A CEO who's done everything from weigh seals in Antarctica to found a software startup gives his best advice for 20-somethings

Courtesy of Ray Grainger.Ray Grainger, CEO and founder of Mavenlink.

Ray Grainger’s first adult job was as an 18-year-old field assistant in Antarctica.

“Anything involving lifting something heavy, with some element of danger, anything really cold — I got those jobs,” he told Business Insider.

But it wasn’t all manual labour in the ice; he was also able to help research studies weighing seal pups and counting penguin chicks as they hatched. He helped establish the infrastructure for those who followed by building an emergency camp and a solar lab — “all kinds of things to support scientific experiments.”

He ended up doing two six-month stints in the ice, and when he returned, he got a college engineering degree and headed off to work as a consultant at Accenture, before founding project management software company Mavenlink, where he currently serves as CEO.

Digging in the ice, consulting, and founding a tech startup might seem only distantly related, but Grainger says his best advice for young people at the start of their careers is to seek varied experiences before choosing a path.

“When I came out of college, I felt I had a really good education,” he said. “I was great at maths and problem solving, but I didn’t know where I wanted to apply it.” By taking a job in consulting, he was able to “test out” various clients and industries, to figure out what appealed to him, and what he was good at.

“A lot of folks come out of college and they don’t know what they want to do,” he said. “Find someplace where you can quickly have enough variety in the roles you participate in — the clients or jobs or the type of company. Ideally, it’s with one company. Early on in your career, find out what you’re good at, what appeals to you, and what you can build a career around as early as possible.”

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