The person in the picture below is Donnie Ashok.
You may have heard of him. He was a high school dropout who got selected by IDIA for CLAT training and then went to GNLU after a legal battle. The story got covered in many newspapers, making Donnie famous! One could have thought that he will find it hard to surpass that amazing story in the rest of his life. But that was not going to happen.
Before going to GNLU, he had began to help us with technology related work at iPleaders. He started with easy and basic things like WordPress and later learned more from the internet as he continued to help us and later even IDIA to maintain their websites.
While he did some technology related work out of hobby, Donnie studied law and did well in law school. He got internships in top law firms. However, when he began to do these internships, he did not feel too good about working at these firms.
One day, while in his 4th year, he came to me and asked if he can join LawSikho after graduating, and work full time in technology. We had a tough time finding a decent technology team, and I trusted Donnie, so I agreed.
In the next couple of years, he did a great job. Even the current LawSikho.com website is built by him. He built a technology backend that automated many processes that we had to do manually earlier. He used very advanced technologies – because he was curious and wanted to constantly learn.
So a law graduate managed our tech function for more than a year after he graduated. Donnie also hired and managed a technology and design team of 3 full time people under him. He trained at least two coders who joined him fresh out of college.
At one point, the work, however, began to surpass the limits of his abilities and he felt overwhelmed. He came and consulted me. He said that he needs to take a job with good coders and learn from them. It is too difficult for him to cater to the technology needs of LawSikho, and we would better find someone else!
Initially I resisted. I tried to tell him that he should stay back even if we have to hire more experienced people. However, he was clear that he should go abroad and learn about technology.
Now the question is who is going to give a technology development job to an unqualified Indian lawyer, who has no tech degree or diploma, no formal tech education, and have only worked with a small startup developing some small projects?
Well, apparently that was enough. Donnie found a job within a couple of months in Berlin, and currently works there in a full fledged technology company. I am sure he is facing a steep learning curve there and would emerge to be a great technology developer in times to come.
But I want you to think about this: why did he get selected for a foreign coding job in Berlin whereas most certified, degree holding engineers are struggling to get a job in India itself, and will probably be ready to sell a kidney to get one in Germany with the amazing pay package and great work timings?
Here is what I understand:
The qualified, certified engineers are often totally unemployable. Many of them have learned junk in college and take too much training to be prepared to do anything useful in a real job.
Donnie on the other hand taught coding to himself, by using web tutorials and by requesting guidance from other senior people. He also learnt a lot from a lot of trial and error. He managed to produce results, and had some good projects to show.
Portfolio, practical skills and experience always beats formal degrees.
And still, the wisdom of the crowd in India is that we must get more and more and more degrees, certificates and diplomas. As if that is going to make any difference.
I have seen juniors and students going to London to some or the other college to get an UK LLM degree, spending a bomb on the same and then coming back and realising that it did not particularly help except for to write the name of the University in their visiting cards. Sure it’s nice to have. But does it make a career?
If they had thought such a degree may get them a good job in India, most of them were in for a rude shock. It did not increase their value in the Indian legal market by much unless they went to some very highly ranked college, especially Oxford and Cambridge.
Even Oxford, Harvard and Cambridge degrees help far less than most imagine those would. I know tons of people who got such degrees and then got back to the same old job they had earlier, and got no major increments or promotions due to such degrees.
Yes, maybe education is not all about RoI, and it is also about prestige and legacy and what not, but sorry I do want to look at RoI before I spend 50 lakhs to 1 crore for one year of education!
What about you? Do you care about RoI (Return on Investment) too?
To succeed in this environment, you need to disassociate upskilling from getting degrees. You have to recognize that it is more valuable to generate real value for clients rather than buying signals such as degrees. People who can actually get the work done will always succeed more than those who only have paraphernalia to showcase.
So why did I tell you the story of Donnie Ashok? I want you to take away 3 lessons from the extraordinary story.
