My Conversation With Satvik Beri

Continuation of Ben Kuhn’s “A Conversation With Satvik Beri”, Satvik Beri’s “Counterintuitive Career Advice for 20-Somethings”, and this LessWrong comment from Satvik.

Follow up to “Comparing Across My Five Career Categories”.

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I’ve been having a lot of conversations with various people about career choice. Because I did not specifically ask most of the people I talked to about whether they wanted to have their thoughts published and because I thought the information was more useful in the aggregate anyway, I’ve mostly refrained from posting information about individual conversations I’ve had. Instead, I’ve published a lot of aggregated advice in “I Now Have Approximately Five Career Categories”, which is built off of information from 26 different people.

However, I do think there is value in publishing individual conversations, something that is done by GiveWell and Nick Beckstead. Therefore, when talking with Satvik Beri about my career choice, we both agreed it would be smart to publish our conversation.

Background

I’m in my last year of college, looking to figure out what I should do in the future when I graduate. Broadly, I wanted a job that would do as much as I could toward making the world a better place, which I explain in “My Careers Plan” and “I Now Have Approximately Five Career Categories”.

Satvik Beri is a product manager who is interested in trying to get a large salary, so as to have more money available to donate to charity. He has experienced very rapid career growth, dramatically increasing his salary over the course of his career. He’s recently decided to reach out to people to talk to them about career choice.

Satvik recently had a conversation with Ben Kuhn that was also published. Satvik also wrote in his blog an essay entitled “Counterintuitive Career Advice for 20-Somethings” where he outlined more general advice. He also has more advice in this comment on LessWrong.

This conversation builds off of that material. We specifically aimed not to repeat material that was already discussed elsewhere, so I invite you to refer to those three pieces first.

How to Pick an Early Career

Satvik saw my 11-item career comparison framework and suggested that, given my age and inexperience (as just in my last year of undergraduate), I should only focus on three things in my initial career: (a) what skills I would learn, (b) how much aptitude I would have for the job, and (c) how much the job would restrict my options.

The rationale for this, according to Satvik, is that you’re usually not preparing for the career you’ll have your entire life, but rather preparing to do a series of jumps through positions within your first career or between different careers in order to get progressively better options. In order to make this happen, you only need those three things – learning skills and having aptitude in order to be talented enough to make jumps, and having the freedom to make the switch when offered.

Satvik thinks that, applying this framework, I should be wary of grad school and especially wary of law school. If I were to take Satvik’s advice, this would narrow it down things down to computer programming, market research, or direct work in an EA organization.

But if I wanted to earn to give, how should I decide between computer programming and market research? When talking with Satvik, I pointed out that I think I would be good at market research but be pretty mediocre at computer programming because I’m still learning and many other programmers have been training for many more years than I have.

Satvik points out that while I might be a mediocre computer programmer among computer programmers, I have the opportunity to be a stellar and amazing computer programmer among market researchers, mainly because… well… not that many market researchers know any programming at all. Satvik claims that this has the potential to make great opportunities. For one example, Satvik mentioned that when he was working in finance, he was able to use his knowledge of programming to automate several tasks that people had been doing manually, saving a lot of time and money for his company. He was then able to leverage these accomplishments for a raise.

How to Decide Between Earning to Give and Direct EA Work

Satvik agrees that not everyone is suited to make an impact via large salaries and thinks it’s definitely worthwhile to try and do direct work. According to Satvik, the only reason he doesn’t do direct work is that he feels he wouldn’t be nearly as good at it as he feels he is at earning a large income. So you should do whatever you think best matches your ability – if you think you’re good at earning, you should earn to give; if you think you’re good at direct work, you should do direct work.

But how do you know which you’re good at? Satvik suggests that you should try internships in both options and explore your opportunities. However, one of the best and quickest way to find which you’re better suited for is to reach out to leaders of the organizations that you would do direct work for and ask them bluntly whether they’d rather you work directly for them or donate your income.

How to Achieve Career Growth

But how do you make this career growth happen to accomplish these jumps in salary and earnings potential? Satvik thinks that optimizing what you do within your job is more important than picking a good career in the first place. Taking a good strategy toward how you spend your time in the career can be the difference between growth or no growth.

Looking at the automation example is a good one – focus on solving problems in your company and then leverage those accomplishments in your performance reviews. Accomplish your main action items productively and thoroughly, but then make sure to channel some additional time into connecting with the other people in your office and seeing what they’re struggling with. It’s these additional projects where you can distinguish yourselves from others and make strong accomplishments.

The two steps to doing better within your career or getting a better career are making connections and negotiating. You should constantly connect with people in your job to see what problems there are and what you can solve. You should also constantly connect with experts you know outside your career to get advice on how to solve these problems. Moreover, connecting can let you know about new trends in the market to allow you find high demand areas to switch to in order to get higher salaries.

Negotiation is also important. According to Satvik, so many people don’t negotiate, yet doing so could lead to a noticeable difference in your salary. Even if the salaries offered to you are capped, you could instead negotiate for more vacation time or a quicker performance review cycle (so your accomplishments are noticed more quickly and you are promoted more quickly). Perhaps you might even be able to negotiate for better donation matching? Definitely do some research in advance to figure out what you can get and what you can’t. It also helps to set yourself up to be in a good situation for negotiation by, for example, having multiple offers on the table that you can play against each other.

My Next Steps

Based on this conversation, I’m going to do new things going forward:

  1. Study more how to make connections and negotiate. Satvik points out that there really aren’t that many good online materials on this; instead most of the good content is in books. He has provided a reading list.

  2. Put more content online about making connections and negotiating. Based off the previous point, I intend to blog through some of these readings and post summaries online, to increase accessibility to these materials.

  3. Look more seriously at careers in market research. Satvik thinks this could be my best contender among my career choices. Additionally, looking at more opportunities within this sphere could increase my ability to negotiate.

  4. Make more connections. I’ll spend more time intentionally trying to catch up with friends and make sure my connections stay strong.

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Followed up in “My Careers Conversation with Holden Karnofsky” and “My Case Study: I (Mostly) Finished Choosing Between Careers”. Also followed up by 80,000 Hours in “An Interview on Which Skills Most Boost Your Employability”.