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Advice for students looking to get a job in the tech industry

April 8, 2010 1 comment

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Scott Kirsner posted 5 great tips earlier today to students and recent grads looking to work in tech. Inspired by his post, I decided to add my 2 cents here.

First of all, where am I coming from? I graduated from Brandeis last year in computer science, and am currently working on a startup I co-founded, WaySavvy. While at Brandeis, I went through an internship at IBM,  and worked for a year developing epidemiology modeling software at Brigham and Women’s hospital. I was later admitted to IBM’s Extreme Blue program and offered a job at a local software company, but turned both down to work on WaySavvy. I don’t have decades of experience and thousands of resumes behind my belt, but I know what it’s like to enter the fray first-hand. Hopefully, I can offer some insight to people who are one or two years behind me in the process.

So, without further self-aggrandizing/deprecation, here goes.

1. Start networking TODAY.

Literally, right now, go to a site like Greenhorn Connect, pick out some free events this week, and go. If you’re in Boston, great startup-themed events happen here all the time: WebInno, MassInno, Tech Tuesdays and PokinHoles are some of the must-sees, among lots of others. Networking carries value pretty much at any stage of your career. If you’re not sure what you want to do, you’ll glean ideas from conversations with people. If you are, you’ll get valuable feedback and connections. There are lots of resources out there on  effective networking techniques, but ultimately everyone has their own style so the best way to learn is to do it a lot.

Besides third-party events, don’t forget to browse your alumni network (I do it on LinkedIn). Most alums like helping out recent grads, as long you’re respectful and not pushing an agenda. Ask them for advice, and if they can help you get your resume in somewhere, they will.

Also, make friends in your school’s computer science department if you can. These exist even in humanities-focused liberal arts schools and most likely people there have ideas and resources to help you. Computer science professors often serve as advisers to startups or even larger companies, and many are generous about making introductions.

2. Find a problem you would like to solve.

This advice is given to startups a lot, but I think it’s just as true when you’re looking for a job. When you’re passionate about something it will show. Skills are important, but if you show passion and talent, skills become secondary. Few things are more attractive to a recruiter (I think), than a candidate who is eager to change the world and wants to do it from their company. How do you show such aspirations? Find something that bugs you such as a product, a process, a market gap, and start trying to make it better TODAY. Start blogging about it, tweeting about it, telling you facebook friends about it. Then, being hired by a company that has a similar goal is very natural – you are already doing what they need you to do, they will simply enable you to be more effective at it.

3. Get a campus job/research position in the tech field.

Most people think of summer internships as the best time to get hands-on experience, but the school year is your best time to get an edge. Talk to professors and administrators, and find an assistantship (event if its unpaid) where you can get exposed to the field that interests you. Working at an academic lab as an undergrad doesn’t mean you have to get a Ph.D. It’s a way to learn the challenges of a field and learn new skills. You don’t have to be an engineering major to work in a technical lab – psychology, economics, sociology and anthropology all have cross-pollintation potential with math and computer science. Talk to your academic advisers, keep an open mind, and they will help you set something up.

Not only will you gain professional experience, but you’ll pick up presentation, communication and teamworking skills that every manager wants to see. In the end, you’ll make yourself more competitive for those lucrative summer internships and might even pick up some course credits.

4. Polish your online image.

Techies Google things, and when we find out you want to work with us, we will Google you. When we do, your ultra-polished resume will have no effect if your linkedin profile hasn’t been updated in 3 years. To prevent that from happening, make sure you’re on top of your social media game – update your linked in profile, make your embarrassing Facebook pictures private. You don’t HAVE TO blog and tweet, but if you do, make sure you have filled out the “about me” pages.

5. Consider entrepreneurship

There is no better time to start a company (in my brief experience), than out of college. You don’t have to worry about living expenses, family, or even failure! That’s right – if you start a company the summer before your senior year and it fails by the end of the following summer, guess what – you still win! You will have learned a tremendous amount, demonstrated initiative, and took a shot at changing the world – I doubt there is an employer who doesn’t find that attractive. You can go back to a traditional job search and when you’re ready again, take another crack at fame and fortune with all the experience you’ve gained. There’s tons (really, tons if you print it out) of information out there on how to launch a company, but the basic idea is the same – solve a problem, network, build an image. To get inspired, read blogs by Dharmesh Shah, Scott Kirsner, Larry Cheng, Brad Feld, Dave McClure, VentureHacks, Guy Kawasaki, and others.

These are the top five things that come to my mind- what are yours?