Ooch Before You Leap!

Couple of days back I met a 15 year old. He mentioned that this summer holidays, after his GCSE examinations, he would like to do a short internship in a bank or a tech company to get a feel of what life is like in these professions. He is interested in economics and technology and he figures that such an exposure will get him a better sense of what pursuit of these subjects can later lead to.

In their book ‘Decisive’ authors Chip and Dan Heath describe what this young student wants to do as ‘ooching’. Ooching is dipping your toes to test the waters before you dive in. You may have pre-conceived notions about a job or a profession – the glamour of being an actor, or the money in finance but rather than basing an important life decision on your notions it is better to test your assumptions, to the extent possible.

‘Decisive’ authors highlight that some colleges are making it mandatory for students to get some work experience to become eligible to apply for a course. For example, Hunter College at the City University of New York, for the undergraduate course in physical therapy, does not admit students unless they have spent at least a hundred hours observing physical therapists at work.

Ooching sounds great but I do not know how feasible it is for a 15 year old to get a summer job in a bank or a tech company. He is a minor and large corporates will have strict rules and regulations about engaging a minor even for a short, unpaid internship, plus they will probably not be very keen to take on the associated hassles of insurance and other legal and risk issues.

But today there are several other ways to ‘ooch’ what different professions feel like. A tech or a fin-tech start-up might be a more conducive place for a minor, as would be many non-profits. In fact, I personally think for a young person volunteering their skills and talent for a good cause is excellent experience.

Or, perhaps this young person could request mentoring meetings with professionals and if he can frame the right questions he can get good insights into what a day in the life of that profession feels like, what it entails to get into that profession and what it takes to succeed. To make this mentoring meetings more disciplined this young person could perhaps start a blog. Writing and editing what he learns in an interview will lead to more introspection. Each new interview will also improve quality of questions asked. The ‘Cut to the Chase’ interview series we had run last year had the same objective – to give a feel of a profession, what it takes to get into that profession, what it takes to succeed and how the profession might change few decades from now – http://timelesslifeskills.co.uk/interview/

This youngster could also collaborate with his friends, conceive an idea and crowd fund it. The idea could be development of an app, or a tech project for a non-profit, given that IT is an area of his interest. Or, he could do crowd-based fund raising for a charity. I know someone who, for her Diploma in Rural Management, is planning a crowd funding project to get Android Tablets for a rural school in India. While such a project might not get insights into a profession and it might even fail to raise the target amount, it will definitely give useful experience of conceiving, planning and executing an idea – great competencies to have in the 21st century.

In today’s world reputation matters. The open-source hardware movement has led to large communities forming around electronics and micro-computers. Arduino and Raspberry Pi communities are two examples. This youngster could actively participate in such communities, imagine and share innovative, problem-solving projects and guide others. This way he will gain experience, have a portfolio of projects and build an online reputation – stuff that is pretty useful for college admission. And, imagine all the fun he will have!

Or, this young person could take inspiration from Amol Bhave. 17 year old Amol, from the small town of Jabalpur in India, did MIT edX’s MOOC on Circuits & Electronics and scored 97% The follow-up course on Signals & Systems was not available as a MOOC so Amol, along with two friends, created their own online course combining videos lectures, discussion boards and elements from MIT courseware. 1100 students from around the globe enrolled, enough to impress MIT to offer him a place for the class of 2017.

Reality-testing different professions and your perception about these professions is definitely a great way to improve your decision-making about your career. And, the second decade of the 21st century offers many ways to ooch.