It Doesn't Matter Where You Start... As Long as You Start

Start on athletics all weather running track
Start on athletics all weather running track

The 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 is coming up soon and in the days leading up to the race, the world's best drivers will be competing in time trials to determine who will start in the coveted pole position.

Why is it so important to start in first place? After all, the winner of last year's race started in 15th place and the winner the year before that started in the 19th position. You have to go all the way back to 2009 to find a winner who began the race from the pole position. But still, everyone wants to start at the top.

What's wrong with starting at the bottom? What's wrong with an entry level position? In my opinion, there's nothing wrong with it. I started at the bottom at almost every job I've ever had. My attitude is very simple; it doesn't matter where you start as long as you start. I had an uncle who had multiple college degrees. He applied for many jobs over the years, always applying for upper level management positions. He was offered many jobs as a manager trainee and he received many offers to come in as an individual contributor with an opportunity to move into management. He turned them all down, each time saying that he had the skills for a higher level job and he shouldn't have to prove himself.

I couldn't have disagreed with him more and told him so many times but he would have none of it. To me it was simple. These companies didn't know him. Why should they take the risk? They had every right to ask him to prove himself and frankly, if he would have taken one of those jobs he would have been able to work his way up to the position he coveted. Instead he looked for work for years and finally had no choice but to accept the only job he had available to him, which was as the rental manager of the houses I owned during my real estate investment years.

On the other hand, I knew what I wanted when I applied for a job. I wanted to be in charge, but no one was going to let me walk in off the street and lead a team. Even during my fast-food management days every new job I got was as a manager trainee. It didn't matter to Arby's that I had been the manager of a Burger Chef. No, they made me start at the bottom, and when I worked my way to the top at Arby's and subsequently applied for a management job at Wendy's, they didn't care that I had just been a manager of an Arby's; again I had to start at the bottom and work my way up.

Years later I would apply for a job at Microsoft. By that time I had 17 years of management experience and I had spent the last two working my way up the management ladder in software testing at Ashton-Tate. Not only wasn't that enough to get a test management job at Microsoft, it wasn't even enough to get an individual contributor job doing software testing. I wasn't deterred, however. Though it took multiple interviews I was finally able to land an entry level job working in a test lab and keeping it clean.

Once again it didn't matter to me that I had to start at the bottom or that I had to prove myself yet again. These people didn't know me. They wanted me to show them what I could do, and that was fine with me. I have no problem demonstrating my ability or a skill before I get the opportunity. In truth, I found that at Microsoft the easiest way to get a new position was to start doing the job before I officially had it.

While I worked in the lab I started doing some software testing. When a software tester position opened up, I got the job. While in that role I began to take on various leadership tasks, and when they needed a new software testing lead I was chosen for that job. I continued this process during my entire twenty-year career at Microsoft, eventually advancing all the way to Partner Engineering Manager before I retired in 2012.

Obviously I'm not saying you should take the first job that comes along, or not attempt to start higher up in the organization any more than I think a driver shouldn't try to win the pole position in a race. If you know what you want and you have the skills to do it then you should go for it. Just don't be afraid to take what you might consider a lesser position or less pay if there is an opportunity to prove yourself and move up in the company.

This is the way I spent my career, whether it was working as a cleanup boy at Burger Chef for 65 cents an hour before later becoming the manager of that store, or working as an entry level lab engineer and retiring twenty years later as a partner. I was always willing to start at the back of the pack. As long as I was in the race I had a chance to win. Just like Louis Meyer, who won the Indy 500 in 1936 even though he started in 28th place, or the twenty-nine other drivers who started in tenth place or lower but still went on to win the race, it doesn't matter where you start as long as you start.