S2:E4 – Friendships, Learning, Improving (Ryan Singel)

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Ryan Singel is a journalist and entrepreneur based in San Francisco. As a journalist he has covered tech policy, privacy, social networking, startups, and many other technology topics. He co-founded the award-winning Threat Level blog at Wired. Ryan is the founder of Contextly, a company that makes editorial tools for news sites and other publications.

Transcript:

ES: This is 5 Minute Mentor, a podcast where you’ll get advice from prominent engineers, authors, artists, and more, in 5 minutes or less.

ES: Today’s mentor is Ryan Singel, a journalist and entrepreneur based in San Francisco. As a journalist he has covered tech policy, privacy, social networking, startups, and many other technology topics. He co-founded the award-winning Threat Level blog at Wired. Ryan is the founder of Contextly, a company that makes editorial tools for news sites and other publications.

ES: Ryan’s advice:

RS:

Hopefully this will be helpful for you. Number one: when you work at a company, be more invested in your coworkers and people who are like you, even if they don’t work for your company, than you do the company you work for. Companies don’t last very long. Friendships, mentors, colleagues in other companies last much longer. That’s the people that are eventually going to help you get a job someplace else. Also the people maybe that you want to hire when you start your own company. Be loyal to the people around you even if they aren’t in your company, than the company that you work for. 

Two: as you look for jobs, find jobs that force you to learn new things, right, rather than jobs that will pay you the most. Jobs that pay the most get boring. You get stuck in a rut you don’t know where to go. Jobs that force you to try something new, whether that’s learning podcasting or, economic forecasting or, how to use spreadsheets or, how to do you know complicated tax things. Whatever they are, you want to be in a job that challenges you and forces you to learn something new and that keeps you, also able to jump to other jobs much more easily. Related to that, when you’re at a company, you often have sort of repetitive, boring sort of things you have to do. The best thing you can do to eventually either start your own company or to get ahead is to look for things that should be easier or better, but aren’t, and try and figure out how can you make them better. How can you make them easier? What are the ways that you can improve a process in the organization and that in itself is going to be interesting and so it keeps your job interesting. It also gets you the chance to learn something new, right. So trying to figure out why it’s so complicated for, you know it can be as simple as like why is it so complicated for us to file our expenses and figure out a way that like is faster, easier and better to do it. You may end up like, finding a solution that the company should use and saves them 2 million dollars a year, or something. But at least you’ve learned something. And you’re going to learn why is it this slow. Why is it this way? And then also those kinds of things like learning, look at something that’s broken and say, I can fix that and then eventually you’ll find out you’ve just started your own company. And then I guess finally I would say that every industry is interesting in its own way. When I was a journalist, starting to think that they were sort of boring beats or subjects to cover. In particular early on in my career I was offered a job covering telecommunications, which I thought in the early 2000s was really boring. And these days I now work at Stanford Law School working on telecommunication law, specifically net neutrality. The deeper you get into any industry or any sort of thing like construction or, public safety or, gardening, or, you know, automotive emissions. Whatever it is, it’s actually really interesting. There’s politics in there, there’s technical intricacies, there’s all sorts of fun stuff in there, and there’s drama, and so, you know, figure out how to, as you sort of look for things, realize that they can be very interesting, and embrace that. Those things that are sort of challenging and weird and, fun and interesting even about what seems like the most dry subject. 

Ryan Singel