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Career Workshop
Engineer to Manager? Founder? CEO?
Michael Wolfe
Stanford BS/MS, CS, 1991
Michael.wolfe@stanfordalumni.org...
Where to start? Where to go?
?
Small Medium Large
Board
CEO
Founder
VP
Director
Manager
Contributor
You are
here
What do they have in common?
Geeks!
BS/MS, Mechanical Engineering
Polytechnic Institute NY
BS/MS/PhD, Chemical
Engineering
U Mass, U of Illinois
BS, El...
And these?
Almost all had technical co-founders
(but not necessarily as CEO)
Why did they succeed?
Because of their math/engineering training?
Or just their raw brainpower?
Or did they succeed *despi...
The stories we know are one of two
extremes.
Story #1: “working your way up”
Small Medium Large
Board
CEO
Founder
VP
Director
Manager
Contributor
This is probably how you thought the
world worked when you were
growing up.
(And your parents still do…)
Story #2: “I’m the next Gates/Zuck/Dell”
Small Medium Large
Board
CEO
Founder
VP
Director
Manager
Contributor
This probably won’t happen
(although if you have the next Facebook in
your dorm room, let’s talk after class…)
Most of our paths look more like this
Small Medium Large
Board
CEO
Founder
VP
Director
Manager
Contributor
My story
Thought #1
There is no defined career “path”
• There are simply a series of decisions
• Where you start is just a first st...
CEO,
Founder
General
Manager
Vice
President,
Products &
Services, Co-
Founder
Vice
President,
Engineering,
Founding
Employ...
CEO,
Founder
General
Manager
Vice
President,
Products &
Services, Co-
Founder
Vice
President,
Engineering,
Founding
Employ...
Who is this all about?
It’s not about
THEM
• Getting
them to hire
you
• Getting
them to
promote you
• Getting
them to fund...
There is such a thing as a bad question
Not so good questions Good questions
What will look good on my
resume?
What will b...
Thought #2
Worry less about what “they” think
(they don’t really care anyway)
• Work on your skills
• Find out what you wa...
Do you have skillz?
• Political landscape Your products Your strategy
• Your competitors Company legacy
Company
• Marketin...
Maybe the answer is “off the grid”
Hmm…I
wonder
which skills
these teach?
(Hint: it is
these)
Thought #3
Work on your skills
• Put yourself in challenging situations
• Skills are transferable
• Your foundational skil...
The Stanford Curse
“I didn’t go to
Stanford to build
web pages.”
“Everyone else
is going to
Google.”
“I need to be a
CEO i...
Small vs. Large
• Uncertainty
• Lack of structure
• No support
• Drama
• Pivots and twists
• Innovation
• Equity focus
• I...
Management vs. Individual Contributor
• Communicating
• Leverage
• Team building
• Firings
• Planning
• Strategy
• Experti...
Thought #4
Know thyself
• Understand what you like to do
• Leverage your strengths, work on your
weaknesses
• Show humilit...
Typical question
Some of the suggestions included:
• “Here is why Twitter sux…”
• “Here is why Facebook sux….”
• “Go where...
An answer
Your peeps
You will likely work with the same people, or people one degree removed, for your entire career
Thought #5
It is all about people
• Your friends
• You community
• Your team
• Your network
• Your classmates (get to know...
Q & A
Michael Wolfe
Michael.wolfe@stanfordalumni.org
Michael.wolfe@joinwire.com
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Should I start my career at a big or small company?

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Notes from October 2010 lecture at Stanford Computer Forum

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Should I start my career at a big or small company?

