I work at 80,000 Hours but this is not an 80,000 Hours thing – this is just an idea I wrote up because I had it and thought it was kind of cool.
Epistemic status: half baked.
Being and staying prepared to switch jobs/careers if an excellent impact opportunity arises is very hard, but high expected value for many people.
Someone set up a "pivot pledge" to provide accountability, support, and encouragement to people who want to be prepared to switch careers in this way.
More on the problem:
In "Jobs to help with the most important century", Holden Karnofsky wrote that if you aren't up for making a career change right now, one thing you can do is to keep your options open and be ready to jump at the right opportunity. He says:
> It’s hard to predict what skills will be useful as AI advances further and new issues come up.
> Being ready to switch careers when a big opportunity comes up could be hugely valuable - and hard. (Most people would have a lot of trouble doing this late in their career, no matter how important!)
He reiterated this idea recently on the 80,000 Hours Podcast:
> It might be worth emphasising that the ability to switch careers is going to get harder and harder as you get further and further into your career. So in some ways, if you’re a person who’s being successful, but is also making sure that you’ve got the financial resources, the social resources, the psychological resources, so that you really feel confident that as soon as a good opportunity comes up to do a lot of good, you’re going to actually switch jobs, or have a lot of time to serve on a board or whatever — it just seems incredibly valuable.
> I think it’s weird because this is not a measurable thing, and it’s not a thing you can, like, brag about when you go to an effective altruism meetup. And I just wish there was a way to kind of recognise that the person who is successfully able to walk away, when they need to, from a successful career has, in my mind, more expected impact than the person who’s in the high-impact career right now, but is not killing it.
I'd add a few things here:
1. It doesn't seem like you need to prioritize AI to think that this would be good for many people to do. Though this does seem especially important if you have a view of the world in which "things are going to go crazy at some point", because that makes longer-term high impact career planning harder, and you are more likely to think that l if you think AI risk is high, longer-term career planning is always hard and even if you think other problems are much more pressing you could still think that some opportunities will be much higher impact than others and will be hard to predict.
2. Many people have pointed out that we could use more experienced hands on many top problem areas. This is one way to help make that happen.
3. I think going into some mechanisms that account for why it's hard to switch careers later in your career could be useful:
- I think it's hard for more senior people to take an actual or perceived step down in level of responsibility, prestige, or compensation, because it feels like 'going backward.' But when you switch your career, you often need to take a step 'down' on some hierarchy and build back up.
- Relatedly. people *really* don't want to have 'wasted time' so they are always very keen to be applying previous experience. Switching careers usually involves letting some of your previous experience 'go to waste'. We see this a lot at 80,000 Hours even in people in their 20s!
- Stability in location and kind of work, as well as financial resources, get more valuable when people have children, or when they are supporting aging parents, both of which are more likely for people mid-career.
- Social support – as Holden writes, it seems hard to brag about being ready to jump, since you won't have actually *done* anything.
- Finally, it's hard to stay up to date! And switching careers when a high impact opportunity comes up requires noticing when it does and having confidence that it's actually a great opportunity. But if you're killing it as a senior infosec person in some industry you probably spend a lot of time doing great at that (not to mention being a mom of two teenagers or whatever) – are you reading the EA forum? Are you listening to the 80,000 Hours podcast, or reading the job board newsletter? There's too many developments to keep track of even for me, a childless full time professional EA, so yeah, I'm guessing no.
More on the proposal:
The basic structure could be:
- A pledge that you will, for the rest of your career,
- Put some minimal effort into tracking what issues are most pressing and what opportunities there are to work on them
- Maybe also commit to spending 1-2 days per year chatting to people about other work you could do // looking at a job board etc.?
- Seriously consider changing careers if something very promising comes up.
- A community of fellow pledgers, who can
- Send each other and discuss opportunities
- Help each other decide whether something is promising enough to jump
- Support each other and help validate choices if someone does decide to 'jump' – providing advice and encouragement in the face of the psycho-social challenges above.
- Provide a sense of community and valuing each others' commitments, as well as maybe be a source of friendship among people who share your values and are fellow badasses.
- A website or newsletter that would aim to keep pledgers up to date on job opportunities and developments in what issues are most pressing, to make keeping informed easier.
- A vibe.
It might also just help spread the meme that this is a good thing for people to be willing to do, making it generally more likely to happen even outside pledgers.
- Amorphous. Unclear what you need to do exactly.
- Though this would add any morph to intentions that are otherwise/currently maximally amorphous.
- Too cheap to take the pledge bc you won't necessarily have to do anything particularly costly?
- Is this bad?
- Maybe makes people less employable, if their employers knew they might switch if something sufficiently great came up?
- I think this is something employers expect anyway of high performers though.
I'd be happy to chat with anyone interested in making this happen though.