Being your own biggest sceptic, the value in trying things which might not work and why communication is harder than technical problems.Read More
School told me I wasn’t an artist. I believed it. My year 8 art teacher gave me a D for my drawing. All that effort. A green ninja turtle. Not the ones you see on TV, my own.
The next year I dropped art, music and drama. All of it. Anything that wasn’t maths or science.
In year 12 I got a C- for English. The stories I wrote weren’t good. Why not? I thought I ticked the criteria. I read the book, rewrote it in my words, told it how I understood it. Now I couldn’t write, draw, act. What was the deal?
There was one thing though. I was captain of debating. I could speak. Writing differently to speaking bored me. My English essay was good (to me, not the teacher) but it was a drag to write. I had to take time off gaming to get it down. We were the best Call of Duty team in Australia, that’s a full-time job.
Our debating team went to other schools and they came to us. We’d have a week with a topic a week to wrap our 17-year-old brains around it and form an argument, for or against. Sometimes there wasn’t a topic. Instead, we’d get there an hour early and get given the topic on the night. You had to think of a speech on the spot.
I was always third speaker. Which meant I had the job of summarising the first two speakers on our team and saying why the other team was wrong. I loved it.
While the other team were speaking I had to think of why they were wrong and write it down. I didn’t have time to write an essay. I had to write how I was going to speak it. Then I had to deliver. That’s what mattered.
We went through our final year undefeated.
Essays are still hard for me to write and there’s nothing worse than reading poor writing. One of the easiest ways to improve your writing is to write like you speak. If you can’t explain something with words, say it out loud as if you were telling your friend about it and then write that.
It took me 7-years out of school to start creating again. To start writing publicly. To start making videos. I still haven’t gotten back into drawing. But I will.
When it first went live it wasn’t good. My first 30 YouTube videos were me sitting in my car. There were gaming videos on another channel but they weren’t me. My first articles were over edited, ‘what if someone thinks this when they read that?’
Thankfully they’ve gotten better since. And I have no plans to stop improving, stop challenging myself. That’s the key. Be your own biggest critique. Make things you’d like to see and make them quality.
But after a while being your own biggest critique gets easy. Then you have to learn how to be your own biggest fan. Fan and critique at the same time.
I hit 10,000 subscribers the other day. Now we’re on the way to 100,000.
But that’s not the metric I pay attention to. The metrics you can game don’t matter.
Was it published?
Did the idea turn into something?
Where is it?
Can I see it?
Not everything goes out into the world. It shouldn’t. But in order to get better, you have to publish.
That’s what I measure myself on.
It’s what led me to being able to leave my job as a machine learning engineer and pursue a journey on my own. Let’s see where it goes.
If you’ve watched my videos or read my articles. Thank you.
An elite athlete trains hard and in short bursts. Then rests. Then analyses their training. Then repeats.
Cognitive work should be done in the same way.
Short intense bursts followed by rest and reassessment.
In the age of information and leverage, your actions have the potential to return 50x, 100x, 1000x the amount of effort you put in.
Create something using code or media and style it with your own authenticity.
Will it take more than four-hours?
At times, of course. The number doesn’t matter. As long as it’s consistent. You can get a lot done in four focused hours every day for a decade.
Short intense bursts followed by rest and reassessment.
Our coach came round. He got to Josh and started speaking.
You know you get those people who haven’t exercised much since high school but they still come down and get into it. Then you have those people who can just go and go and go.
He pointed to Josh. Then to me. Then spoke.
My brother Josh, Dave and I got our first grading at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu yesterday. A white tip on our white belts. A first step of many to come.
A few others got new coloured belts. Jax went from blue to purple. Another went from white to blue.
The white tip is a symbol of progression. But it isn’t what we’re after. We’re after skills. The skill of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. The skill of going up against someone and using what you’ve learned to submit them or prevent them from submitting you.
More accolades can be tempting. But don’t mistake them for skills. That’s what you’re after. Not a stack of certifications.
Lukas emailed me asking a few questions. I replied back with some answers and then he dug deeper. He thought about what I said and then wanted to know more.
I replied back to him with some of my thoughts which I tidied up a bit and put below. The headings are the topics Lukas was curious about. This post doesn’t have all the context but I think you’ll find some value out of it.
