Why Non-Tech Passions can Fuel Your Tech Career

It’s a fact: Non-tech passions can FUEL – not hinder – your tech career.

You heard me.

Surprised? It’s true. You don’t have to only talk or be interested in tech 100% of the time. If that is what you personally enjoy doing, great; power to you. However, I have always believed that it’s actually better if you have a diverse range of hobbies outside of just tech because you get that unique multi-disciplinary perspective.

Last month on the Humans of IT Community, I invited a few inspiring folks in the tech community who have non-tech passions and non-traditional tech backgrounds. Whether they built vintage mini PICO-8 games, had a gig in musical theater or custom-designed their own clothing line, one thing all these folks had in common was that they eventually found their way into tech. More importantly, they didn’t just stop there – they discovered their own way of blending their non-tech superpowers with their tech ones!

When I was a 15-year-old student at a Christian all-girls school in Singapore, I had a form teacher named Mr Anthony – a strict, stoic man who (back then) was frankly quite terrifying and had the uncanny ability to make teen girls cry with his lectures, only because the things he said were not only profound, but they were hard truths. Even though at that age most teenagers are often not amenable to constructive words of advice, one thing in particular that he said has always stuck in the back of my mind.

There are many routes to the same path,” he would say, his brows furrowing intently. When students came to him seeking advice on what courses they should take, or internship opportunities to pursue, treating every decision like their lives depended on it, he would firmly remind them to avoid pigeonholing themselves into one category or area, but instead be open to following their passions. After all, they will never steer you wrong. There’s that famous saying, “Do something you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life” – in the same vein, if there’s something you enjoy doing outside of your “day job”, eventually you will always find a way to infuse that passion into the work that you do.

In my time at Microsoft so far, I’ve met so many people with interesting career paths – military veterans turned cybersecurity professionals, former Catholic nun turned Ethics and Compliance manager etc. Most of them were unplanned; these individuals simply followed what they were passionate about – eventually things clicked together and they found the right opportunity/role to bring their passion (and authentic selves!) to their work. You can, too. It starts with knowing what your passions are outside of work, embracing them and bringing that unique lens into all that you do.

Do you have a passion outside work that you don’t often talk about? Perhaps you have a skill that you think nothing of because it seems so “basic”, but could in fact be something people find valuable? Write that down, and tomorrow when you log into work, think about how you can infuse that passion and hopefully in doing so, make your work a little more fun + meaningful 🙂

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“You need your own website. Social media platforms could shutdown anytime!”

How to Summon Willpower

These words by renowned speaker Dona Sarkar (who happens to also be my colleague!) in one of her personal branding talks on the Microsoft Ignite Tour was what literally sparked the creation of this website. What’s the big deal, you ask?

Well, this has been a project I’ve been procrastinating on for the longest time. Yes, for those of you who know me, this might seem ironic as I’m typically always raring to go and jumping to get started on exciting new projects.

Not this one, however. I left this one sitting right on the bottom of my homework / To-Do list for the longest time. Every time a pocket of free time opened up (which doesn’t happen often, mind you!), I would inevitably always find something else to prioritize instead.

Funnily enough, all it took for me to finally realize that I probably should get to it was a $100 employee morale gift card from work. There was a flurry of excitement as people in my team discussed what they would use it for. Yet, it was almost like a real kick-in-the-butt that had me thinking, “What should I buy with this $100 to invest in myself, and share my knowledge and experiences with others?”.

This was the answer. Not a brand new Nintendo Switch game (although I will say, Animal Crossing has been one of the best purchases I’ve had in recent times, especially with the COVID-19 lockdown and having to practice social distancing at home!). Not an online class, since I’m already up to my ears in online classes and learning with my Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) program. I wanted a platform where I could share my own thoughts and perspectives – heart-to-heart as a human, outside of the typical corporate work hat that I usually don on public engagements and events. I’ve found that the best lessons often come from those who share authentically and are upfront about their own failures and learning journey, but it’s not always easy to do in a world where we’re often expected to be perfect and polished. No one is 100% perfect or polished.

It brings me to the question that most people (including me at times!) struggle with – “How do you summon willpower to get things done?” As humans, we don’t need a lot of encouragement to do things we already love or enjoy. For instance, I don’t need someone to coax me to read my favorite books or to play Animal Crossing – I just do it. It’s for the tasks that we’re daunted by, or have a fear of the unknown about that we tend to put off. What if you could reframe that fear into something that challenges or excites you? Here are 3 tips that might help:

#1: Reframe Your Thoughts

Instead of, “I don’t know how to create a website; it’s too hard”, try thinking, “This is an opportunity for me to invest in my personal brand. I’ll look up resources to help me bridge my knowledge gaps. Who can I talk to to help me understand this better?”. Or instead of “I’m afraid to fail”, why not try reframing it as, “At least I’ve tried, and can now better understand how it works!”. You might even be surprised to find out that perhaps it wasn’t as difficult as you expected! Reframing your thoughts can help you view daunting challenges as exciting opportunities instead, which in turn reduces the inertia for you to get started.

#2: Recruit the help of accountability partners

Consider also recruiting the help of accountability partners to help keep you on track. Find a friend and task them with the responsibility to keep reminding you of projects you said you’d do, but have been putting it off because you were afraid. When there’s someone else keeping you accountable, it can help motivate you to finally #DoTheThing.

#3: Write out your plan

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to write out a plan, instead of just keeping it in your head, or putting it in your phone. Physically writing it out – pen on paper – can help your goals seem more real and achievable. Try it out for yourself – the experience of seeing your project listed on paper (preferably somewhere visible so you’ll see it often and be reminded of it) is a satisfying one indeed. Put it on your to-do list as well – you’ll relish that moment when you finally get to check it off your list!

I hope these steps are helpful, and can help you develop your own willpower-summoning powers. Remember, all of us have to start somewhere – why not get started today? You’ve got this!

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