paul le

It Costs Nothing to Ask

Growing up, I was a very shy person. The idea of asking for something when I did not know for certain that the answer would be “yes”, was terrifying to me. I would often only ask questions that I already knew the answers to.

Throughout university, this pattern repeated itself. Whether it be asking questions during lectures, going to office hours to ask questions, or even asking for clarification on something relating to the coursework, I would often shy away from asking.

Towards the end of my bachelor’s degree in physics, I found myself in an unfavourable position. My grades were not good, and I was unsure of what my future after graduation would look like. I did not know if graduate school was an option for me, or whether I would even be able to start a career with just a bachelor’s degree in physics.

It was during this time that my father said to me: “it costs nothing to ask”. Those words stuck with me, and have since been a constant theme in my life. They made me realize that I have nothing to lose or be afraid of for asking. So it was around that time that I decided to start asking, no matter how terrified I was.

I went to an academic advisor, told them of my situation, and asked them what my options were. They suggested that I start another degree from the beginning. That was not really the answer I was looking for, but at the same time, it was the kind of answer I was expecting.

I went to my professors, told them of my situation, and asked them what their advice was. Many did not have good advice. I realized later on that many of them worked their entire careers in academia, and graduated at the top of their classes. They were never in a position like I was in, and had plenty of options after graduating.

A few months after I graduated, I applied for jobs in software development, asking for opportunities to work with software companies. Almost no one responded to my job applications. Those that did respond said that I did not have the required engineering degree or experience to work there.

I was lost, and did not know what else to do. Every career path that I looked at required good grades, whether it be for further schooling, or getting a good job to start a career with. Fortunately, there was some hope.

In my second year of studying physics, I took a scientific computing course, where I learned how to write code. I had never learned how to program before in my life, and struggled through that course. However, I found that I really enjoyed programming.

Around that time, I had also attended a physics career event, where people who had done their bachelor’s degree in physics came to speak about their careers. Of the many speakers who had gone on to do graduate school and pursue a career in academia, one of the speakers had started a successful healthcare software company.

This intrigued me, so after the talks were done, I went up to the CEO and asked many questions. I was genuinely curious, so I was not afraid to ask questions at that time. The CEO ended up giving me his business card, which I kept, and still had a few years later.

After failing to find an opportunity to do anything except return to university, I finally decided to reach out to that CEO that I had met a few years before at the physics career event, and ask him if we could meet for coffee. I wanted to pick his brain - even for just 10 minutes - to learn more about how he got into software development with just a physics degree.

Although I was terrified, at the back of my mind, I knew that it cost nothing to ask. The worst that could have happened was to hear a “no”, but I had a chance to gain something by asking. To my surprise, he not only responded and agreed to meet, but he even said that they had a position open.

A month later, was hired as an Integration Analyst.

Since then, I took the opportunity that I was given, and worked hard to learn and improve. I was quickly promoted in under a year from Integration Analyst to Integration Consultant. I quickly progressed in my role and was given more responsibility, eventually working on technical projects for our biggest clients.

I genuinely feel like this is my dream job. What is amazing to me is that I did not even know this kind of job existed a year and a half ago. This was all possible because I decided to ask, even though I did not know what the answer would be.

It costs nothing to ask, but asking gives you opportunities to gain.

May 28th, 2019