15 Dec 2020

You get what you want with hard work and effort. That's what the common advice says.

This is such an ignorant view that complete disregards a massive factor in people getting to where they are.


It's horrible, but I really believe it's true. In an ideal world, of course you'd see that you put in the hours to learn a skill - to become good at something - and you get (or even make) the opportunity to take that to the workplace. But that's simply not the case in the real world, away from the idealist view.

At 20, I was a supervisor at Safeway (that's Morrisons now, for those at the back who aren't as old as me), trying to decide how I was going to get into a tech career. I was young, and had no idea how to get started: where I should be looking to apply, all these kind of things; alongside that, I had the consideration of leaving a job I'd started to work my way up at - from starting part time at 16 to running my own department - despite my interest in tech - a genuine consideration I had was: am I shooting myself in the foot by jumping ship and pursuing that?

But then luck intervened. My wonderful wife (then girlfriend) returned from a job interview to be an admin assistant at a small software house in Lichfield, and was gushing about the experience - the people were lovely, the building was full of a mixture of old beams, brickwork and modern computers, the commute would be small... and I should apply immediately.

This instantly posed a few questions. Did I want an admin role at a tech company, or a tech role? Did I really want to apply for a job and compete against my girlfriend, meaning at least one of us was inevitably going to lose?

Believing that this was an opportunity to "get my foot in the door" at a tech firm, I applied a few days later after thinking it over. I had been lucky that my girlfriend had spotted the job ad, as I hadn't.

A few days later, as I returned to my locker at work, I had a voicemail from the company asking me to come for an interview. That was lucky, as I'd only fixed my broken voicemail a few days before and could have missed the call entirely with no message being left.

Minutes into the interview, I knew I wanted the job pretty quickly. My girlfriend had been right; the people were lovely and I did like the look of the place. But as I had relaxed and we had started making idle chat, I ended up saying "well, it's fucking rubbish really" during conversation. Realising what I'd said a few moments later, I instantly started apologising and believing that by dropping the professional front that I'd doomed my chances of landing the role. Luckily, the interviewers thought it was hilarious watching me realise my error, then to back up and attempt to make it right. They didn't hold it against me.

At the end of the interview, I was asked to leave the room whilst they discussed amongst themselves. Upon being called back in, they told me that they'd actually filled the admin role that morning and hadn't been looking to recruit another assistant, but that it was fair to not cancel my interview at short notice. My heart sank, but I was lucky again: "We've decided during this interview that we're going to bring you in as a junior" I was told - if I would accept.

I couldn't accept fast enough! And I stayed there for 12.5 years, until the company was wrapped up. I'm firmly convinced that if NPA Solutions still existed, I'd still be there.

So, was it my skillset that got me that job, or a bit of luck? Was it the opportunistic find of the job ad? The fact I'd fixed my voicemail? The fluke that I managed to swear during the interview and get away with it? The luck that they decided - during the interview - that adding a junior to their ranks was an option? Or was it all of these lucky chances combining?

However you frame it, a hell of a lot of luck got me that first role. And I'm not alone, I firmly believe that there's a giant amount of luck involved in landing (and in some cases keeping) job roles all of the time. Hard work does get you rewards, but it's sadly not the only factor.

At the beginning of this long ramble, I touched upon putting in the long hours and improving yourself. This is still vitally important, don't believe that I'm diminishing the fact that having the skills to start with is important... but it's not the only factor. There is truth to "it's not what you know, but who you know", as well as "right place, right time" and similar sayings. But without you having the right skills, or interests, or desire, you are never going to be in the position to take advantage of these lucky breaks.

It's not the luck that is the real issue - it's your ability to take advantage of it when it happens.

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