Dave's Notebook

Effective Hacks to Enhance IT Careers of College Students

I just got back from sending my last child off to college. OK. Now that you all have some vague idea of how old I am…

The weekend had all kinds of events that would make for good blog post.

  • Quality Matters – and is relatively cheap.
  • Advice to Freshman – and young professionals.
  • Be consistent with yourself – and learn to say no.

Since I think I can hit the other two by focusing on the second, we are going to go after ‘Advice to Freshman’.

The advice I am going to provide here is going to be both general in nature and specific to the IT crowd. It is what I would tell a young IT person if I were coaching or giving a speech.


Get a Job – Any Job

I don’t care if your family is independently wealthy or not. Get a job. Any job. The research has shown that kids that have jobs do better in college than those who don’t. The ‘Any Job’ part if aimed at those of you who are WAY too picky about what you will or will not do. Moral qualms aside, you should be glad to be able to do just about anything. Wash dishes, take out trash, mow the lawn, or work in sales (yes, even if you aren’t a people person). The fact of the matter is, you need a job to get a job. So unless you’ve already had a job, you just need something. Once you have that job, you can start looking for the next job in about four months. Bootstrap yourself into the job you want. Start out with the job you can get.

Establish Relationships

I know, this is going to be hard for some of you. It was hard for me. But relationships are what is going to get you jobs in the future. Your degree will only help you get your first job. From there on out it will be who knows you, what you are known for, and what you’ve done. Take the long view and build relationships that will last past college.

Be Picky

While you need to build relationships, you need to be careful who you build those relationships with. Who do you want to be like? You are the average of the 5 people you hang with the most. So while you need to establish relationships, you need to be careful who you build those relationships with.

Get On LinkedIn

I’ve written about how to use LinkedIn before. LinkedIn is the key part of my “be everywhere” strategy. The more people you know in your industry and your location, the easier it will be to find a job. My experience has been that the more people I am connected to on LinkedIn, the more likely I am to have the work find me.

Be Consistent with Yourself

By this I mean, don’t go wild just because you can. When you graduate and you want to find a job. Who do you want to be known as? Don’t be afraid to stand out. In fact, the more you stand out (in good ways) the better your future will be. No one should have to ask, ‘Why should I hire you over anyone else your age?’

Quality Matters

We went into a couple “Nice” restaurants this past weekend. It was interesting that the one where I paid 20% – 30% more was probably twice as nice. Quality doesn’t have to cost a whole lot.

If you have an assignment that is due, make it easy for your instructor to read. Pretend you are going to publish your work for the world to read and that they are going to pay a lot of money for it. Trust me, this will be reflected in your grade.

Learn How to Use Version Control

I heard this morning that schools aren’t teaching students how to use version control. If you are working on a group project, get a version control system and learn how to use it. You’ll thank me later.

If you are working on your own project, use version control. The easiest way to get setup is to sign up for Visual Studio Online (which is a total misnomer). Visual Studio Online is really TFS online. Set it up to use GIT for the backing storage instead of TFVS.

Here is how this is going to help you. At some point, you will be working on a project and you’ll realize that you’ve made a mistake and you need to get back to where you were two hours ago. The problem is, to get back to where you were manually, it will take you at least two hours. More likely it will take you four hours. With version control, you can revert to where you were (assuming that you’ve been committing all alone the way).

Learn How to Learn

I’m sorry, most of what you are going to learn in the next four years will be worthless by the time you graduate if it isn’t already. But colleges have to teach something. Many are at least teaching Java or C#, which is a good start. But assuming those languages are still what companies want four years from now, they will look significantly different from what they do today.

So, while it may be helpful to understand the syntax, and to be able to explain polymorphism, or to write some cool code. What is really going to help you in the long term is the ability to pick up new stuff as it comes out.

Start a Blog

Nothing teaches like teaching. Start a blog and share what you are learning with the world. It will help you crystalize your thinking as you go.

Never Pull an All-Nighter

Yeah, I know it is cool to say you pulled an all-nighter. But if you don’t know the material by the night before the test, you aren’t going to learn it any better in the time you should be sleeping. In fact, staying up to learn material you should already know may actually make it less likely that you will remember the material the next day than if you had slept.

Good luck as you navigate your way through life.