It’s pretty well understood that working hard is one of the cornerstones of having a successful career, but when exactly you put in the hard work also has a bearing on what the outcomes will be.
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman says that working hard at the beginning of your career is much more important than working hard later on. “Compound interest is a good metaphor here,” he said on podcast. “If you work really hard at the beginning of your career, and you get a little bit better at what you do every day, every week, every year, and you learn more and you meet more people, and you just get more done, there is a compound effect. And it’s far better to put that time in at the beginning of your career than at the end, because if you do it at the beginning, you get to benefit from it for the rest of the time you work,” he continued.
Altman says that he himself worked hard in the beginning of his career. “So one thing I always tried to do was meet every person I had time for, go to everything I could, and just spend a little bit more time trying to learn and get better at what I do. And I think that is really valuable. The beginning of your career, I think in terms of setting the trajectory that the rest of your career follows, is the most valuable time,” he added.
Altman extolled the value of hard work. “I think you want to work harder than most people think you should. And I think that if you do that, you tend to benefit from it later. Life is super unfair sometimes, and you could also just get unlucky. All you can do is kind of maximize chances (by working hard). I think that working hard early in your career to get the leverage into compounding is underrated. And one of the most valuable pieces of advice that I never got,” he added.
Altman should know what he’s talking about. He’d founded and sold a company named Loopt in his twenties, and then became the President of Y Combinator. In 2016, Altman became the CEO of OpenAI, which broke into the mainstream in 2021 through the launch of ChatGPT. As the world marveled at ChatGPT’s capabilities, Altman has become the face of global AI, meeting with world leaders and celebrities, and has become a prominent voice in how AI will shape the future of humanity. And the fact he’s managed to do all this at the age of 38 shows shows how his hard work from early in his career has managed to compound — and show amazing results — in two short decades.