The Career Learning Curve is about Slope and Speed


When I was deciding on a career as a college senior, I took the advice of those around me and chose to optimize for learning – That is, to select a job with a steep learning curve. The hypothesis was that if you find a job that enables you to learn a lot quickly and gain incredible experience and exposure early on that will proper you forward throughout your career. While I still think this is great advice, I stumbled across Sarah Tavel’s post about fast learning cycles. Like myself, Sarah started off her career in consulting, before switching to VC, then product at Pinterest, and now is back in VC at Greylock.

Her thought process says that if you want to optimize for learning, you should think about:

  1. How quickly you can learn
  2. How quickly a job can teach


She breaks it down like this:

At a fast growing startup, your learning cycle is incredibly fast. For example, at Pinterest, particularly early on, if I had a hypothesis I wanted to test, I could ship an experiment fast, and because we already had an incredibly engaged user base, learn from the results within a week or two. Basically, my learning cycle was as fast as you could ask for, which meant I was able to cram an incredible amount of learning into a very short period of time.

On the other hand, I’d often interview product manager candidates who worked at big companies like Microsoft. I’d always be amazed at how little product management they actually got to do over their many years of experience. It’d take them years (literally!) to ship a feature, despite many promotions along the way.

Courtesy of Sarah Tavel
Courtesy of Sarah Tavel


As it turns out, it’s not just about finding a steep learning curve, but also an environment that allows you to get feedback and iterate quickly. It’s not just about learning, but having a continuous cycle of learning, testing, getting real-time feedback and iterating. It’s about a fast learning cycle, and a steep learning curve.

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