker?”
But if we’ve learned anything in the last several years, it’s that stability is over-rated. What seems safe today will not be safe forever. In fact, when everyone thinks something is safe, that’s probably the time when it’s starting to get too risky. Think about mortgages, municipal bonds, banking, etc.
For startups and for the ecosystem that I work in, this is actually great news. I agree with others that say that although working for an individual startup is risky, pursuing a startup career path is not so much. The great thing about this career is that you are continuously building skills of value, in (hopefully) emerging market segments that will value your experience (win or lose) for a long long time.
So, with more and more excellent talent realizing this and opting out of “safe” and high paying roles in finance, law, etc, we are seeing more great talent flowing into the entrepreneurial world, and building innovative companies. Sure, that investment banker-turned-product manager may not be the best PM in the world initially. But the mere fact that she has chosen to embark on an entrepreneurial career path early means that there is a much much higher possibility that she will be a founder or an integral team member of a meaningful new venture that solves important problems and employs hundreds of people.
Maybe that doesn’t sound as stable as working for GE, but it sure sounds like a more meaningful career.