A letter from San Jose

Dear Professor,

I graduated three years ago and currently working for a large software company in San Jose. Since you asked me to share my working experiences with current students so here is my very short experience in the software industry. I would like to start by saying that being a software developer is much more than just having technical skills, you also need to learn about building relationship with your co-workers too.

One of the important lessons that I learned during my short career is to be friendly to the people around me. San Jose is a city full of software companies but I found that most software developers go to work, put all their time in front of computers then got home. They rarely talked to anyone but seemed to enjoy their works in the “Virtual world”. Of course, software development is not easy, it requires a lot of concentration but it does not mean you have to forget about the “real world”. It was a big mistake not to know about people around you.

I had to admit that I am short and look much younger than other developers. Most people would think that I was a high school students, not a college graduate. In school I was often ridiculed as “The Dwarf” by other students so at work, I wanted to be accepted by the people in the company and not to be seen as the “The Dwarf”. I spend time talking to people around the office, asking about their lives and families, and making conversation with everyone I met, including people who clean offices and guard the company gate. Somehow, word got around that I worked hard and I was a nice person.

I did not realize the effects until two years later, when the company evaluated software developers to find someone who had potential to become project managers. I knew that many developers had the same qualifications, same skills, or maybe better but somehow I was chosen. Later I found that when the company owner asked people in the office, most said that I was the best candidate and had demonstrated “leadership” quality.

The first project was difficult for me. I have read many books about project management, I did well at CMU on the project management class but still there were things that I did not know. On new software project, everything seems out of control until you really know how to manage it. It is easy to say planning and managing until you have to do it and this is where many people failed. Planning requires establish project scope, project vision, project charter, work breakdown structure, and estimates. There are a lot more that can overwhelm a new person like me so I had to ask for help and to my surprise so many people were willing to help me. Many spent hours to help me estimate the budget, schedule and efforts. People from other building came to offer advices and make sure that everything was working well for me. I felt like someone had told them to take good care of me. And suddenly I realized that “someone” was me.

When I spent time in building relationship with them I was unconsciously making them see me as someone they could talk to; someone who cared about them; someone who are their friends. This meant that when I needed help, they took their time to understand my problems and did everything to help me, even if they had to stop what they were doing. This is the power of personal relationship. My first project succeed, not because of me but because everyone who came to help me. One success led to another and my reputation went around the company that I was a very good software project manager. Suddenly several developers came and wanted to work for me. They had worked on failed project before so they needed something better. Nobody looked at me as “The Dwarf' but a successful project manager.

My second and third project did very well then suddenly come a big project from one of the most important customer. The owner gave it to me instead of other more experienced managers. This project required sixty software developers, twenty testers and several support people. I was scared because compare with previous projects of five to ten people, this was a big change. To my surprise, many experienced people came to my support. They provided all the things that I need and guided me throughout the project. The first release went without any issue and now I am working on the next.

In conclusion, I do not know what to say beside suggesting that you invest in building relationships with other people, especially in those in places that you would normally not even pay attention. You do not have to wait until you graduate to do that. Please look around you, look at all people that you meet at school, in the street, the person that sell foods in front of the school, the person that clean your bathroom, sweep the floor of your classroom. Be nice to them, talk to them, be their friends then you will receive the most precious gift that you ever receive: “Their friendship”. If nothing else you will learn to empathize with them so you can one day feel good about stopping everything you do to help them out. We are people first, software developer second and we are living in the real world, not the virtual world. Make it a happy world.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University
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