It is July 2012. A masters graduate looks outside the window to see a brief blessing of a hot summer’s day in London. Yet he can’t enjoy it. For he is a temporary waiter at a catering event staff. Smiling as he walks around holding a tray of salmon canapés, he tries to forget the underlying resentment he feels. The resentment of the interview he had the day before. By all accounts it was a success. He was working today, but there had been one caveat. One painful caveat
‘Awesome, David you can start right away. However… there is one thing,’ the smile of the interviewer seemed to genuinely reach her eyes.
‘Yeah?’ the graduate replied. Deep in an unspoken part of his mind he was thinking how he would do almost anything for a girl with those eyes.
‘While I’m a genuine fan of your hair – gosh I wish I could grow an Afro myself! However I’m afraid you’ll need to tidy it up to work with us. Would it be too much to ask for you to trim a lot of it off?’
The smile on the graduate’s face froze. Anything but THAT!!! His mind silently screamed. But even as his subconscious was protesting he knew he had to do it. He had to cut off his best friend. The Afro he had before he’d even started his four years of University. He had to if he wanted to get rid of those amazing and horrifying red numbers on his bank balance.
After the canapés, he had got told by the floor manager there were some glasses in the back that needed polishing. The graduate sat down and got to it. On his fortieth glass or so, his mind halted its wondering and began its protesting. Where had his dreams of being a start-up guy gone? Where was that entrepreneurial spirit of his he had discovered? It had been months before he had finally buckled to pressure and started going to interviews for respectable jobs. It had involved swallowing his pride. His pride and statements of arrogant youth of ‘I SHALL NEVER WORK FOR ANOTHER MAN. NEVER!!!’
At these interviews he also finally started using his trump card. He remembered the first interview he did it in. He had a rapport going with the interviewee. When asked, ‘tell us of your greatest challenge’ he set forth to wow and dazzle them. He gave a rousing story of a competition he had taken part in. A competition against fellow like-minded would be entrepreneurs. He told of how in a task which involved generating as much profit with £30 in four hours, his team had succeeded. They had succeeded by buying and selling apples. Taking advantage of adding an offer, they had been able to come out of it with £156. He explained the challenge, the gasping horror he had felt when told that this was their task. He had explained his fear of selling. But he had succeeded. As he finished the story, he knew he had got the job. Yet imagine the graduate’s surprise when he was told,
‘Sorry David, I’m afraid I can’t give you the job. Times are tough.’
He used the same story in his other interviews with mixed results. Some of the interviewees were genuinely impressed. Others were in fear. Some even looked at him in disgust, ‘You sold apples at a 60 pence mark-up?! What kind of monster are you to your fellow man!!!’ But despite these mixed reactions, the end result was the same.
‘Sorry David. Times are tough.’
As he sat self-reflecting, the graduate vowed once again that he would not be in this position. He’ll quit this job the soonest moment he could. He ignored the voice that told him that it was the fiftieth time he’d made this vow. He ignored it and told it that this time. This time things would be different.
Contrast this with another story:
It is July 2012, a young male with an Afro wakes up to the sunrise. He turns on his computer, looks to his phone and checks his email. He smiles. His mentor had been able to arrange a meeting with a book agent. He had another ten emails requesting his business services. Though the young male was technically a masters graduate, he was identified as something else amongst his peers. He was called a Web Designer.
He’d been able to save enough money during his final year at University to permanently move out of his parents’ house and rent an apartment in the up and coming Holborn area in London. He checked his to do list and saw he only had two simple items and then his day was free. The sun was shining, and he thought to himself life is good.
Obviously one graduate’s state is better than the other, and by the time I’ve finished my MSc year in Physics I want to clearly be in the second camp. Right now I am critically aware of just how useless my masters degree is going to be in getting a job when I graduate. Heck even if I get a job it will clearly not be a job I’m going to like. I’ll be lucky if the person working directly above me is more competent than me (I have an extreme arrogance in my own abilities, after all Lex Luthor is my hero).
While some may lament at an extra year in University (A bachelor’s degree in the UK is three years) I relish it. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. This is the year where I’ve got to stop partying and start working on making myself employable.
How do I make myself employable in such a downturn economy? Well as naïve as I’m going to sound, I’m sure a simple answer would be by learning a marketable skill.
Wait. Just what da funk do I mean by a marketable skill? Well the way I see it; the easiest way to give value in a monetary society is by offering skills and services that allow companies or people to make money.
