24 Things I Know After 10 Years in Tech, I Wish I’d Known in Year 1
Lessons learned and wisdom gained in the tech trenches.
Hello! I'm Pat, your guide to the business of creativity and innovation. New here? Join our supportive community and fuel your creative journey!
Two years ago, I took a leap of faith and published my first article online.
I didn’t have a Substack account or a brand name.
I didn't even know what I'd write about or if I could start a regular writing practice.
But one thing was clear – I felt compelled to share my journey.
One day, I woke up to realize that I was no longer the new kid on the block.
I had been working for a decade!
On the surface, my baby face hid my true status.
I was the wily veteran armed with hard-earned lessons and scars from the trenches.
Since then, I’ve published 112 articles in my quest to share everything I know.
But I’ve never tried to distill the key lessons into bullet points.
So here’s a first attempt.
Here are 24 things I know after 10 years in tech, I wish I’d known in year 1.
All your best jobs will come from personal relationships. So make friends.
Forget 5 or 10-year plans. Follow your curiosity and ride the wave.
You don’t get promoted to take on more responsibility. You take on more responsibility to get promoted.
The boundaries between disciplines are slimmer than they appear. Lateral moves are both possible and valuable.
Whatever job you want to be doing, start doing it in any small way you can. People like helping people who are already doing the work.
You build strong generalist skills in years, not months. Go deep in one area first then expand outward.
Loving your coworkers isn’t enough reason to stay in a job you dislike.
Things are almost always great until they crash and burn in an instant. Be prepared.
The best time to apply for a new job is while you still have a good one.
The company matters less than your team. The team matters less than your boss. Find a boss you’re excited to learn from and you're moving in the right direction.
Don’t bother applying to companies for the prestige if you don’t believe in their product or share their values. You’ll both pick up the weird vibe in the interview and it won’t work out anyway.
Dev frameworks come and go. Design tools rise and fall. Nail the fundamentals, then sprinkle on a bit of whatever’s hot for marketing flavor.
Design matters more than most people think and less than most designers think.
No one is going to die if the button color is a little off until the morning. Go to sleep.
“Human error” is more likely to be the cause of a problem than you want to admit.
Clear is better than clever. Clever will make you feel smart in the moment and dumb later. Clear will make you feel dumb in the moment and smart later.
If it makes business sense for a company to let you go, it will do it. The tech industry runs on ice-cold logic.
Most of the people in senior positions aren’t smarter than you, they have more experience. Listen to them but believe more in yourself.
Stay calm when people don’t understand what you do. There’s power in them thinking your skills are “magic.”
A “creative” corporate job won’t scratch your artistic itch.
More promotions won’t remove your desire to work for yourself. They’ll make it grow.
Avoid the temptation of FIRE. Have fun. Spend some of your hard-earned money to improve your life now.
The odds of getting life-changing equity in someone else’s business are slim. No matter how much executives talk about employee “ownership” you are not an “owner.” Don’t forget to build something that you do own.
Your curiosity and willingness to seek growth despite discomfort will set you apart. Most people stop growing once they taste comfort... even if it means being comfortably unhappy.
This list can and will go on.
I’ve only scratched the surface of synthesizing what I’ve learned.
But I get a little more clarity every time I sit down to write.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to be your guide and I promise to give you my very best.
Until next time,
Which lesson resonates most with you?
Community member Addison James released a Figma plugin called FrameHop that he built over the winter holiday as a way to teach himself a new skill. A great example of continuous learning by doing. Great job, Addison! 🙌