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 by taking on a difficult job, you’ll learn how to handle challenging assignments and build a greater range of skills which which will propel you forward in your career.
While I still think this is great advice, I want to update that to include a new element: speed, and specifically, speed of feedback and teaching.
Sarah Tavel talks about this in her post about fast learning cycles. The idea here is you want a job that can teach and provide you feedback so you can execute, learn, fail, and scale faster. Her example:
“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.”
In many ways, the concept of slope and speed is similar to agile methodology, where instead of building everything all at once, you build and launch a much smaller set of features and functionality in a much shorter period of time. Once it’s launched, you obtain feedback, find what works and what doesn’t, and use that to build your next iteration.
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 a brand name company, or getting to work on a lot of projects, but having a continuous cycle of learning, testing, getting real-time feedback and iterating.