  1. 1. Career Workshop Engineer to Manager? Founder? CEO? Michael Wolfe Stanford BS/MS, CS, 1991 Michael.wolfe@stanfordalumni.org Michael.wolfe@joinwire.com
  2. 2. Where to start? Where to go? ? Small Medium Large Board CEO Founder VP Director Manager Contributor You are here
  3. 3. What do they have in common?
  4. 4. Geeks! BS/MS, Mechanical Engineering Polytechnic Institute NY BS/MS/PhD, Chemical Engineering U Mass, U of Illinois BS, Electrical Engineering MS, PhD Computer Science Princeton, Berkeley BS/MS/PhD, Chemical Eng. U of Wisconsin, Minnesota BA Math, MBA Dartmouth, Harvard Math/CS Harvard Math/CS Harvard BS/MS Electrical Eng., MBA Rice University, Harvard
  5. 5. And these?
  6. 6. Almost all had technical co-founders (but not necessarily as CEO)
  7. 7. Why did they succeed? Because of their math/engineering training? Or just their raw brainpower? Or did they succeed *despite* being engineers? Or innate leadership ability? Or is this all just random?
  8. 8. The stories we know are one of two extremes.
  9. 9. Story #1: “working your way up” Small Medium Large Board CEO Founder VP Director Manager Contributor
  10. 10. This is probably how you thought the world worked when you were growing up. (And your parents still do…)
  11. 11. Story #2: “I’m the next Gates/Zuck/Dell” Small Medium Large Board CEO Founder VP Director Manager Contributor
  12. 12. This probably won’t happen (although if you have the next Facebook in your dorm room, let’s talk after class…)
  13. 13. Most of our paths look more like this Small Medium Large Board CEO Founder VP Director Manager Contributor
  14. 14. My story
  15. 15. Thought #1 There is no defined career “path” • There are simply a series of decisions • Where you start is just a first step • Take lateral moves and pay cuts • You can be good at more than one thing • But make the decisions off of some basic principles But now I’ll talk about a few guidelines to think about along the way.
  16. 16. CEO, Founder General Manager Vice President, Products & Services, Co- Founder Vice President, Engineering, Founding Employee Director, Engineering, Founding Employee Analyst BS/MS, CS, CS 198 coordinator, instructor, intern Was this the accomplishment? Getting someone to hire me Getting promoted Getting brought in early Getting a big company role Getting VCs to fund me i.e., what someone else gave me?
  17. 17. CEO, Founder General Manager Vice President, Products & Services, Co- Founder Vice President, Engineering, Founding Employee Director, Engineering, Founding Employee Analyst BS/MS, CS, CS 198 coordinator, instructor, intern Or this? •Technical fundamentals •Networking •Communication skills •Applying technology •“Personal management” skills •How to work •Professionalism •Corporate Culture •Recruiting •New product development •Working in teams •Basic management •Direct sales •Managing managers •Strategy and finance •Messaging and positioning •Planning and forecasting •M&A •Press and analysts •Large company politics •Fundraising •Vision and direction •Deciding what I liked •Learning the necessary skills •Building the right network
  18. 18. Who is this all about? It’s not about THEM • Getting them to hire you • Getting them to promote you • Getting them to fund you It’s about YOU • What do you want to do? • What are your strengths and weaknesses? • Find situations to learn what you need. Oh, actually it is about THEM • Your team • Your peers • Your professional network • Your customers • Your board
  19. 19. There is such a thing as a bad question Not so good questions Good questions What will look good on my resume? What will build the skills that I need? What will make my teachers, parents, peers happy? What will make me happy? How do I get a promotion? How do I learn how to be a good manager? What do venture capitalists want to see in a business plan? What do I think my business plan should say? How do I convince people I’m good? How do I actually be good?
  20. 20. Thought #2 Worry less about what “they” think (they don’t really care anyway) • Work on your skills • Find out what you want • Trust that if you are good, other people will see it and get involved with you • It’s not them, it is you • But do find mentors • Yes, you need to learn how to sell yourself, but you need a *product* to sell!
  21. 21. Do you have skillz? • Political landscape Your products Your strategy • Your competitors Company legacy Company • Marketing Sales Support PR/analysts • Finance Strategy Engineering Innovation Industry • Management Interpersonal Listening • Presentations Teamwork Professionalism Team • Intelligence Motivation Self awareness • Discipline Humility Curiosity Confidence Personal Useful Everywhere Useful only one place
  22. 22. Maybe the answer is “off the grid” Hmm…I wonder which skills these teach? (Hint: it is these)
  23. 23. Thought #3 Work on your skills • Put yourself in challenging situations • Skills are transferable • Your foundational skills can never be too good • Personal and professional are the same thing There is no such thing as “job security”, only “career security” (if you got skills). By seeking “job security” you may get neither job security nor career security!
  24. 24. The Stanford Curse “I didn’t go to Stanford to build web pages.” “Everyone else is going to Google.” “I need to be a CEO in 5 years.” “I want to be a millionaire before I’m 25.” Lots of voices whispering into your ear….
  25. 25. Small vs. Large • Uncertainty • Lack of structure • No support • Drama • Pivots and twists • Innovation • Equity focus • Isolation • Focus and Specialization • Structure and support • Politics • Systems • Legacy • Scale • International • Mentoring • Business class upgrades Small Large
  26. 26. Management vs. Individual Contributor • Communicating • Leverage • Team building • Firings • Planning • Strategy • Expertise • Innovation • Problem solving • Technology • Control • Focus Managemen t Contributor
  27. 27. Thought #4 Know thyself • Understand what you like to do • Leverage your strengths, work on your weaknesses • Show humility and curiosity • Have the “I know nothing” / “I can learn anything” attitude • Being smart at something doesn’t make you smart at something else • Listen to the voices, but also learn to tune them out
  28. 28. Typical question Some of the suggestions included: • “Here is why Twitter sux…” • “Here is why Facebook sux….” • “Go where you’ll make the most money” • “Go where you like the product the most”
  29. 29. An answer
  30. 30. Your peeps You will likely work with the same people, or people one degree removed, for your entire career
  31. 31. Thought #5 It is all about people • Your friends • You community • Your team • Your network • Your classmates (get to know them now, before it is too late….)
  32. 32. Q & A Michael Wolfe Michael.wolfe@stanfordalumni.org Michael.wolfe@joinwire.com

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