How to Succeed

Advice for young graduates

Lots of bright young folks ask me “How do I get a good job?”, “How do I achieve success in this domain?”, “What should I do next?”, usually in the applied computer science or machine learning field. So, I thought I’d dispense some advice for all future advice seekers, and I may refer some people here, so I don’t have to repeat myself all that much. Although, feel free to come up and ask a question.

Graduating, from anywhere, is daunting. Going from a well understood environment where your achievements are precisely measured, into the world where, frankly, no one cares. You have to make up your own metrics, measure yourself up to them, set goals for yourself and have a roadmap and a timeline. There’s no “graduation” from life. You may think it’s retirement, but that would not only be wrong (since there’s life after retirement) it is also immensely subjective and domain specific. So, what metric would you choose? Money in the bank? Sq. ft of your home? Number of dependents? Assets? Papers published? Books read? Miles traveled? BMI? Social subscribers? See? It’s impossible to pick. It is foolish to pick. Don’t pick. Not right now at least.

Your goals after graduation should be to establish yourself as a professional and an individual. Yes, you should focus on yourself. Maximize gains for your-self. Take all the credits, don’t be shy. Exercise all your rights and privileges. Soak up as much of the accolades. But at the same time appreciate, acknowledge and celebrate the work of others. Never punch down or sideways, only lift people. Make sure that you pack your knapsack very tightly with people you work with, projects concluded, products delivered, etc. These are your fuel reserves for the rest of your career and life – so bulk up!

OK, that sounds good but how to actually do that? this “bulking up”, you may ask. The answer is very short and clear:


Just – build. Build a product. Build a community. Build a following. Build a reputation. Build relationships. Build a home. Build a family. Build your confidence. Build a nest egg. Build an expertise. Build a hobby. Build. Build. Build.

Treat your first few years after graduating from your post-secondary education as a building period. Everything you do, even if it’s playing video games and going out, should be part of some… thing that you are building. If you’re a social type – you are building a social network. If you’re an engineer – you are building a product that delivers value to someone else. Be in a constant state of building, in many different vectors all the time.

Building is like investing. The consequences of your efforts will only be clear to you after a long time. And just like investing – building compounds. You can never go wrong with being focused on building. If you continue to invest in a project or direction – you will see success eventually. Investing in the S&P 500 for example has guaranteed positive gains if your time horizon is >10 years. It is exactly the same for building, if you stay consistent in your contributions you will keep up with the market and build something with lasting value. Some people refer to the 10,000 hours rule for becoming an expert. Building works the same way.

Now your next question may be: What should I build? Again, I have a very short and clear answer:


See the thing is it doesn’t really matter what you build right now. As long as you are focused on building you are doing the right thing. You may have a tendency to a certain area or an interest domain, but truth is – you’re at the very early beginning of your journey that will have a definitely unexpected end point, so it doesn’t really matter which direction you start walking. As long as you are walking. Walking is the focus.

Just focusing on building will teach you a lot. Anywhere and anything you start making will teach you: whether you like it, whether there’s a market for it, whether the domain community is nice, whether it’s something that can compound, whether it has a holistic effect on other things you may build. So many things to learn!

How to Build

This is geared towards students of the engineering disciplines, but it does transfer very well to everything else. I want to give some direct concrete advice on what to work on and how to do it, in case you don’t have a lot of ideas right now. By the way, not having ideas – is a blessing. I wish, one day, to not have new ideas on things to work on, it’s a curse, believe me. But in any case, even if you do have ideas and plenty of them, here are a few things to consider.

Working on an open-source project. Open source is a divine gift given to humanity. It drives the entire world. It creates so much incredible innovation. It is timeless too, and has existed since the beginning of history. It has the power to make you very successful. My advice would be to start a new open-source project and not join an existing one. See above – you should take ALL the credit to yourself at this point, don’t share. But the product of your hard work – give that away for free, again – right now, don’t ask for anything in return. Participate in humanity’s greatest experiment: Benevolence. Work hard, help people through your work, ask for nothing, and success will arrive, it is only a matter of time.

The next question is – what project should you build? Great question! First, I suggest you refer back to your goals. Let’s say your goal is to get hired by a big corporation (a great choice! a big company will teach you everything you need to know about business!). Then my suggestion is that you take one of their products and clone it open source, don’t be shy, don’t fear retribution, I guarantee you they absolutely don’t care (their value is in a completely different place! find out where…). Just the thought and implementation exercises on how to build it will show you: 1. It is not as easy as you thought, 2. all the snags along the way, 3. all the decisions along the way, 4. how to improve it and go beyond – in short: Everything this company wants you to know as a candidate! You’re already prepared for the toughest interviews.

