If you’re like me, you’ve spent most of your education at schools that resemble restaurants.  You show up to lectures, sit in your seat and expect to have your hunger for knowledge satisfied. The meal was chosen for you, and was cooked and served by other people. Depending on the talent of the chef sometimes the meal will be great. Other times, it will be disappointing.

This is the metaphor that's shared with each new cohort of students on their first day of Dev Bootcamp. It ends with the message  that Dev Bootcamp is not a restaurant. It is a kitchen.

In a kitchen, you have the tools, ingredients and guidance you need to make whatever satisfies your hunger. You don’t need to follow a recipe. You can add ingredients that suit your diet. And while your first attempt at a soufflé may not look or taste as good as one you’d find in a fancy restaurant, it will be yours. You will be able to make it on your own and eat it whenever you like.

My first year at the Stanford GSB has been what I imagine a meal at The French Laundry to be like — tough to get a reservation, obscenely expensive, and exciting to name drop to friends and strangers. While it has been an incredible experience, allowing me to meet inspiring people and get exposure to interesting concepts, I can’t shake the feeling that this is not the education I might have designed for myself at the outset.

Throughout my life, I have been guilty of holding one school or another responsible for my education. I've often asked myself: “did I like this class?” when I should have been asking “Am I investing enough into this class to get what I want?”

I’ve grown to understand that instead of trying to adjust my career path to fit a set degree or attempting to gain mastery in a subject based on the curriculum in a syllabus, it’s essential to start with the question: what do I want to learn?

A typical university tries to serve many purposes at the same time; from producing cutting-edge research to providing its students with a brand that signals excellence. While schools do their best to cover a broad range of subjects, there are limits to the customization they can offer. Rather than selecting your career based on your what your school has to offer, start with the end in mind and work backwards. Shape your learning to match your career goals.

Students at Dev Bootcamp spend the majority of their days working in groups on code challenges and on building web apps. During the few hours of lecture time each week, students are allowed to decide for themselves whether a lecture is the best use of their time. If not, they are encouraged to find something to learn or practice that they find more valuable. At Tradecraft, an immersive program that trains people to fill traction roles fast growing startups, students find companies that they admire and perform usability tests on their products. By setting their own educational priorities, students, in these type of immersive programs have been able to accomplish impressive career transitions in the span of a few months.

Each of us is responsible for building the foundation for the life we want to live. Step into the kitchen, roll up your sleeves, and make the meal satisfies your hunger.

There's more where that came from

Every month I publish a newsletter called "The Jungle Gym." It's a collection of ideas and resources for managing your fast-moving career.