I started out this guide by pointing out that it will be the rare person who only works at one or two companies in his or her lifetime. This means that you will have to take some initiative at planning your career. But there are different ways to approach career planning. I suggest that technology, jobs, and the world in general are changing so fast that trying to plan out a 40-50 year career is insane. Let's take an example:
I graduated from Michigan (Go Blue!) in 1974. I went to graduate school and got a PhD in Biology, though I suspect they gave me the degree on the condition that I never actually practice as a biologist.
I left biology and got a job as a computer programmer at a small consulting company in Harvard Sq. There were six partners in the firm and two of us programmers, and they made the mistake of putting us together in the same room. We concluded by the end of the first year that we were as smart as the partners (not true) and quit and started our own company, building a database management system for Unix. Unfortunately, Oracle was a competitor.
In three years, I left that startup and went to a small company outside of Boston doing state of the art artificial intelligence to generate personal financial plans. In 2 or 3 years, Price Waterhouse (before Coopers) acquired our little company, with all the attendant culture shock. I learned all I could about PW and was admitted into the partnership (as a Tax Partner!) when they fired half of our staff and moved the rest to Chicago. There, I worked for the worst boss I have ever had and made plans for my exit.
I was rescued by my long-time friend (and founder of the Boston company) and moved to Palo Alto to run PW's Technology Centre - one of the best jobs I've ever had. In 1998, I was approached by an entrepreneur who convinced me to quit the partnership and join his startup. We started one of the poster children of the 90's dot-com boom and bust. After an IPO in 1999, I moved to London in 2000 and then back to California as the business deteriorated with the crash.
I left in 2001, looked around at the devastation in high tech, and started lecturing at Berkeley Business School on the Business of Biotechnology. I did that for a few years, along with some consulting in organizational design and eventually hooked up with a graduate school friend (from 20 years ago!) to give some workshops on making the transition from being a science graduate to working in industry. Hence the birth of dougsguides.com. I sketched out my career details in this blog entry.
Is this a planned career? No, but it is an opportunistic one. My point is that taking advantage of opportunities (or making opportunities) is just as valid a strategy as plotting out your career. And it provides you with a lot more flexibility. These days it is the only realistic career planning strategy.