Careers, as you may have noticed, aren’t what they used to be. For my generation (late twenties, early thirties), there is no expectation that is a job is for life. We don’t expect to have a company guide us from youth to midlife crisis and on the flipside, we don’t expect to be eternally loyal to our employer just because they trained us as a graduate.

But my generation, aren’t the new normal. It’s the guys and girls leaving university now that are creating the new normal for careers. At EF we have spent the last four years working closely with fresh computer science and engineering graduates and we have seen this shift in career expectations create two new options.

1. The new normal is rejecting Google and Facebook 

Four years ago, the very best technical graduates were aspiring to jobs at the new tech giants. The banks, Microsoft and Cisco were already off their radar, but Google and Facebook were seen as a badge of honour with their new recruits proudly decked out in branded swag. Now we’ve seen a shift where top-of-their-class computer scientists are tired of being courted relentlessly and don’t see the benefit of being employee number 53,601.

The most ambitious, elite technical grads are now looking to startups as the most interesting use of their careers. They’re not motivated by money, or by saving the world, instead they want to be stretched and to learn rapaciously from day one. 

Pete Hamilton, an Imperial computer science graduate and a previous member of the EF cohort that joined GoCardless, said: "I'd be lying if I said the big tech companies weren't appealing (they absolutely were) but they felt safe. I wasn't interested in safe. I wanted a challenge, excitement, responsibility and risk.

Startups like GoCardless offered learning opportunities and levels of responsibility which I just didn't see from larger companies. If you're looking to challenge yourself, grow your skill set and have a real impact on the product, there's no environment like it."

In startups, where every member of the team is essential, fresh grads get more responsibility and more interesting work opportunities than in established companies, whether it be building significant parts of the product, or handling valuable customer relationships.

2. The new normal is backing yourself

But it goes one step further than this; graduates are now backing themselves to build their own startups straight out of uni. As Andrew Jervis, cofounder of ClickMechanic says "The idea of getting sucked into a well paid job and then spending the rest of my career climbing the corporate ladder just didn't appeal. On the flip side the opportunity to build something shaped in my vision that could change millions of lives was far more exciting." ClickMechanic, a platform to find mobile mechanics, are just two years old and set to hit £3 milion of revenues by the end of this year.

This is possible for a couple of reasons. First, the means of production are low to zero cost. In the world of software, you can build a product that can reach millions of users for the cost of your time and some servers alone. ClickMechanic were able to get their first version of their product out within a couple of weeks, with customers transacting through the site shortly after. Another one of our teams last year had 60 million users through their product within three months, having invested merely a couple of hundred pounds into development.

Even if you’re producing a hardware product, crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo mean you can sell the product before it even exists. 

Blaze, the laser bike light from EF’s first cohort, raised £55,000 on Kickstarter after just a few months of development. Pi-top, a build it yourself laptop, from the latest EF batch raised £120,000 on Indiegogo in a matter of weeks, allowing them to begin production within months of incorporating the company. Both of these teams have then gone onto raise significant seed funding to enable their growth and development.

Second, for the most technically able, they have an advantage against their peers who have been in industry for the last decade. Coming out of Europe’s top universities with PhDs and Masters in the latest machine learning and computer vision techniques provides an unfair advantage, and graduates now know this. In the last EF cohort we had startups producing industry leading video compression techniques and cutting edge deep learning applications based on their university research.

But, it isn’t for everyone

That said the new normal of rejecting traditional career paths isn’t for everyone. At EF, we don’t believe everyone should be a founder and each year we turn away hundreds of applicants. The individuals we support are the ones who have an area of expertise that allows them to have an unfair advantage despite their age and inexperience. We like the kind of people who know that that this career choice will make the phrase ‘work-life balance’ irrelevant and are happy to give up their early twenties to do something really hard and build something big.

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