Age, Momentum and being an IC


Time is our most precious asset. At 20 years old, our futures still can have many possibilities. At 30, we still have time to decide and change how ours lives will be. At 40, ours lives have most likely taken its shape. At 50, the possibility to change our lives is likely low.

You get the idea.

Being young means you can fail and pick yourself up and try again, and our 20s is really for exploration. I certainly took advantage of that by building my first startup out of undergrad.

I could have listened to advices such as "Work for a few years, gain the experience before starting your startup", but I was already 25 years old (served 2 years in Singapore Army) and I had an impecceable sense of urgency to explore life's possibilities when I was still in my 20's.

Tl:DR: Startup didn't do well, I was sad for a long time, learned a bunch, and convinced myself that's ok.


Entrepreneurship Porn is wide spread in mainstream media and we are taught to "Embracing Failures" and we can become "Overnight Successes".

The truth is you only embrace failures that aren't yours. Failing sucks, having nothing to show after years of hardwork sucks, seeing your peers pass by you in their careers sucks, not having money sucks. But truly, embracing failure is so important for momentum.

What I realised later in my life is that "Overnight Successes" are usually driven by years and years of momentum. Long periods of getting good at what you do, building a name for yourself and reaching an "inflection point" where things take off. Huawei was able to become a top smartphone brand because they were in electronics for so long to capitalise on the smartphone trend. Nvidia is the new hot thing in the AI wave because they have been doing this for 20+ years when no one gave a S*** about AI.

I was truly excited for Meta when they decided to go all in on AR/VR but sadly it seems like Mark is under a lot of investor constraints to focus on Generative AI.

So to my next point.

Being an IC (Individual Contributor)

As we progress in our careers, we need to choose between being an IC or a manager. I have friends who inevitably have to take up a manager role once they reach their 30s. I think being a "Manager" is one of those 90% of everything is crap things because we are somehow made to believe that a "Manager" is more prestigious than being an "Engineer" or "Designer".

While I agree that being able to set a strategic vision, motivate people, and aligning stakeholders' interests are highly important skills (this is the 10% of non-crap things), I cannot fathom how someone can be 100% just "managing people" and not doing actual work.

They are losing their momentum in their skillsets they have built over the years!

I certainly see how people can choose to "reinvent" themselves, like going from a software programmer to a technical product manager, something I myself am trying to do with my MBA. But we are switching to a related field, and we aren't losing all that momentum.

Disclaimer: I think anyone has the right to choose to take a completely unrelated career path at any age they want. But they are going to lose that momentum. And back to my point about age, the older we get, the less chances we have to change our futures.

So I am one of those rare few with an MBA who prefers to stay as an IC instead of being a manager (maybe I will lead a team but still be very hands-on).

My point is this:

Our decisions now will influence who we are in the next 10, 20, 30 years. The earlier we know what we want and focus on building that momentum, the better it will be. Focus, is one of the Superpowers I am building.