Andrew Ng/Baidu: Career Options

Source: Huffington Post, May 2015

I wish we as a society gave better career advice to young adults. I think that “follow your passion” is not good career advice. It’s actually one of the most terrible pieces of career advice we give people.

If you are passionate about driving your car, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should aspire to be a race car driver. In real life, “follow your passion” actually gets amended to, “Follow your passion of all the things that happen to be a major at the university you’re attending.”

But often, you first become good at something, and then you become passionate about it. And I think most people can become good at almost anything.

So when I think about what to do with my own life, what I want to work on, I look at two criteria.

  • The first is whether it’s an opportunity to learn. Does the work on this project allow me to learn new and interesting and useful things?
  • The second is the potential impact. The world has an infinite supply of interesting problems. The world also has an infinite supply of important problems. I would love for people to focus on the latter.

Do you define importance primarily by the number of people who are impacted?

No, I don’t think the number is the only thing that’s important. Changing hundreds of millions of people’s lives in a significant way, I think that’s the level of impact that we can reasonably aspire to. That is one way of making sure we do work that isn’t just interesting, but that also has an impact.

innovation or creativity is a strategic skill where every day you wake up and it’s a totally unique context that no one’s ever been in, and you need to make good decisions in your completely unique environment. So as far as I can tell, the only was we know way to teach strategic skills is by example, by seeing tons of examples. The human brain, when you see enough examples, learns to internalize those rules and guidelines for making good strategic decisions.

Very often, what I find is that for people doing research, it takes years to see enough examples and to learn to internalize those guidelines. So what I’ve been experimenting with here is to build a flight simulator for innovation strategy. Instead of having everyone spend five years before you see enough examples, to deliver many examples in a much more compressed time frame.

With his wife (Carol Reiley)

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