I’ll answer these how I did the last ones and break them apart a bit.
1. “University/school teaches some stuff that you don’t really need or want”
This is true. But also true of all learning. Whatever resource you choose, you’ll never use all of it. Some knowledge will come from elsewhere, some will vanish into nothing.
The reason learning online is valuable is it gives you the chance to narrow down on what it is you want immediately. University and school take a ‘boil the ocean’ solution because that’s the only valid one for what they offer. Individualised learning hasn’t made its way into traditional education services. I found I learn best when I follow what I’m interested in so I take the approach of learning the most important thing when it’s required. What's most important? It will depend on the project you’re working on.
Whilst this is an ideal approach for me. It’s important to always reflect on practicality. If I’m building a business and all I want to do is follow what I’m interested in, will that always line up with what customers/the market want? Maybe. Maybe not.
Lately, I’ve been taking the concept of time splitting and applying it to most of what I do. A 70/20/10 split I stole from Google.
In essence, 70% on core product/techniques (improving and innovating on existing knowledge), 20% on new ventures (still tied to core product) and 10% on moonshots (things that might not work).
In the case of my core product, it’s learning health and machine learning skills that can be applied immediately. I distil these in a work project/online creation I share with others.
For new ventures, it’s taking the core product skills and then expanding them on things I haven’t yet done, learning a new technique, working on a new project. But still tied to the core pillars of health and technology.
For moonshots, it’s going, ‘where will the world be in 5-10 years and how can I start working on those things now.’ These don’t necessarily have to relate to the core product but mine kind of still are (since the crossover of health, technology and art interests me most). For this, I’ve been playing around with the idea of an augmented reality (AR) coach/doctor. If AR glasses are going to be a thing, how could I build a health coach service which lives in the AR realm and is summoned/ever present to give insights into different aspects of your health? All of this would be of course personalised to the individual.
If you're still on the fence between university and learning on your own. One thing you may want to look into is the ‘2-year self apprenticeship’. I wrote an article about this which will shed some more light. Especially at 20, this would be something I’d highly recommend (I already have to my brothers, who are your age).
Remember, there's no rush. You've got plenty of time. Work hard and enjoy it.
2. “Why math at university versus on your own?”
I mentioned I was thinking of going to university to study mathematics rather than online. Here's why.
I learned Chinese and Japanese throughout 2016. The most helpful thing was being able to practice speaking with other people face to face.
I stopped after a year and have lost most of what I learned.
Because I don’t use it and don’t need to use it every day. English is 99.999% enough for conversations in Australia and the work I do.
Math is also a language. The language of nature. Being able to speak it and work on it with other people is a great way to accelerate your knowledge.
That isn’t to say you couldn’t do the same online. But put it this way, I would never try to learn another language without practising conversing from day 1.
If you want to learn French, move to France. If you want to learn math, take math classes with other people who speak math.
3. “How do you get physically around smart people?”
Aside from working with a great team or going to university and having a great cohort. Meetups are the number 1 thing for this.
They are weird and awkward and beautiful.
I always feel like a fish out of water there because everyone seems like a genius.
Events related to your field are priceless. They don’t have to be too often either. I’m finding once a month or so as a sound check to be enough.
4. “Which platform was best for opportunities?”
For content partnerships and online business opportunities: YouTube & LinkedIn (I've been approached or partnered with Coursera, A Cloud Guru, DataCamp, educative.io and more).
For career progression: LinkedIn. If I was looking for a job or more business opportunities, I’d be posting and interacting here daily.
For reaching an audience: Medium. Words are powerful. Writing every day is the best habit I have (aside from daily movement and staying healthy).
A tip for creating.
People are interested in two things when they look at content. Being educated and/or being entertained. Bonus points if you can do both but you don’t need to do both. One is suffice.
Especially if you’re doing a 2-year self apprenticeship or some kind of solo learning journey, share your work from day 1. Share what you’re learning and teach others if you can.
Do not expect it to go viral. Do not expect everyone to love it. These aren’t required.
What’s required is for you to continue improving your skills and to continue improving how to communicate said skills.
Over the long term, those two things are what matter.
Let me know if there’s any follow ups.
My friend sent me this post.
Reading it was a form of confirmation bias. It was as if I was reading what I’d been subconsciously (or consciously? How do you tell?) doing the past 2-years.
I’m in between step 4 and 5.
It started with creating my own AI Masters Degree. That turned into a job as a machine learning engineer. And the creating hasn’t stopped. Publishing work online has opened more doors for more me than any of my previous ventures.
I haven’t figured out 6 yet. But it’ll come. In the meantime, I’ll keep making.
Enough about me. What can you take away from this?
The post already says enough. I won’t repeat any of it. But I can add a lesson or two.
A) Choosing yourself is hard but worth it
It’s not for everyone. The traditional paths are there for a reason. They’ve stood the test of time. They work for some but not for others.
When I was younger I thought I’d be a TV star one day. My mum took me to an audition for an advertisement company. I was nervous but I liked being the centre of attention. After the audition we never heard back. Dreams shattered.
Then one day my mum found out the company went broke. I was 10. 10-year-olds don’t understand companies going broke. Why wasn’t I going to be a TV star?
Everywhere I went I felt like a combination of special and the one who didn’t fit in. I liked that. Maybe everyone feels it? Probably.
Aghh. Enough about me. That’s a 2 count.
When you pick your own path, you’ll have people questioning what you’re doing. You’ll get advice from all angles.
But there will be something inside of you telling you to push forward. You can’t explain it. When you try to tell someone else, they might get it, they might not. All the advice they give comes from a kind place but they’re not in your head. They don’t have to lay in bed at night with your thoughts. They don’t have to sit down at lunchtime and stare out the window with the feeling in your gut of the thing that’s pulling you.
Then you do it. You make the decision you’ve had sitting in your brain your body your soul. And it happens. The whole universe starts getting behind you. But it doesn’t make it any easier. You’ll keep coming up against obstacles keep questioning.
Is this the right thing?
Will things work out?
Where’s the answer?
Yes, maybe, no, it doesn’t exist, all valid answers.
Choosing yourself is a daily practice. You make the decision. Then you follow up with the effort.
Then tomorrow happens. And you repeat.
B) Online is great but people are better
The internet is amazing. It has lowered the barrier to entry to education, to creating, to making, to sharing, to meeting, to finding. You know this. But it’s not perfect. You know this too.
You can learn from the best in the world and then remix their ideas with yours and share them. Others can find your work and learn from it and do the same. The snowball gets bigger.
The one thing the technology hasn’t replicated yet is the feeling of connection. Online communities are everywhere but they’re not the same as sitting down at a table with like-minded people.
Someone messaged me the other day. ‘Hello Daniel, I’m a self-made XYZ as well.’
The message meant well and I thanked the person for the kind words. But I’m not self-made. There’s no such thing as self-made.
This one is an asterisk on the end of the ‘2 Year Self Apprenticeship*’.
*Take advantage of the online resources available to you. But don’t forget about your offline relationships.
An offline relationship can be completely online but it takes more than the odd like to convey it. Interact with those who are in your circle. Message the people whose work you enjoy, share it and say why you like it. These kind of acts are what keep the snowball growing.
Keep learning. Keep making.
I’m a firm believer the best mentor is someone who is a few years in front of you.
And it has nothing to do with age. It’s got to do with mission.
What do you want to achieve in the next 3-5 years?
If you’re looking for advice, you should look for people who have been through a similar journey in a similar timeframe.
Any longer than a few years in front and the advice gets hazy.
How well do you remember the details of your day-to-day 6-years ago? Or longer?
Over the past 6-7 years, Sam Ovens has built a $30 million per year business. At the time of writing he’s 29. I’m 25.
In his latest video, he shares some of the things he has been thinking about. To make sure they sink in, I’ve summarised them in my own words here.
1. The market has flipped
Before the internet, the balance used to be, spend 80% of your time shouting about how good your product is (sales and marketing) and 20% actually building a good product.
Now, your product is discoverable. If it’s good, people will search for it. People will talk about it.
Spend 80% of your time making your product or service better and 20% telling people about it.
Don’t be confused by page views or likes or any other metric which doesn’t relate to improving your business.
2. Value remains King
Business school be summed up in one sentence.
“Bring someone else enough value for them to pay you.”
