People my age seem to be having a reactionary moment: We’re telling young people, “Just pick something and stick with it.” What? This is the wrong advice. I say, have courage to start and finish many chapters.
There’s so much emphasis on putting people in boxes and getting it right the first time. But when I was starting out, I never once thought, “Well, if you do this, you’re stuck for life.” I happened to have lucked into the software industry, where it wasn’t that uncommon to work somewhere for two or three years and then move on. But I know that attitude isn’t common in other industries.
After studying electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, I started a career in programming. After a short time, I realized I was more interested in business and moved over to the business side of tech. Since then I have had many roles: Customer service, engineering, sales, marketing, operations and product management. I’ve worked in different companies large and small. I’ve done it all! And I think it makes me a better manager because I understand how every piece of the company works.
The core skills I took away from my education have stuck with me throughout my life. I don’t program every day; heck, I haven’t programmed anything in years. But my engineering training taught me how to solve problems. It doesn’t matter if the problem is why my washing machine is broken or how the Electoral College is broken—I use that skill 27 times an hour as a businesswoman. And even though I don’t program anymore, I can have pretty intelligent conversations with my programmers and I understand their work.
My time trying (and finishing) lots of different chapters and jobs has helped me determine my strengths. I’ve learned as a founding CEO for several companies that I’m not the idea person. I’m not the person who starts on a blank piece of paper. But give me a subject line, and I will fill out that page for you. And it’s OK that I’m not good at everything. No one can be amazing at every skill. That’s why you build a team—or find a team—that’s good at the things you are not. Plus, you can learn from those people who have skills that you lack.
Life is actually pretty long. You should try new things in different industries, business sizes, locations, what have you—and don’t worry because you will eventually find something you want to stick with. In the meantime, all of those different experiences will help you learn more along the way.
Stefania Mallett is the CEO of ezCater.