Lesson 1: Your future is not tied up by what you have done so far
It is never too late to follow your passion. Donnie realised that he had a passion for tech. He really liked it. You excel at things that you like to do. However, we tend to look back at life and see what we have already done, and then behave as if our hands are now tied by what we have already done so far.
That is nonsense. You can do what you want to do, irrespective of what you did in your past.
Only dead people and people who are unable to think do not have the ability to change their mind. Intelligent people observe, learn and change their mind accordingly.
Donnie worked hard to get into law school, did well in law school, landed the good internships and would have made it to a good law firm eventually, by all indications. Also, he had the goodwill of the IDIA community as well as us at iPleaders and LawSikho and it would not have been so difficult.
However, he made a choice to go for technology because he did not feel the same passion for law. He probably was drawing a lot less salary than he would otherwise if he became a lawyer in even a tier 2 or tier 3 law firm.
But he chose to follow his passion.
No matter how much you earn, unless you really like your work, it is hard to be happy. Never forget that, and always be in search for your true passion.
I love writing, and I am most productive when I write. I love coaching and teaching, and when I do those things, I am on fire. I have to do many other things too, but I try to find other people who love doing those things and offload my duties to them, so I can focus more and more on what I do best!
Even I studied law. I mostly do not get to exercise my lawyering skills. And it is fine. It doesn’t mean my 5 years of legal education is wasted. Because I am doing what I love to do. I am not tied up by my past either. If someday I want to go to the court and practice full time I will.
What about you?
Lesson 2: Pay attention to what you dislike, do not go with the flow
Imagine you are getting internship at CAM, Trilegal and any other law firm you want. You seem to be getting exactly what all law students dream of. You are graduating from a good NLU with decent marks. Would you think of shifting your career to a completely unrelated field?
Donnie did that. It looks scary, but he did it because once he saw what the legal profession entails by interning at some of the biggest law firms, he just did not want to do it. He chose to do what he loves to do.
There are many people who force themselves to do what they hate to do because the society, parents, girlfriend or someone else expects them to do those things.
You studied law for 5 years, how can you now do theatre?
To hell with social approval. Who has ever gotten rich or happy with that?
Listen to your body instead. See what makes you sick. See what gives you a bad feeling in your tummy. See what gives you a headache.
For example, do you hate workplace politics? Do you find it hard to communicate in a high-pressure environment? Then working in a big law firm is not going to work out for you. There may be other environments where you will thrive.
Still, a lot of law students in the above situation will just go and join the law firm anyway, get depressed, compromise their health and then quit or get fired anyway.
Listen to your mind too. If something causes you too much anxiety, stress or uneasiness, then after putting in some reasonable effort, if you can’t handle it, your mind is telling you that you are not meant for it.
A junior from NUJS after working in a law firm chose to become a chef instead. Another lawyer I know made a shift from an IP law firm to filmmaking. They are all doing tremendously well.
Do not be compelled to pursue what you dislike. It will destroy your body and mind. Even if you can’t find something you love to do yet, at least do something that agrees with you! Quit stuff that are not nice, that’s the only way you will ever find what you like.
Lesson 3: keep learning, keep getting better, and leave places and strategies that you have outgrown
Learning is not meant to happen only in college. Very ordinary people will stop learning after college and will stagnate. Extraordinary lawyers keep learning. All extraordinary professionals never stop learning, Donnie being an example.
He did not say I did not go to a coding school so I can’t be good at coding. He learned from wherever he could. He learnt from the internet. He used coding tutorials. He tried and tried till he got things right. He taught himself.
This got him to the point where he had value in the international tech market.
He did a good job, we did not have much to complain about. Then he reached a stage where he had outgrown the place. He recognized it. He addressed it.
He did not stay back in comfort and waited for someone else to tell him that he is not doing a good job and that we should hire someone else to replace him.
This is actually an amazing trait.
Commitment to learning and growth can be a perfect compass for your professional life. Do not quit a job until you have learnt all that is there to learn from it. But when you have learnt, and have stopped growing further, find a bigger role if it is available, or create it for yourself.
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