That’s it. That’s all you have to do.
Don’t over complicate it.
If your product or service brings more value to someone than your competition, you will win.
3. The most value comes from the best team
At the start, your business can be all you.
You can be 100% of the talent. You can do 100% of the tasks.
But as you go, if you want to expand, you’ll have to recruit help.
If it’s only you, you’ll be beaten as soon as someone hires a couple of talented people to work on the same thing.
If you want your business to grow beyond solopreneur status, don’t be the only talented person on your team.
Team will always be the most valuable asset you can build.
4. Hire intelligent, unorthodox athletes
“I want to hire intelligent, unorthodox, athletes.”
Intelligence is like horsepower. Useless on its own but powerful when applied. Looking for someone with a specific set of skills may be more difficult than finding someone who already has a great foundation of intelligence and then enabling them to apply it.
The world is changing. Always. This is the only guarantee in business. What got you to where you are last year, might not even move the needle next year. Unorthodox people question the status quo. They ask why. They’re not afraid to have strong opinions and back them up. They’re the ones who are willing to try something different.
Business is competition. Even if you tell yourself it isn’t, you’ll be competing against someone. Another business, a changing world or most importantly, yourself. Athletes understand competition. They thrive in it.
Combine these three and you have yourself a recipe for a potential great hire.
5. Recruitment is a David vs. Goliath problem
Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, all the rest. These companies are all looking for the best talent.
If you’re a small business, it can be hard to convince someone to come and work for you to begin with.
Add in the billions of dollars and brand power of the companies above and you’ve got a David vs. Goliath problem.
If your number 1 focus is recruiting a great team, what do you think theirs is?
So how do you win?
6. Play “Moneyball” to win the recruitment game
In the movie Moneyball, there’s a baseball team who doesn’t have the budget of some of the other teams in the league.
Instead of trying to go for all the best players, the ones with high batting averages and great pitching, they look at the other stats.
Their analyst looks through the league, combing for players who don’t necessarily cut it for the big contracts but are on the fringe.
The team ends up winning a record number of games straight with only a portion the budget of the bigger teams.
Find the people whose talents haven’t yet been fully discovered. Then when they come on board, get out of their way and empower them to use them.
Note: This is hard. Really hard. Hence why if you’re looking to expand your business, you should be dedicating a lot of time to recruitment (80-90% in Sam’s case).
7. No one ever built a pyramid alone
“One of my worst fears is being old and not being able to work and not being able to let the business I’ve built run without me.”
The quote above isn’t word for word. But it’s what I remember.
Thousands of people collaborated to build the pyramids. An effort which spanned decades.
When you’re starting out, your focus should be on short-term cashflow. Earning enough money to keep your business going and growing.
But as you reach a stage where the business can sustain itself without too high of a focus on short-term cash flow, if you want to build something of pyramid status, your focus should shift to the long term.
This all comes back to having a strong team and continually bringing value to the most important people. Your customers.
I find it invaluable to have these kind of lessons being shared so accessibly.
You can watch the full video on Sam Ovens’s YouTube channel.
YouTube comments are usually the source of the deepest cynicism on the internet.
But sometimes they’re pure wisdom.
I found one the other day which went like this.
Instead of chasing financial freedom, find three hobbies you love.
One to make you money.
One to keep you in shape.
One to be creative.
You walk in. Henry's there too. There's a grey table in between you and the lady in the grey t-shirt. Sandra. You remembered her name. She's the one who invited you in for an interview.
You met Henry in the lobby. You're both going for the same role. Henry's a nice guy. Really nice. He's like you. You're even into the same things.
Sandra starts talking.
'Welcome boys, thank you for coming in.'
You both smile.
'Both of you applications were incredible. You'll be glad to know you're the last two candidates. We'd hire you both but for now, we've only got one position.'
You glance over at Henry. War has been declared. Not really but it might as well be. If getting hired was the goal, there has to be a winner and a loser.
You remember talking to Henry in the lobby.
Henry was telling you about the web application he'd been working on. You could even start using it on your phone. It wasn't much but it was there. The yellow symbols on the screen were cafes which served gluten-free meals. Henry's girlfriend couldn't eat gluten so he built it for her.
