And other essential career advice

By Scott Spradley

My daughter recently graduated from college and my son from high school, and a lot of their friends have reached out and asked what advice I can share about these next stages of their lives.

I generally say, first, that I’ve achieved what I’ve achieved because I genuinely love doing what I do. It’s not a job for me. I like to play with technology, I like to play with people, I like to lead people. So I’m getting paid to do my hobby. And I don’t have a single day when I wake up and say, “Oh, God, I gotta go to the office today.” I don’t have that day. So it all starts with pursuing what is genuinely fun to you.

The second thing I would say is, expose yourself to a wide array of things. Just as coaches will tell you they prefer to recruit an athlete who played four or five sports and then settled on one, exposing yourself to different avenues of potential work is a great thing. My college major was political science, and I once thought being a lawyer would be cool. I loved reading law books, and I still will occasionally read case law, just because it’s fascinating to me. I love the details. I’m one of the few people who read manuals, but I read them cover to cover. When I buy a car, I read the whole thing, and then I know everything the car does. And the manual goes in the glove box and I’m the human manual for it.

But finding what you love is the first thing. Then once you find that, my next advice is, don’t rush. I see a lot of people thinking they’ve got to rush to the top. They believe they’re in competition with their peers, and they’re not. Your career’s going to find you as much as you find your career.

I think the biggest mistake people make is changing jobs for money. I once did that—I left a company because I got offered a considerably larger sum of money to go to work for another company. And, boy, I wasn’t there very long before I realized, “I don’t care how much money I’m making here, this is not what I like to do.” Huge mistake.

I ALSO HAVE some tactical advice that I give everybody—just three or four rules, and if you live by them, you’re always going to be fine.

First is never tell a lie. If you have to work to remember something, that’s probably not good. Things that really happen to you, you never forget. So always be honest. If you’re asked if you did something, and you did it, say, “Yes, I did.” If you’re asked and you didn’t do it, say, “No, I did not.” Do you know the answer to this? “No, I do not.” Is this your work? “No, it was the team’s work.” Always be very honest.

Two, never throw anybody under the bus, because you never know who’s going to be your manager. Years ago, Intel acquired a startup that I was at, and the guy who came in as the “integration manager,” who was my manager, was just brutal to me. I mean brutal. He hated how much they were paying me, he was disrespectful to me, he tore things up, slammed my laptop, he was just brutal.

Two years later, I found myself standing in his cubicle because I had become his manager’s manager. So he was sitting there looking up at me, and he said, “I suppose this is where the payback starts.”

And I said, “No, this is where I’m going to show you how to manage the way you want to be managed. I could easily come in here and be a jackass to you, but I’m just going to try to manage you the way most people want to be managed.” So the key rule is never throw anybody under the bus, and don’t disrespect anybody. Let people have dignity every day.

My third rule is, never breach a confidence. At some point you’re going to be exposed to something, and somebody’s going to say, “Hey, keep this between us.” Do that. Because sometimes people are going to set you up and see if you’re going to keep it to yourself or not.

I often give a speech about how information is like beer—how much can you handle? I’ll give you some information, and if you look like you can handle it, I’ll serve you a little bit more. But if I see you start mishandling it, then I’m shutting you down. So that’s another piece of advice I give.

Finally, don’t talk about things you don’t know about. Don’t try to purport value in areas that you don’t have value in—leave that for the person who does have value in it.

If you follow those rules, and if you’re doing what you love to do, you’re set up for a pretty darn good life.

Scott Spradley is EVP and Chief Technology Officer at Tyson Foods. Before returning to his native Arkansas to join Tyson, he was CIO at Hewlett-Packard and, most recently, Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Prior to HP, he held a variety of leadership roles at Chevron and Intel.

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