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Michael Lin
Michael Lin

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3 Ways to Create Luck in Your Engineering Career

I got into Netflix by going to the gym.

When I worked at Amazon in Seattle, I noticed a guy at the YMCA on the same workout schedule as me.

Over time we started talking, and eventually I invited him to my birthday party.

It was at this birthday party that he told me about working at Netflix.

He told me that Netflix pays “top-of-market” salaries. But if you weren’t performing they would let you go with a “generous severance package.”

At the time I wasn’t looking for a job. But on a whim I threw my application into the Netflix jobs portal to see what would happen.

Two days later a recruiter from Netflix reached out.

One month later, I landed the job.

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The job description said I needed 5 years of experience when I only had 3 at the time. I applied anyways.

Inviting a stranger to my birthday party resulted in me almost tripling my salary overnight, and getting a promotion to Sr. Software Engineer that would’ve normally taken me several years to achieve.

I was only 24 at the time.

Hustle culture overemphasizes “grit” as the key to success, but doesn’t acknowledge the huge role that luck plays in our careers as well.

And contrary to popular belief, luck isn’t random. It happens when you:

  1. Go beyond your assigned work

  2. Create content

  3. Are willing to drop everything to chase a lucky opportunity when it arrives.

Understanding these three elements of luck will help you get luckier in your life.

1. You won’t get lucky from only doing your job.

Luck lives at the edge of your comfort zone. So to get lucky, you have to constantly try new things.

A question to determine whether you’re experimenting enough in your life is:

When was the last time you did something for the first time?

And to get lucky, make sure the answer to this question is never too long ago.

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Einstein understood luck well.

One of my greatest regrets while working in corporate was focusing only on my assigned work.

The issue is that when you only focus on your work, you’re likely doing similar tasks and working with the same people over and over again. It doesn’t create novel situations that generate luck.

Luck doesn’t just happen. You have to create it.

Knowing what I know now, I would treat “getting lucky” as if it were a separate job from the actual work. I’d spend more time putting myself in situations that could lead to lucky career breaks rather than only working hard.

I saw the importance of this with how a coworker skipped the line for a promotion at Netflix.

How a Networking Event Lead to a Promotion

One of my co-workers at Netflix got promoted from an engineering role to a management role in under a year — impressive for a place with no formal promotion process.

She told me the way she got promoted was by being active in the Employee Resource Groups, (or ERG’s for short) at Netflix.

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ERG’s are like college clubs within companies.

It was at one of the ERG networking events that she heard a director in another department mention how they needed to hire for an engineering manager on a new team.

My co-worker expressed interest in the role, and since the team was relatively small, the director gave them a chance. She started off managing two engineers. Two years later, she now has eight reports.

This ERG networking event was critical for two reasons:

  1. This job wasn’t yet listed on the internal jobs board, so there was no competition for the role.

  2. It exposed her to people outside her department. She would never normally meet this director through her normal work.

Imagine if she tried to become a manager the traditional way. She’d have to go through years of frustrating promotion cycles. Plus she’d have to compete with a long line of co-workers also vying for this role.

Attending a single networking event saved years in her career.

So if you want extraordinary things to happen to you, you have to do extraordinary things. Only following orders won’t get you lucky. But

  • taking advantage of your company’s ERG groups
  • giving talks
  • attending all the happy hours and team events
  • and going beyond your basic duties as an employee

will do more for your career than staying late at night working.

2. Content Creation — The Cheat Code to Getting Lucky

Luck happens when you’re around new people.

And one of the easiest ways to expose yourself to new people is through content creation.

Since I started writing online, I’ve noticed that content creation is a cheat-code for getting lucky. Here’s why.

90–9–1 Rule of Content Creation

The first reason why content creates luck is due to the 90–9–1 rule. This states that:

  • 90% of internet users lurk on platforms
  • 9% interact with content through likes or comments
  • and only 1% of internet users create content.

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Creating content puts you in the top 1% of internet users.

So creating content gives you substantial power. It automatically raises your visibility more than 99% of people, and positions you as a leader on the internet.

1% of internet users influence the other 99% of users through their content.

The second reason is that content is an asset that you create once and generates views forever. For example, in the graph below we can see how all the articles I’ve published on Medium so far have generated about 4,300 views over the last 30 days.

That’s the equivalent of talking to 143 new people EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

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I’ve spoken to more CEO’s since writing online than I have in the rest of my life combined.

Content creation is automated networking. If you talk to that many new people, you’re bound to meet someone who could change your life.

How I Got a Paid Speaking Engagement through Medium

For example, on my second article on Medium, I wrote an article about “How to Be a 10x Software Engineer.” This article immediately took off, reaching 6 figures in views as you can see below.

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A month later, I received a message from the CEO of a company who read the article and invited me to come give a talk.

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He forwarded me to his CTO, we discussed logistics, and I flew in to give the talk a few months later.

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From a paid speaking engagement in July 2022 that resulted from writing on Medium.

So the lesson about content creation is:

  1. You never know who might come across your content and give you the lucky break needed to advance in your career.

  2. Luck has little correlation with how hard you work. I spent only 3 hours writing this article, less than any other article I’ve ever written. Yet it is one of the best-performing articles I’ve written to date.

You’re always one viral piece of content away from changing your life. So get creating!

3. Luck Comes at the Most Inconvenient Times

By now you’ve created a luck-prone environment for yourself. So what do you do when luck strikes?

You have to drop everything you’re doing to take advantage of a lucky opportunity because luck doesn’t wait. When luck passes, you often won’t get another shot again.

Furthermore, luck often comes when you’re least expecting it.

So a big part of getting lucky is both spotting it, and remaining flexible enough to take advantage of it when it comes during inopportune times.

Example: Henry Golding and Crazy Rich Asians

For example, Henry Golding was a relatively unknown travel reporter for many years before getting his big break as the star of Crazy Rich Asians.

Except his big break came at the worst possible time.

He was in South Africa on his honeymoon when the movie director begged to pull him for a Warner Bros screen test.

Even worse — he was only one day into his honeymoon when he had to call it off.

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Realizing this could be a make or break moment for his career, Henry understood the fleeting nature of luck, and cut the honeymoon short to chase this opportunity.

Although I’m sure his wife was not happy about this, clearly it was the right move, as Crazy Rich Asians skyrocketed his acting career and his wife’s modeling career as well.

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Henry Golding with his wife Liv Lo.

Henry Golding’s story teaches us about how to act when luck comes your way.

First you have to always keep your eyes open for lucky opportunities during the most inconvenient times— including one day into your honeymoon.

Second it’s important to not fully book yourself, so you have flexibility to pounce on these opportunities.

As a fellow entrepreneur once told me, you want to leave some “slack in the system” to allow luck into your life.

Final Thoughts

Luck has a bigger part to play in career success than what we would like to admit.

Rather than asking, “How do I advance in my career?” reframe the question as, “How can I create more lucky opportunities?” instead.

By trying more “life experiments,” putting yourself out there through content, and leaving some “slack in the system”, you create an environment where lucky career breaks can happen.

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