Maximalist careers

A few days back I shared some ideas on maximal and minimal product design. But these ideas are quite general and can be applied to visual design, interior design as well as to literature.

They can also be applied to careers.

A minimalist career is closer to a linear career – same domain, same function, for a lot of years. A maximalist career would be filled much more experimentation, and work in fields not clearly related to each other.

I see an increasing trend of people who have a suite of skills which are not highly correlated. As our tools become better, and we have more time and opportunities, we tend to do more things in life, out of sheer curiosity.

A lot of programmers become entrepreneurs, then they become investors.

The Dutchman-living-in-Bali Pieter Levels is a programmer, a designer, a businessman, an author, and a bit of a Twitter celebrity. And he is not even 30.

The philosopher Nassim Taleb was a trader, is a mathematician, and author of multiple best-selling books. He too, has learned to harness the power of Twitter.

The investor Paul Graham was also a painter, has a PhD is computer science, is an author of essays as well as a technical book on computer programming. He also founded a startup which he sold to Yahoo.

And Balaji Srinivasan, the current CTO of Coinbase, has a maximalist career if I have seen one – spanning electrical engineering, chemistry, genetics, venture capital, and… bitcoin. From this article:

Prior to serving as the CEO at Earn.com, Balaji was a General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz. Before joining a16z, he was the cofounder and CTO of Counsyl, where he won the Wall Street Journal Innovation Award for Medicine and was named to the MIT TR35. Balaji holds a BS, MS, and PhD in Electrical Engineering and an MS in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University. He has taught data mining, stats, genomics, and blockchain courses at Stanford, as well as an online MOOC in 2013 which reached 250,000+ students worldwide.

While these may seem exceptional examples, I know young people personally whose careers are starting to look like this. A friend of mine has Master’s degrees in both Computer Science and Economic Policy and is a co-founder of a blockchain based startup. She is barely 25.

By maximalist careers I don’t mean generalist careers. The word ‘generalist’ has connotations of being middle-of-the-road, of being somewhat inferior to a specialist/expert. But someone with a maximalist career might be better than a specialist in the specialist skill too. Paul Graham is clearly a better investor than many who are ‘only’ investors. He is probably a better computer programmer than a lot of programmers too. I just mean that deep expertise is important, and we will continue to see people who have depth in multiple areas.

The most obvious destinations for maximalists are startups. Big companies typically don’t have a need for them, and don’t know what to do with them. Their surplus skills rot in a specialist context. But startups need exactly these kinds of people. For thriving under uncertainty, their suite of skills (and their ability to learn new skills) is ideal.

And this brings me to a gap in the social networking space. There is no platform I know of where such people can show their full suite of skills. LinkedIn is designed for linear careers. Yes you can mention your side projects on it, but ultimately the interface is linear, and designed to ignore large parts of who you are. Angellist does a slightly better job, but I think it’s far from ideal.

I hope to see a professional social network designed specifically for such careers and such people. This network would not be aimed at recruiters and jobs, but at curious people with multiple deep passions finding each other to work on exciting projects.

This network would aimed at curious people with multiple deep passions finding each other to work on exciting projects.

If you know of such a network, let me know. If you are building something like this, let us talk !

4 thoughts on “Maximalist careers

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