During the course of our conversation, Tao asked me the inevitable question:
"What do you plan to do next?"Now that this chapter of my life is coming to an end, I've been putting some thought into figuring out where I want to go from here. And the first thing that comes to my mind is that I want to join a small, high-energy, early-stage startup and make something that's really cool. But then again, if I think about it a little longer, I realize that I am actually pretty confused. There are way too many options out there! I could join a large company. I could become an Investment Banker at a big bank and make loads of money! I could do a Masters in Engg or an MBA. I could work in Singapore or come over to the US. I could even start my own company. All these options have their own pluses and minuses, making it all the more difficult for me to decide!
And so that's what I told Tao.
His suggestion was something that I didn't really expect from an entrepreneur. He said:
"Why do you want to plan so much into the future. Just take things as it comes! Just remember to do what you like!"I thought he'd ask me to sit down and come up with a roadmap of what I would like to do in the next 2 years and all that stuff. But what he did say actually made a lot of sense! Firstly, it made me feel much better. I decided to stop overly worrying about what's going to happen and just do what I feel like doing! So for example, while choosing modules for my next semester at NUS, I'm not going to worry about which industry is hot right now. I'm not going to worry about which specialization will give me the best jobs. I'm just going to take the courses that sound cool and interesting to me. And I'm just going to be confident that things will eventually work out. This may not be the best thing to do, but I'm going to do just that.
Tao also went on to talk about how it is important to work in the industry for a few years before you start your own company - simply because it makes more sense from a business point of view. Business is all about risks and how you manage them. Working for a few years for another company allows you to minimize your risks and therefore is the smart thing to do.
After that, we went on to talk about how Tao actually started his career and why he decided to start his own company and so on. It's a pretty interesting story actually. He graduated from UCLA and came to Northern California to work for a company called Harris Semiconductor in the late 70s. After working there for about 7 years, he realized that he didn't really belong to a large corporation like Harris. He liked to be in a fast paced environment where things got done fast! He liked to call the shots. And so, he decided to call it quits and start his own company. Well, it wasn't exactly a split second decision. He said that he actually planned it out for about 2 years. He sat down every weekend and thought about every single aspect of the company he would start. He calculated every cost and expenditure and he tried to visualize every possible situation. After putting a lot of thought into it, he put in all his life savings and started his company - CNS Hybrid. And he ended up being quite successful at it! After many years of profitability and sustained growth, he sold the company in the late 90s to another company called REMEC. After a short break, he was called in to join Excelics as its CEO.
From my point of view, he's had a great career. He's done what he likes, he's enjoyed it, he's been successful and he's happy today. Well, that's a great career right. That's kinda where I wanna be 30 years from now. And I'm sure I will get there.
Photo courtesy: Brandon Cirillo, flickr.com