'How'd you do that?' you asked.
'I'd done some courses online so I decided to try and build something.'
Sandra starts talking again.
'Henry, I checked out the website you built. My daughter is a celiac. It's always a pain if we get somewhere and she can't eat.'
Henry starts talking.
'My girlfriend can't eat gluten either. There's a few bugs but I'm working on fixing them.'
Sandra turns to you.
'Now, Daniel, I saw you'd done a bunch of courses online. Some of them from Coursera and edX looked great.'
'Have you had a chance to use those skills you've been learning yet?'
You glance back over at Henry. The war has been lost.
'Not yet, I'm still trying to figure out what to make.'
'It can be hard to choose!'
The interview went for another 15-minutes. Some standard questions.
'How do you work in a team?'
'Name a time you've struggled and talk through what you did in that situation.'
Henry talked about how he struggled with his app. Sandra was interested the whole time.
The interviewed ends.
Sandra calls out as she ushers you and Henry out the door.
'Thank you both for your time, today was a blast. We'll be in touch.'
Henry turns towards you and stretches out his hand.
'All the best man.'
'Thanks, you too.'
The email comes a couple of days later. You know what it says.
'While your credentials were impressive, we've chosen not to move forward at this stage.'
Henry got the job.
You keep reading.
'Some feedback for next time and please don't take this as negative. We'd love to see you back here.'
'We'd like to see what you're capable of with all the knowledge you've gained from your impressive list of certificates! Let us know if you make something. One of the best things about working at Acme Software is we offer help towards your own projects.'
You smile. You knew it. You knew it from the time Henry told you what he'd been working on. You knew it from the time you read the blog post on how to prepare for your first interview.
I call this the weekend project principle.
Most employers (the good ones) will put more emphasis on the things you've done rather than the things you're capable of.
Certificates are great. They're a form of a proof of work.
But the weekend project principle is better.
The weekend project principle is working on anything you can say, 'I'm working on X' or 'I built this.' And then being able to tell a story about it.
Do the courses on Coursera and edX, get the certificates, get the skills but more importantly, use them as a foundation to make something.
Six weeks pass. You took Sandra's advice.
You decide to send through an email.
The subject reads, 'What I've been working on.'
The next morning your phone starts ringing. It's Sandra.
'Hey! We got your email! What an effort! Do you want to come in tomorrow and tell us more about it?'
In French, amateur means love.
A person who loves what they're working on.
But you know it means elsewhere. The rookie. The beginner. The one who doesn't know much.
It's easy to be afraid to share your work because you think it fits this form of the word.
It's easy to forget an expert doesn't start out as an expert. They had to begin somewhere. And it's dangerous if an expert ever forgets how to be an amateur. Forgets how to see the world through the eyes of a beginner.
While the expert is busy trying to do things how they've always been done, the amateur is figuring out how not to do things. Soon enough, they'll realise the way it's always been done eventually becomes wrong too.
As always, the value is in the crossover. Being an expert and an amateur at the same time. Having a foundation of knowledge of the world but still looking at everything through the eyes of love.
It's okay if you're not an expert yet. In the meantime, you can strive to be comfortable being an amateur (the French version) forever.
I haven't had to update my resume for a while. When I started at Max Kelsen, I never sent in a resume.
And when I applied for a teaching role at DataCamp, instead of attaching a resume form, I typed a few sentences about my recent and relevant experiences.
I've never been a fan of resumes. I found them hard to write and always wanted to put more than was necessary.
And more importantly, an A4 sheet of paper is hardly the best way to evaluate someone's abilities.
But for some roles, like the one my brother is applying for, they're required.
So how do you make a good one?
1. Keep it short
No more than one page. Respect the time of the person who's going to be reading it. Anything more than a page is overkill.
2. Tailor it for the role
If you've got plenty of experience, cut out what's not related to the role you're applying for. Keep it short.
If you don't have much experience, list other projects you've worked on.
If you haven't worked on other projects, start working on some other projects or be honest about where you're at in a custom cover letter.
'I don't have any completed projects as of yet but am applying to this role to show my interest.'
'Over the next X months, I'll be working on Z project. Once I've completed it, I'll report back with my progress.'
3. Be honest
This is obvious. Don't list anything you wouldn't be able to talk about in length during an interview.
