Tech has become a default career for many young college students. There has never been a career path that has been so high-paying, comfortable, and accessible1. Few students decide to major in Computer Science in the same way that someone might decide to major in Physics or Art History.
What this means is that millions of students today now choose a default, “obviously-right” career without ever going through the painstaking process of figuring out what aligns with their core interests. These students never undergo the existential process of thinking through different paths and asking ‘what if.2’
Failing to introspect during these pivotal moments has consequences. Choosing a career is one of the first major decisions that young people have to make during their transition to adulthood. Missing out on that pain-filled process means missing out on a chance to learn about personal life principles and how to navigate life to follow those principles. Default careers lead to default relationships, default friendships, default hobbies, and a default life.
In the beginning, the chase of the next promotion is enough to numb the missing feeling of self-actualization. But at some point, ascending the corporate ladder loses its novelty or becomes too hard to achieve, and the resulting emptiness is enough for some to escape their default existence.
Others remain, teetering on the edge of pain and comfort throughout their lives. The longer you linger in the wake of a default decision, the more entwined it becomes with your identity - and the harder it becomes for you to leave. The people around you pressure you to stay exactly as you are (external compartmentalization). Your choice of career, city, hobbies, and relationships all become tied up, making it impossible to change one without changing all of the others and completely disrupting your identity.
In post-grad hubs like San Francisco, this angst permeates the air. The desire to escape the default life is so strong that when someone mentions a job that is even slightly out of the ordinary, people perk up to pay attention.
Some even go so far as to conflate uniqueness with sincere pursuit, chasing uniqueness for its own sake. They spend more time talking about their pursuits than actually doing them.
The point isn’t to reflexively abandon the path you’re on but to engage in deliberate decisioning. The longer you delay, the more structures you’ll build around a life that you didn’t consciously select. Start now, and every subsequent decision – about work, love, and leisure – can be underpinned by a foundation of self-awareness and sincerity.
“High finance” and consulting have been default careers for those at coastal elite institutions for a while (and many parallels apply). But tech is a default career for far more students. ↩
Some students do not have the luxury of choice and their optimization function is simply: pick the highest-paying job I can find in order to support my family, pay back loans, etc. These students are not the audience for this post. ↩