Career pathways that are open and provide room for experimentation

I am very interested in science, math, technology, programming and physics. I have been renewed in my interest of these subjects in my first year in FRC, and as a grade 10 student, I am still not certain of my career path.

One qualification of my career is that I have no limitations as to where I can go (Project wise) and how I do it. I have a very hard time following instructions, rules and other people’s instructions. I enjoy learning, and I consider understanding much more important than knowing.

Another qualification is that I do not need to go to college or university. Neither have very much importance to me. I understand their benefits, but cannot see myself being employed by big companies or corporations.

Do you have any advice as to what fields are open to my kind of personality, or what kind of companies are very successful right now that allow for this kind of creativity? (I would love to be an entrepreneur, but see very little gaps in terms of new things to make, sell or provide).

I can only think of one company that would think about hiring you off the top of my head. I’ll get to that in a bit.

If you have a hard time following instructions and rules, particularly given by other people, you’re probably best off as a self-employed inventor. Note that that career pathway doesn’t necessarily pay well. It can–Dean Kamen is one example–but for every DK there are many failures. Every company has its rules, policies, and procedures that you’ll have to follow.

If you worked on that hard time with instructions, so you could do it, you’d probably do well as a technician. Go to a trade school to learn skills you’d need, maybe some equations, or even take some basic engineering courses like statics and dynamics. (See below.)

Not needing to go to college is going to be a limiter on how high you can go. If you’re going into science, math, or engineering, most companies, large or small, won’t look at you for work unless you’ve got at least some sort of college education. Now, some of that can be mitigated by a technician path, but even there you’ll need some of the knowledge at least.

Now, the one company I could think of…IDEO. From what I’ve heard about that company, you’d probably fit right in. (I assume you’re a team player, which would be a big factor…)

Perhaps, perhaps not. By not having a degree, few potential employers are open-minded enough to even consider hiring you.

Please don’t make the mistake that so many make, thinking that college is just “advanced High School”. It isn’t.

What a college does is helps you learn how to learn. You see, in the real world, we very rarely know what we need to know, meaning that we must learn something - usually a highly complex subject - and know it at an advanced level, quickly and accurately. And knowing how to teach yourself something like that is a critical success skill.

As proof ask anyone in industry who has a college degree, how much of what they actually learned do they use in their work.


You also know yourself well enough to know that you dislike taking direction from others. While a self-directed entrepreneur is a good choice for you, unless you are as smart as you think you are, you’ll get awfully hungry soon.

I do not know you, so please forgive me for making several assumptions here, but it seems to me that you think quite highly of yourself. That kind of thinking can lead to disaster, even if true but especially if misplaced. Please do me (and yourself) a favor and find some very intelligent people, who know you well and whom you trust, and ask THEM if you are too full of yourself, or if your superior self-image is accurate.

Listen carefully to their comments. Don’t speak, don’t try to ‘defend’. Just listen and, later, see if it makes sense.

Good luck.

My first thought when I read this is that you sound like a typical grade 10 student to me. Both of these will improve with time; try to continually improve these skills incrementally but don’t worry too much.

This was my first thought as well, though I thought of Stan Ovshinsky. As near as I can tell, both have been successful because they are able to do intense self-study, in addition to recognizing societal needs. Ovshinsky taught himself neurophysiology and chemistry and I remember reading that Kamen taught himself advanced physics in high school. However, they both also connected to the people knowledgeable in their fields and other fields to supplement their own knowledge.

Expanding on what Don said, if you attend a research university, college is a fantastic way to learn about the state of the art from people working on it. One could spend hundreds of hours reading scientific papers (which may or may not be necessary anyway) or one could go talk to the people who wrote those papers directly.

A lot of engineering schools don’t ask you to declare your major until after you’ve taken a few sections of classes. Carnegie Mellon engineering students, for example, don’t declare until the end of their freshman year. This gives them (and you, if you so wish) a chance to explore the options and get a sense of the content of each field in order to make an informed decision.

There are also several degree options which can keep your options open. Harvey Mudd offers a single engineering degree without a specified concentration, though I believe most students eventually develop some sort of area of interest or concentration. I’ve also seen people with physics or applied math degrees employed in engineering disciplines. There is, of course trade offs between maintaining generality and developing more of an expertise in one field, though there is Don’s comment to consider: