Have you ever looked at someone who is not only successful in their career, but also incredibly satisfied, and wondered how they got to where they are today?
Most often, the path to their dream job wasn’t linear and their accomplishments didn’t “just happen” overnight. Instead, they took initiative and, step by step, made things happen.
Nahil Sharkasi is one of those shining examples. Nahil is a career changer who moved from journalism to technology. Now, at Microsoft, she is part of the widely successful XBOX team where she works as a Program Manager on a variety of products from HoloLens to Halo 5.
She recently stopped by Coding Dojo, and shared with Seattle coding bootcamp students how they can navigate bumps along their career paths and take intentional steps to achieve their dream careers.
Read on to learn more from Nahil and how she got to where she is today!
1. If you don’t try, you’re guaranteed to not get anywhere.
When I was in college, I studied broadcast journalism at the University of Maryland. I chose the program because it was affordable, and I felt it was the responsible thing to do. While it was quite fun, it wasn’t mentally challenging.
I felt that I had more to offer.
When I was in my 20’s, I soon realized there wasn’t much opportunity in journalism and television. My true passion was to make movies and to be in entertainment. I knew that I had to look beyond journalism. So I started asking myself, “Where is the need in the world?” and “Where are my skills needed?” I took a chance and applied to three grad schools.
To my surprise, I got accepted to all three!
Admittedly, this was not what I had anticipated. It made me realize that this happened, just because I tried. I could have stayed in the safe zone of journalism. I could have stayed with a job that didn’t excite me.
Instead, I took a chance and it made all the difference in the world.
Being successful does not refer to people that succeed all the time. It just means they are always willing to try. They are not afraid to fail.
If you don’t try, you’re guaranteed to not get anywhere. But, if you try, you stand a chance.
2. Embrace what makes you unique.
I decided to join USC’s Interactive media division. It sat in-between the cinema, engineering and communication schools. My colleagues and I were doing all kinds of different things with media — making games, interactive television and art installations. But yet, I felt that I didn’t belong. I felt that my friends were so much more well-versed in the technology than I was.
I had “Imposter Syndrome.” I felt that at some moment someone was going to point at me and say, “Hey, you there! You don’t know anything!” They would have been right because I didn’t have the technological tools to express myself when I first started off. The first couple months were tough on my self-confidence.
What I soon came to realize was that everyone has imposter syndrome at some point. Everyone feels that they are inexperienced when faced with challenges.
The way to combat imposter syndrome is to acknowledge your differences because of your in-experiences. The important thing to remember is that’s what makes you unique. You have a different style of thinking and a different way of approaching problems.
Since you may not be as knowledgeable as the people around you, you have to think about how you bring that disruptive element to your group. You’ll be a great asset if you can practice being a person who offers a different perspective. Creativity stems from the ability to challenge what is already known.
Whenever you feel like you don’t fit in, think about what you are bringing to your group. Think about what makes you different and use that to your advantage.
3. Learn how to be a good problem solver.
Struggling in the media division at USC, I knew that it was time to learn how to code. So I grabbed my textbooks and went to class thinking it would be like other subjects. I soon found out that I could not have been further from the truth.
Even though it was easy to copy and paste lines of code, or following simple instructions for in-class problems, I found that every time I tried to do something on my own with code, such as working on my own project, I hit a wall.
Struggling, I began to ask around for the official book on coding. I wondered where the beginning was. “Where was the A-Z step-by-step instructions?” I was hit hit with disappointment when I found out there are no set rules to learning code. There was no ‘standard’ way of learning it.
It was at this point I had my epiphany. I realized code was not about a linear way of thinking. It was about the process of problem-solving.
You have to learn how to identify a problem. Break it down and answer the parts systematically. Programming changes all the time and languages change all the time. I learned that when it comes to coding nobody knows EVERYTHING. In fact, even the best coders don’t know everything. But what they do know, is how to break down a problem and solve it efficiently. This is almost a better skill to have, because then it does not matter what technology you are working with or what language. You are confident in your ability to problem solve.
4. Be a marketer for yourself.
Graduation was around the corner and I started to ask myself where I wanted to take my career, and where I should commit my time and energy. I knew that I wanted to work with the height of gaming at the time⇁ Kinect for Xbox. Yet, I also knew that sending in my resume to Microsoft was as good as throwing a stone in a lake. It would just disappear.
So I became my own marketer. I spoke with all my professors and asked if they could put in a good word for me with their contacts at Microsoft. I asked my mentors to do the same. In fact, I had done so much networking that by the time my interview came the hiring manager had heard my name from colleagues, friends and my professors. It made it that much easier for me to receive a job.
5. Take on whatever work you can.
Don’t ever say “That’s not in my job description.” Everything is an opportunity to learn something new. Find things you can do to add value to your team. If you can make yourself valuable to your bosses or your teachers, then you put yourself in their good graces.
If you think from your manager’s standpoint, do something that would make their job easier. Take some of their responsibilities away. Make yourself somebody they want to have on their next project.
In the end, remember that your choice has value.
Put your energy in places that will give you the most back. Job enthusiasm stems from the feeling of positive contribution and innovation. It is not worth it to waste time for a company that has bad core values and does not even value your own skill set.
Vote with your feet. Know your value and know that where you go to work is going to have an impact in the world and on your life.