How to apply the concept of backpacking skills to your career?

My name is Ivan. Currently, I work as a Business Architect at a Brazilian unicorn. It is a very challenging position that requires a mix of hybrid skills involving IT general knowledge, querying/programming, combined with business/finance/accounting acumen. In this article, I will talk about ‘backpacking skills’ applied to my career trajectory.

It’s all about backpacking knowledge, baby!

1) Introduction

The vast majority of people, including me, do not know exactly what to expect or what they will do when choosing professions. We chose the domain based on empiricism, without much direct contact with the profession’s daily routine. Generally, this process is very complicated and involves doubts along the way, such as:

“Am I on the right track?

Will I achieve success in this career I have chosen?

I don’t like the career chosen anymore, now what?

I think it’s time to make a career transition…”

When we start to work in the area we chose, we began to experience common bottlenecks. What I mean is: every hard time generates an opportunity to learn a new ‘backpacking skill.’ And this is the theme of this article.

2) Learn how to search CORRECTLY, EFFICIENTLY, and INDEPENDENTLY on the internet

It’s 2013, and I’m an intern. Like any intern, I entered with a great desire to deliver results and great anxiety for jet recognition. When I started to receive instructions on the activities that I would be responsible for it turned out that, for some doubts, the answers were that classic:

“It has always been done like this. Just keep doing it, and it will be right.”

One of the primary skills I wanted to learn on that first opportunity was Excel. Therefore, I decided to study on my own on the internet. I wanted to learn Excel, but I also wanted to become a reference in the tool.

At that time, I did a lot of operational routines in Excel. One of my daily tasks was to copy data from a spreadsheet and paste it into an email. I did this process at least 20 times a day. So I thought: it does not make sense to receive a good internship scholarship, which was a fortune for me, to be copying and pasting almost the entire day. At that moment, I learned the most crucial backpacking skill: researching things PROPERLY, EFFICIENTLY, and INDEPENDENTLY on the internet.

If you search in Portuguese “Como enviar dados de uma planilha excel por e-mail automaticamente” you will have only 226k results:

If you do EXACTLY the same search using the correct technical terms but in English, see how it changes: “How to email data from excel spreadsheet automatically” will have, incredibly, 150M results:

The outcome was: I learned VBA and created an automatic process that performed a high amount of operational tasks in 3 minutes. The details can be the theme for another article.

3) Try to learn the skills that you outsource, but outputs are consumed daily by you.

We are in 2016 now. I am already an analyst at the same bank that I was an intern in 2013. As I was responsible for the accounting / financial closing, Excel was my first option to deliver the information needed. The report should be finished, IMPRETERIVELY, by the 5th business day. It means that I would need to provide the information by that date regardless of what happened.

At one point, my closing report crashed because of the Excel row limit. The area in which I worked was growing and, as a result, the amount of data. Doing what I told you before, I researched what the alternative would be: transferring all processes to SQL. I had no choice. It was MANDATORY to deliver by the 5th business day. It was the most challenging limit situation I have encountered in my career until now.

During a whole night, I learned on the internet how to create a local database and automated the entire closing process by importing the data into SQL SERVER 2014, thus ending the reports. The gains were huge. It was the ideal tool to do what I needed to do.

The provocation I want to do is: what if I had learned this skill of using databases before? Daily, I needed the output of this skill, and I let it reach a stressful situation. I’ve found myself in a position where it was learning or die. Since that day, I never waited a stressful situation to develop a new mandatory skill that wasn’t known but consumed daily output.

4) Learn systematically from your own mistakes.

We are now in 2021, and I needed to read a .xml file, which is semi-structured data. Using Excel was not an option: it exceeded the limit of lines. Also, the Excel feature that reads .xml is super slow because it wasn’t build to work at the limit. SQL was not an option: it is not so fast and straightforward to import semi-structured data into relational databases.

The difference is that, after almost nine years of professional experience, I already had a skill in the backpack to be used: Python! As a result, I’ve imported the data in less than 2 hours, making it structured, doing all validations needed, and delivering results reports. All of this because I learned systematically from the mistakes of the past.

Ah, how good it was to have this skill just waiting in my backpack!

Conclusion

This article aimed to share the importance of constantly reviewing our skills and preparing for new challenges without the pressure for the final result being at the door.

The proposal is to imagine that our professional skills are inside a backpack, just waiting for the right time. For this, we can follow the following recipe:

  1. Learn to search CORRECTLY, EFFICIENTLY and INDEPENDENTLY on the internet;
  2. Focus on the skills that you outsource, but generates FUNDAMENTAL outputs consumed daily;
  3. We have to redo this process by reevaluating where we went wrong, systematically like a production line.

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Ivan Ribeiro Mello

Ivan Ribeiro Mello

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Keep up the good surfing! Even if you surf more data than waves!