My life as a pinball machine

At a recent one-off presentation as part of Melbourne School of Engineering’s Professional Skills Series, the CEO and founder of Guava Insights and Get3D Simon Szwarc shared his career journey using the metaphor of a game of pinball. Sharing his highs, lows, rewards and challenges (likened to the bumpers found on a pinball table), students in the audience were given valuable insights into managing the highs and lows of their future careers.

From his first graduate position in a consulting firm to founder, CEO and beyond, Simon’s career provides a wonderful example of the benefits in staying agile, adaptable and motivated to continue on a trajectory to success.

If you want to do something, forge your own path

Simon’s experience likely sounds familiar to many. His family had a clear idea of the type of profession they wanted to see him pursue, encouraging him towards medicine or law. Opting instead to study commerce and information systems in 2000, Simon soon discovered (through an internship opportunity) an interest in Customer Value Research. This is a niche offshoot from Customer   Value Research determining the ‘value’ created for a business. Simon’s determination to consistently develop new skills, forging strong relationships and rebranding his game, saw him rise quickly within a number of top tier firms as a rare specialist in this field.

“Make sure you don’t be what you think everyone wants you to be. Do what works for you and play to your strengths to stand out from the crowd.”

Make sure you don’t be what you think everyone wants you to be. Do what works for you and play to your strengths to stand out from the crowd.

Changing pathways isn’t failing

It can be difficult to throw caution to the wind, trust yourself and change course completely. Studying engineering and IT at Melbourne leads to an ultimate goal and a logical pathway for many, and this mindset is all too easy to carry across to your career development.

But when it comes to your career, argues Simon, accepting this logical pathway may be less beneficial than taking a risk on something new. The key is playing to your strengths and doing what works for you; if you’re not capitalising on your strengths in your current role, a change could be exactly what your career needs.

Adaptability will help you get where you’re going

Be ready to adapt even if you’re on the right path in the right organisation. At various times through your career you may be required to act as more of a generalist, and at others you’ll be called on for your specialist knowledge.

If you’re doing generalist work, use the opportunity to explore future possibilities for a specialisation you may want to pursue. If you find a specialisation you truly love, you’re far more likely to be successful in your career.

Go play

Your career is a choice that you make to play or not. To remain in the game you need to show initiative and recognise that you are in a mutually beneficial bond with your employer or potential employer. The first question Simon asks young aspiring professionals when they approach him is ‘What do you know about Guava Insights?’. Simon shared that being prepared and targeted with   your outreach will significantly make you stand out from the rest. Rather than thinking about what an organisation can offer you, think about what you will offer to that organisation; why should they choose you?

Take care of yourself

Self-care is important to succeed in the long term. Your career will have highs, lows and days when you may be bounced around by those pinball table bumpers, and it’s important to learn how to ride these. It’s also important to know when to take some time out; if you’re running your own business you’ll be tempted to be on all the time, but you need to know when to switch off and   recharge.

When asked for one final piece of advice, Simon offered one of his company principles taken from a Warner Bros. cartoon; “make sure that you never become a fanatic like Wile E. Coyote from Road Runner, pushing yourself harder even though you’ve lost sight of what you need to achieve.”

It was fascinating to hear Simon’s reflection on what has assisted him to get to where he is today in his role as CEO. We offer our sincere thanks to alumnus Simon Szwarc for sharing his unique career journey and insights with current engineering and IT students.