By:  Eliza Brockwell
September 14th, 2018

8 successful people share their biggest career fails

We’ve all failed.

All of us to ourselves.

… But it’s easy to look at someone who’s living your dream career and imagine that it was nothing but smooth sailing for them.

We decided to test the theory, and asked 8 STEM professionals about their biggest fails.

Whether they failed at uni, stuffed up in a job, or took a wrong turn on their career path, the common denominator is that everyone had a story to tell.

What’s even better? They’ve shared the valuable lessons they learned along the way.


Q: What’s a big fail you’ve had in your career journey?

artificial intelligence

A: “I fail all the time! But my mom always told me that I should be most proud when I fail and get back up. I’ve auditioned for ballet companies 25 times in a year and been rejected 24 times – which most people would call a fail. I viewed it as training to improve faster.”

Merritt Moore, physicist and professional ballerina
nicky ringland computer science

A: “In one case, I was worried about how long an experiment was taking. I did some more digging, analysed the algorithm I was using, and how big the data was. I realised that the program would take another 1000 years to finish. Not ideal!

“I stopped it, had a think about how to work through the data better, and changed the way the code worked. Ran it again, and it finished in a few hours. *Phew!*”

Nicky Ringland, CS specialist at Grok Learning

A: “My grades have taken a bit of a hit since I took on more extracurricular responsibilities (i.e. being on two committees). I need to work on managing my time and ensuring that my studies don’t slip in my priority list.”

Aleisha Amohia, student at Victoria University of Wellington
Aleisha Amohia, junior developer

A: “Probably being too reliant on other people. If you really want something you need to put in the hard work and just make it happen, no excuses.”

Dean Foley, entrepreneur and founder of Barayamal

A: “At some point in my university degree, I realised that if I could take five units instead of the standard full-time four units for two semesters, then I could finish my degree six months earlier.

“It turned out to be one of the worst ideas that I have ever attempted. I chose five difficult units and struggled with the contact hours and homework hours. It taught me a lot about prioritising work and organisation. Although I ended up getting good grades, I only took three units the next semester to recover and it didn’t save me any time.”

Megan Dyke, business analyst at Deloitte

A: “Not focusing enough on my technology skills has probably been my biggest oversight. My current role has, over time, required more programming skills and those are skills which I let lapse. As a result, it’s been a steep learning curve regaining those skills.”

Christopher Wong, financial analyst at RBA

A: “”Build it and they will come.” Such a false statement! We learnt that the hard way. We built a product but then didn’t have the time to commit to the project and it ended up failing when the users interacted with it.

“If you are planning on building something in tech, you need to build a community first and then hard launch when the time is right.”

Bryce Eldredge, co-founder of The Rural Network
Coding opens doors - list of jobs

A: “I worked for a short time as technical support for a company that made a huge Windows CE phone before smartphones. Nobody ever called.”

Claire d’Este, software engineer
Eliza Brockwell

Author: Eliza Brockwell

Eliza is the Digital Producer for Careers with STEM. Eliza is passionate about creating content that encourages diversity of representation in STEM.

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