There are a few skills that come under this category from what I can think of, and this is by no means an exhaustive list, but the ones I’ve been able to come up with are:
- Web Design
- Web Development
- App Development
Some of these are very broad (consultancy, marketing), while some are quite niche and knowing the fast way technology progresses, they may become obsolete. Out of the ones I’ve listed I’ve personally chosen Web Design.
Heck, now why would I go and do something as crazy as choose web design? Only because it is the MOST BADASS THING A MAN CAN BE!!!
(Actually …. No, I’m sure being a Lion-tamer would be more badass but alas I care too much for my own skin to choose that career. So web design it is.)
However there are more legitimate reasons I chose this path. It allows for me to adopt a freelancer lifestyle, the one lifestyle I definitely want. If Peter Parker was a freelancer photographer while being Spider-Man, then I definitely want that lifestyle. (Please note the author is semi-deluded that one day he shall be bitten by a radioactive spider …)
On a further note being a freelance Web Designer will force me to learn Sales and Marketing skills if I want to be able to get any business. I have come to realise these skills are beyond vital if you want to succeed economically. I know that eventually I want to become an entrepreneur starting something that will break the world in half and remake it in my image (look at what Elon Musk did last week for instance). And I know that one way to increase my chances is to be amazingly awesome at networking and being in contact with awesome people. Loads of amazing stories to do with success involve some crazy strike of serendipity which includes some out of touch person who knew the right person at the exact right time.
My scientific mind only sees one variable that I can control in this, knowing the right people, and having the right relationship with them. Also it isn’t hard to see how sales is useful. Sales is what gets business moving. Being good at sales doesn’t hurt. But I’ll talk more about that at another date.
Another reason its web design and not something I really want to be close to my heart i.e. being a web programmer… is because of the turnaround time before I can deliver something useful. I know design isn’t easy, but with programming you’ve got to work solidly for 12-36 months before you can deliver something useful. Sure there are the stories of those Ubermen who did it in 12 weeks or in 80 hours, but there’s no way I will be able to market those shoddy skills to clients in good faith. Plus learning such a logic intensive task will clash with my Physics degree. Better to learn something which requires a different way of thinking so as to keep myself motivated.
There is one other of the marketable skills I mentioned which slightly fits the above description, that of copywriting. It is said that a good copywriter will never look for work, for it is such an in demand skill. Writing is and always will be a persuasive form of communication when done right. I also happen to love copywriting, especially the direct-response kind. It involves getting inside the customers head, understanding their problems and desires, and communicating across a solution. As someone who wants to change the world, it’s something I’m deeply passionate about, and will probably pursue a little bit on the side. However I’ve already given this skill some time and have even practised it a little. So pursuing it won’t be as entirely challenging as I thought. However going for web design, something I have no talent in whatsoever (honestly talk to my Design Teachers at school, they thought I was Satan), and learning enough of it so I can market it. NOW THAT’S A CHALLENGE!!
So how am I going to go about this? Well I have a few plans and objectives. I’ve already identified a few resources a la App Sumo, which are more action and get-you-up-to-speed based. It involves mainly a video course to go from wire-framing to full website via Adobe Suite[i] (something I own and never use). Additionally there are The Principles of Beautiful Web Design 2nd edition by Jason Beaird, which gives a brief theoretical overview of its title. The Elements of User Experience 2nd edition by Jesse James Garrett, it gives an introductory overview of UI/UX something very useful in effective web design[ii]. My impression is that these resources should arm me enough to redesign my mum’s business website by 15th June.
Wait! Why so soon you ask? Well one because I want to hit the ground running. Two I actually have a shit load of time free at the moment as I just finished exams so I want to do something useful. Also because setting such a near goal is the only way I know I’ll get started. Like I always tell myself whenever I want to start something:
Whatever you do it won’t be perfect. Yet the only way to get better is by doing it. Then do it again , improving by-by-bit.
It may or may not be true, but it’s the only way I’ve found to get myself to get started on something, having faith that the simple act of action means I can fail faster, iterate faster and improve faster. Heck the website I’ll make for my mum may be so terrible she’ll reject it despite the fact I’m family. But I’ll learn a shitload of stuff during the process. And then I can make another website, which will hopefully be a bit better. Bit-by-bit, bird-by-bird I’ll get better. Who knows by early next year I might start having a portfolio I won’t cringe looking at.
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[ii] Found this via a cool metafilter page “What single book is the best introduction to your field for laypeople”