The other advice on what to build is more personal. If your family is lucky to have a family business – build something for that business. The key is to get information on your customer’s needs. When the customer is your dad, well that makes it a little easier (usually, not all dads are the same) to get that insider information. But if you don’t have that – you can reflect on your own life and “build for yourself”. I’m not suggesting you make yet another time management system. Instead, find gaps in your knowledge and fill them. If you’ve always wanted to learn to code in Lisp – do that now! Again, the direction is not super important, the persistence is! Find something you can do over a long period of time, like 1-2 years. Knowledge and education are excellent. If you’re missing a class on a certain topic – create it. Same as if you’re missing a tool to e.g. sort your photo album folder based on how many dogs are in the photo – make that tool. Just start making something useful(-ish?) and put it out there.

Another aspect of building and contributing is how to get noticed. This is important, you want visibility else no one will recognize your hard work. And again, see above – you want ALL the credit at this point. When building open source, use GitHub. Make it as easy as possible for people to access your work. If you have a knack for it – go on YouTube and make some videos. Those assets are compounding investment vehicles too. Go on Twitter, be religious about talking about your work. Remember: this is open source and therefore belongs to the world – better make the world aware it got this gift of your work.

This brings me to the last part about community. Every product, every company, every successful business, every service you see and know – is about People. It’s not about finance or things, it’s about what the products do to change the lives of People. People are the key. So, when you go about your build make sure you have a community of people in mind. When you want to tell people about it, you likely would want to find where they congregate, maybe on a subreddit, maybe a Discord server, or a mailing list (if they’re OGs). Get in there, mingle, and when you’ve got the hang of it – make a community of your own! Opening a Discord server is $0. There’s a similar cost level to starting a mailing list or newsletter. But whatever method you choose, it has got to be open, it must be inclusive, it must be not about yourself but about the community. Become a servant of your community, NOT it’s leader. Be the fuel, be the fire that burns under the cauldron. Facilitate, and participate. Trust me, this will pay off x1000 times by the time you realize it.

How to Fail

You might have heard about “Fail fast, fail early, fail often” and “Learning how to fail well”. I think most of it is BS told to you by people who have already reached success. It is true that at this point in your life you have extremely high risk-tolerance, and pretty much nothing you would do now would damage your long-term success, short of a felony. So, while it is time to experiment, be ready to accept immense measures of failure. Like, so much failure that you’d re-think your entire life.

Here’s how you will for sure fail: You will write something so cool and not a single person would read it or comment about it. You will build a free product that people pay $1000s for the alternative and not one single person will use. You will build a community, and no one will join or won’t say anything. You will make a video, and no one will watch. All this will happen to you, again you have my guarantee.

But guess what. This is absolutely perfect. It’s exactly what should happen. The burning pain you feel in your chest? that will become your battle scar. The feeling of loss of purpose and rethinking everything? that will become your rocket fuel. The crippling impostor syndrome when everyone around you is 10x more awesome than you? That will become an impregnable Kevlar armor. You will look back at this and you will smile and thank the universe for these opportunities to fail. You will not get many more of these beautiful moments of failure again…

The most important thing in failing is the learning that comes from it. That is not a cliche. But it is by far the easiest to learn from failure when it’s about something that you build, by yourself, for your personal success. If you slip up or straight up just be negligent in employment – prepare to accept the consequences. But when you fail working on your own thing, it’s far easier to know how to improve for next time. And see, the only thing you need to do, even if you don’t do anything to improve, is just to keep on building. Stay consistent.

How to Stop

Finally, I want to share a bit of advice on knowing how and when to give up. So far in this article I’ve been pretty adamant on “just keep building and never stop”. That’s a good philosophy. But you should also take care of learning when and how to stop building. It is very easy to get sucked into a whirlpool of never-ending work, and holding the above philosophy you may not have many exit points. To this I want to dedicate a few sentences.

First, always in life and work, always hedge your bets. Always have something to average with. Meaning, if you build – build several things at once. If you’re working at a job – have several streams of work. The only way the numbers are in your favor is if you’re averaging either over time or over space. Remember the S&P 500, you have 10 years to average over. In building – make sure you have multiple horses in the race. When one fails, others will step in to continue the race. This is the easiest way to “Stop”. Just divert your resources to better ventures and let the failing project die. Simple.

But what if things are not simple? and your project is “kind of” working but you’re not sure? This is time to look at the bigger picture. If you have a family to support that is the easiest, focus on their needs (ahead of your own) and adjust course. But if it’s just you, which is most times the case, go back to your goals: Is this project going to get me hired at this place? Is it going to teach me? Does it have a community I want to be a part of? Is it genuinely doing good? Really, don’t be bothered with silly terms like “disruption”, “displacement”, “growth”, “scale”, “market fit”, these are absolutely irrelevant at this stage. Your goal in this period is to build. If building the project doesn’t also at the same time build your reputation – it’s a sign. Everything you do should be 1+1=3. If it’s closer to 2 – it’s a sign. Learn to read signs.

So, how do you know when and where to stop? You will know. It will be when you achieve your goals.

A few parting words to end this article. Always be in motion. Always be building. Motion creates a flywheel effect that works for you when you sleep. Realize nothing will be served to you ever. You will have to build nice things to have them. Alway be learning, always be teaching. Share your knowledge for free at every opportunity. Make your opinions vocal, make them in person preferably. You are ready.