If you haven't got the relevant experience, address it, address how you would handle it, address what you're going to do about it (see the bottom of 2).
4. Be specific
Not good: Worked with customers every day.
Good: Served an average of 3000 customers per quarter with an 88 NPS score.
Not good: Worked on data science projects.
Good: Built a data science pipeline which saved a clients business an average of $10,000 per month in 6-weeks.
What have you worked on?
Include the details. 2-3 dot points per major experience.
5. What are you interested in?
Some are on the fence about this. But I'm for it. You can make your own decision.
Add a little human to it.
What's been getting you excited lately?
What's something non-role related you've been enjoying?
After all, if you're successful, there's a chance you will have to spend time with the people who are reading your resume.
Give to a reason to want to know more. This could be under a hobbies/interest section. Or in a custom cover letter.
6. No spelling mistakes. Ever.
Modern resume filters will discard anything with a mistake.
When you think it's ready to send off, read it again. Show it to a friend to read. Read it out loud. Does it make sense?
Use a tool like Grammarly to make sure your words are spelled correctly and are in order.
7. Have a little more
'Where can I go to see more?'
Have a presence online. A website, a blog, a portfolio, a GitHub account, a LinkedIn, a place to see that project you've worked on. You don't need them all but at least 2 would be good.
I don't plan on ever having to send another resume to someone, I've got a full LinkedIn for that. Or if they want to know a little more, I'm not hard to find online.
In a resume filtering world, having the little bit extra is what will set you apart.
My resume is below. You can copy it if you like. It's out of date but it hits the points above.
If you're looking for a guide on how to fill a LinkedIn profile, you can copy mine too. It's not the best but it's full of information.
Looking for a place to make a resume? If I had to do mine again, I'd go to resume.io, I haven't used it but it looks slick. Otherwise, there's a free template on Google Docs, Josh an I used that to make his.
All the best with the next application!
Zac emailed me asking a question.
Keep on working and keep looking for new opportunities in the field…
Go back to uni and finish the last 18 months of my degree.
He just finished an internship and has about 18-months left at university before he finishes his computer science degree.
It’s a tough choice.
I sat and thought about it for a while. Then replied to the email with some unedited thoughts.
And I’m sharing them here, also unedited. Bear in mind, I’ve never been to university to study computer science.
Here’s how I see it, I’m gonna write a few thoughts out loud.
- Where do you want to be/see yourself in 3-5 years?
It sounds like you’re pretty switched on to where your skillset lies (aka, teaching yourself, working on things which interest you).
Might be worth having a think about which one better suits the ideal version of you in 3-5 years.
Does that ideal version of you require a university degree? Or could that version of you get by without one?
- Which one is the most uncomfortable in the short term?
I’m very long term focused (I have to remind myself of this every day). So whenever I come up to a hard decision, I ask myself, ‘Which one is hardest in the short term?’
I treat short term as anything under 2-3 years (the starting era of the ideal version of yourself).
- 18-months isn’t really the longest time
How much of a rush are you in?
Could you stick out the 18-months, share your work online through an online portfolio, upskill yourself through various other courses (and jump ahead of others) and come out with a degree AND some extra skills.
- Get after it
This is countering the above point.
If you think you have the balls to chase after it (sounds like you already do), why do you need university to be a gatekeeper?
Sure, not having an official degree may shut you off from some companies, but to me, a piece a paper never really meant much. Especially when the best quality materials in world are available online.
I have a colleague doing a data science masters at UQ and he said he has learned way more since working with Max Kelsen than at university.
Put it this way, I was driving Uber this time last year. But I followed through with my curriculum, shared my work online and got found by an awesome company.
- Share your work
Whichever path you choose, I can’t emphasis this enough. Make sure people can find you online.
If you’re not going to get a degree. Be the person who’s name comes up on others LinkedIn feeds for data science posts. Have some good Medium articles, share what you’ve been doing.
It’ll feel weird in the start. Trust me. But then you’ll realise the potential of it.
All of sudden, you can become an expert in your field by being the one to communicate the skills you’re learning.
How did I do?
What would you do in Zac’s situation? Learn online and look for more work experience? Or stick out the 18-months of computer science?