This is part of our series of profiles of people who changed their career in a major way in order to have more impact because of their exposure to 80,000 Hours.
I recently spoke to Trevor Shorb about how his career plans changed as a result of 80,000 Hours. After finishing university, Trevor worked in the Peace Corps in El Salvador and planned to work for an NGO in the developing world. But after reading our advice, he decided to gain skills in the private sector first, in order to have a bigger impact in the long run. Today Trevor does business development for an international education company in emerging markets in Latin America. He plans to start a non-profit or for-profit in the developing world in the future.
How and why did he make this transition? Read our interview with him to find out.
How did you find out about 80,000 Hours and effective altruism, and what were you planning on doing with your career before that?
I first became interested in effective altruism when I read “The Life You Can Save” around the time I graduated college and had committed to serve in the Peace Corps.
Before that I had undergone a fundamental change in perspective. Recruited to college to play lacrosse, I was fully dedicated to the pursuit of being the best and leading the team. A case of chronic Lyme disease led to multiple operations and much time spent in doctor’s offices. After years of treatment and physical therapy, my sports career came to an end around the time I encountered the practice of mindfulness. I entered a serious exploration phase, dropped out of school, and experimented with different internships in a financial advisory firm, and a small start-up, as well as coaching lacrosse and leading international trips for teenagers.
During this time I saved money for a trip to Southeast Asia, where I intended to search for myself. I arrived with no plans other than the intention to be present. While wandering around, I realized how unfulfilling the endeavor was — I realized that I wanted not to move through cultures and take, but to plant myself and to give. I returned to school, immersed myself in my studies, finished my degree in political science while diving into philosophy and psychology classes, and committed to serve in the Peace Corps.
Before leaving for the Peace Corps though, I read “The Life You Can Save,” recommended by my brother and sister, and it immediately resonated with me. I took an advocacy internship with Oxfam America, largely because Peter Singer spoke so highly of the organization. I supported an effort to lobby for food aid reform. While I saw this as a worthy cause, the feeling at the end of the project was confusing. Our intentions were good, we lobbied hard, but it was difficult to tell whether anything changed in the end. My colleagues at Oxfam took a different view, and said the odds would certainly be lower if no one had done anything at all. But how much lower, I thought?
I left for the Peace Corps, determined to make a direct impact I could more easily measure. I constantly thought to myself, how can I maximize my impact here? I enjoyed the feeling of connecting with people directly, sharing cultures, and impacting many kids’ lives. I focused on providing more programming to youth in the community that would empower them to lead the community and the country in the future. I enjoyed the challenge of working without much money at my disposal, focusing on training people and coming up with creative solutions to problems, using little to no budget.
But the whole time I was there, I knew I could be doing more, according to the ideas of effective altruism. And people asked me for things I couldn’t provide at the scale they needed: jobs. I did not think hard about what I was going to do next. Knowing I was committed to El Salvador for two years, I decided to dedicate myself to my work and with time, plan the next steps. My general idea was to work at an NGO in Latin America next.
Then, Peace Corps suspended its program in El Salvador due to violence in the country and I got evacuated back home to Massachusetts two weeks later. I embarked on a full-time job search, taking little time to relax and reflect, but I was in working mode and was determined to continue making an impact. I began looking into NGOs in Latin America or other effective institutions like Oxfam where I could work in monitoring and evaluation or learn how to make an impact.
What were the steps that got you from your original plan to your current plan? What were some of the things you learned that were most important to your decision?
This is where 80,000 Hours came in handy. In a time when I wasn’t sure in which direction to head, 80,000 Hours provided structure and guidance. I had known of it from my brother, but never had enough internet signal or time in El Salvador to really investigate the site. Given my liberal arts college humanities degree, Peace Corps, and a majority of my work experience being leading youth, I was intimidated by many of 80,000 Hours suggestions. Software engineering, management consulting, data science and Economics PhDs — many of the paths are quantitative-heavy, which I felt I lacked.
But what helped me make my final decision was the article What do leaders of effective non-profits say about working in non-profits?. Four of the five recommended experiences in the private sector. I decided to pursue an entry-level position in the private sector where I would receive training and gain sales and marketing experience. This felt more accessible than more quantitative positions.
What are you doing now?
I now work at an international education company, responsible for business development in emerging country markets in Latin America. I have a lot of responsibility and will be gaining skills in sales and marketing in the developing world. I sell language immersion programs to the elite who can afford it, but I am developing valuable contacts with whom I may work in the future. I am conducting market research, designing promotional materials, managing travel agencies on the ground and also selling directly to customers in Latin America. I am also gaining entrepreneurial experience with the support and resources of an established, international corporation. I have colleagues from around the world, travel for work throughout Latin America, and speak Spanish everyday. I see opportunities to create and experiment with strategy and different aspects of developing a business. I hope this prepares me to start an NGO or business in the developing world in the future.
I didn’t expect that I would be in a corporate office in the Boston area, helping build a company and maximize profits. I imagined I would be working for a growing NGO in a Latin American city. With the help of 80,000 Hours, effective altruism literature, and Cal Newport’s “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”, I believe that in order to increase my impact and opportunities I can develop my skills more efficiently in the private sector and have a bigger impact in the long run.
What are your plans going forward?
I still am concerned about the fact that my background and experience continues to be in “softer” skills and I continue to be intimidated by my lack of enthusiasm for data science, finance, and the “harder” skills. But I hope to dive in anyway.
My plan is to gain more work experience, get an MBA at a top program, work as a management consultant, and go on to work in start-ups that are doing good and providing jobs in the developing world. Jobs, more than anything, were what the farmers in my village told me in my house-to-house surveys I conducted as Peace Corps Volunteer that they needed when I asked them, “What do you need?”
Do you think Trevor made the right call to change his career like this? How might he do even better? Let us know what you think in the comments.