Love him or hate him, agree with him or not, or even question his credibility, Bob Lefsetz has something to say. “The Letter,” which apparently started out as a way to help Lefsetz get a job in the music biz, has become a close commentary on the music industry to which industry execs pay attention. I discovered his blog a few months ago purely by accident while doing a search of sort, and loved what he was saying; especially with respect to making it in today’s music industry.
One thing that I’ve noticed after reading him daily or even twice daily – he’s a prolific poster – is that he often talks about making it in the industry, and how hard it is to make it. It’s not about talent; hell, I know a lot of talented people who’ve never made it. It’s about working your ass off. For instance, here’s an excerpt from yesterday’s letter:
These musicians practiced for years. There were no short cuts to stardom. Sure, there were some teenybopper acts, but we didn’t take them seriously, unlike the way the industry and the media fawn over today’s TV stars, made famous overnight by “Idol, ” “The Voice” and “X Factor.” A rock star of yore literally rose from the streets, there was almost never an overnight success. And your audience never made fun of you, they loved you, they were thrilled by you, you were the reason they kept on living.
The operative phrase in the excerpt is “There were no short cuts to stardom.” Unfortunately, the shows Bob mentioned in the same paragraph have led millions of people to think they can indeed take shortcuts to stardom. It just isn’t so. Making it that way is akin to winning the lottery. As Bob also said, “A rock star of yore literally rose from the streets.” In other words, they worked their asses off, playing small clubs and venues and building up a fan base.
But the same principle applies to any profession. You don’t become good at any profession without putting in the time, without developing and honing your skills through repetition and practice; also making mistakes and learning from them, which again circles back to doing enough repetition to make mistakes.
Over the years in my career as a software engineer, I’ve occasionally taken some new developers under my wing to mentor them in their early years. When we first start working together, I share with them an incident that happened in 2000 when I was working on the highly visible CarsDirect.com project (at the time, it had set the record for largest VC funding at $300 Million). At a meeting the day after our initial, major release, the CTO asked me to put together an architecture for the upcoming major release which would move the technology from ASP to Java. I had two hours to draw up an initial architecture so I could present it at the kickoff meeting which included the execs and all stakeholders. I completed the mini-project, and gave the presentation. After the kickoff meeting, one of the young engineers fresh out of college asked me, “How did you come up with that architecture so quickly?” I replied, “That’s over 20 years of working in the industry, my friend. I’m not saying that to brag. But my experience allows me to do this kind of stuff without really thinking about it too much. I can see most of the relationships in my head, so I spend little time discovering what the relationships might be.”
The point to the above is that I’ve worked my ass off to get to where I’m at today. I look back on my career and I’ve accomplished some incredible things – some of my ideas on software design and architecture even made it on the Space Shuttle – and I’ve made some incredibly huge gaffes and mistakes. But that’s how you build a career. It doesn’t happen over night. Your fate isn’t determined by a panel of judges. You’re the captain of your destiny, and you have to have the mental fortitude, dedication, perseverance and passion to make it!