10 Techniques for a Successful Career


Last year, I had the great honor and privilege of leading a small team of newly hired engineers at Google. Towards the end of the year, as the team began to break up and shift onto other projects, I wanted to summarize my “best advice” for them as they headed off on their own, so I wrote a 10 step guide for career success at Google. As I read over the advice, however, it became apparent that most of it was generally applicable to all sorts of jobs, so I’ve decided to adapt it slightly and publish it here.

  1. Track your accomplishments daily, weekly, and quarterly. A simple daily log, weekly summary, and quarterly progress report are all you need. Keep them as short as possible without missing any important work you have done. Whenever possible, include direct references or hyperlinks to any supporting detailed documentation you produced. You will be amazed at how much you’ve accomplished when you look back. You will also be amazed how easy it will be to make the case for promotion or update your resume and prepare for a change in jobs. You may be tempted to use a tool to automate this tracking – don’t, that defeats the whole purpose. Keep it manual.

  2. Become the go-to person for something, and then obsolete yourself. Repeat. And when it’s time to move on, as the stock market saying goes: buy (into new projects or companies) low, and sell (yourself to the next one) high. In other words, move on when you’ve accomplished the bulk of what you can contribute on a project and have automated yourself out of a job, and a new project has a lot of low hanging fruit for you to pick. Build a niche, but don’t let yourself get pigeonholed, and don’t hold on to something because you are familiar with it. Remember: eventually, all work is thrown away. Learn to let go.

  3. Focus on the customer, and all else (including your career) will follow. To loosely paraphrase the Buddha, grasping (e.g., for promotion or other recognition) invariably leads to suffering and the opposite of the intended effect. Learn to let go of your ego and focus on the greater good. You will naturally excel and achieve without even thinking about it.

  4. Identify your strengths and leverage them extensively. The book Now, Discover Your Strengths can help you do this. Likewise, identify your weaknesses, and either a) shore them up, or b) learn workarounds. Get to know yourself well enough to know which of these two approaches you should take for any given weakness. Above all, be honest with yourself.

  5. Read, read, read, and never stop learning. Read whatever interests you, but choose your reading material wisely, with a focus on quality. Don’t read crap, and don’t read too narrowly. If someone you respect recommends a book or article, try to read it with an open mind. If you like something you’ve read, re-read it. To help get you started:

    1. Read and internalize the book: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

    2. Read and internalize the book: How to Win Friends and Influence People.

  6. Listen. Listen to your customers, your manager, your executives, your teammates, and anyone else you work with. Try to understand where they are coming from, ask questions, and always assume the best intentions. Let them finish talking before you chime in. You will be amazed at what you learn, and how it will help shape and expand your view.

  7. Consciously choose your manager. If your manager is not great, let them know (also let them know if they are great!). If they don’t change for the better, let their manager know, and start looking for something new. Your career is too short to spend years under someone who can’t help you grow.

  8. Continually assess your situation. Ask yourself, “Is what I’m doing a) leveraging my strengths, b) something I enjoy, and c) something I am passionate about?” If the answer is no, start taking steps towards correcting the deficiencies. Be open to reinventing yourself in the process.

  9. Realistically measure your stress level, and learn how to manage it. You’re probably subject to a lot more stress than you think. Just living in the modern world is probably more stress than the human body was designed to handle. Add to that life in the modern workplace, and you’ll understand why there are so many people suffering directly and indirectly from the effects of stress. Try out many techniques and see what works for you (exercise, yoga, massage, meditation, etc.).

  10. Don’t forget your family and friends. It’s easy to let work become your life, but your health and happiness depend critically on your close personal relationships. Have a life outside of work. Actively manage your relationships, and constantly renew the ones you value most. If you have a reasonably active social life, you’ll be much happier and productive at work.

(Oh, this list goes up to 11….)

11. Take a course on mindfulness and emotional intelligence. For example, there is one offered by the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute. Attend all sessions and do your homework, mindfully and diligently. Don’t let it end there – internalize what the class teaches, and practice practice practice. The awareness, mindfulness and emotional intelligence you develop will be the keys to dramatically improving your productivity and happiness.

Happy New Year, and best of luck in your career of choice!