A couple of weeks ago I joined Facebook as a Front End Engineer. There are many people in the world that envy that position. Plenty of my friends told me that they do. And I should consider myself lucky. — But should I? Should I consider myself lucky? How much luck was actually involved in getting that offer? And should I humbly consider myself lucky or can I feel proud abou what I have achieved?
If I was Dom Camus, I would ask my cat, but I don’t have a cat. And I don’t have a time machine either. So I will have to answer this question ordinarily.
Some people would argue that with enough effort, you can achieve anything. But I strongly disagree. We live in a world, where some people – arguably a majority – are born into positions where no amount of effort invested would ever allow them to achieve what they are striving for. And on the other hand there are people born into positions so privileged, that they may fail over and over, harder and harder, again and again, without ever having to worry about their future. So I should consider myself lucky, right? Well, yes. But then again, no. Let me explain.
I was definitely born into a privileged position. I was born into a middle-class family in Germany, received over 20 years of education, got my first own computer around the age of 10 and had access to the internet as early as 1998. Not many people in the world have these excellent preconditions for landing a job at a big tech company. And you don’t achieve such preconditions. You have them, or you don’t have them. It’s chance.
I was hired by Facebook after a Facebook engineer stumbled over my Github account. He liked what I worked on and the commitment I invested into my projects there, so he decided to reach my name over to recruiting. There are probably hundreds if not thousands of Github accounts that would also qualify their owners for the Facebook recruiting process. But I was the one who was contacted. By chance.
And then came a long and hard recruiting process. Every single interview was hard. And I know a lot of smart and good people fail during the course of these interviews and are rejected. A lot of them probably much smarter and with stronger coding skills than me. However, due to chance, I did not fail. And not because I am better than them or they worse than me, but because I was lucky. And this even is intentionally. A lot of big tech companies will rather have false negatives in their recruiting process than false positives. That’s why they usually encourage their rejected candidates to reapply within a year or so. Chances are, they will be one of the lucky ones the next time.
So there definitely was a lot of luck involved. But was it only luck? I’d argue no. While luck will always strongly affect your fate, will set boundaries, minima and maxima, you will always require effort to achieve that great goals – if you have them (and I believe it is legitimate to not strive for anything great, but this is a different discussion).
While I may have been lucky, I also invested a lot of time and effort. I learned programming at the age of 14, I spent weeks and months programming random stuff in high school, when my colleagues at college used their Windows PC for gaming after finishing their assignment, I used my Linux machine to write a patch for an open source project and when they watched the latest episodes of “How I met your mother” I watched JSconf recordings.
Effort can offset some of the luck required otherwise. Luckily I never perceived it as an effort, since I love what I am doing. I enjoy programming, like others enjoy reading books or watching sports. So it was easy, even fun, to invest that effort. But I don’t think effort can replace luck.
In the beginning I referenced an article about The Role of Luck in Magic. Not only is it a very well written article, very entertaining and somewhat related to the topic of this article, but I originally read it, when I was still playing Magic: The Gathering competitively. We had a small team of competitive players that would attend leagues and tournaments together. We played, tested and talked a lot about Magic at the time. One of the things we did to get better at Magic was to create and gather small “wisdoms” around the game. Rules that you could recall to help make difficult decisions in matches. One of them was Put yourself in a position where luck benefits you. And this Magic wisdom puts it in a nutshell: if you want to achieve, what you are striving for, you will have to invest effort. Because when that lucky day comes, when that Facebook engineer looks at your Github profile, you better have some cool stuff there.