Letter to Information technology graduates

Dear Students,

Soon many of you will be graduating with a degree in Information Technology (i.e., Computer Science, Software Engineering or Information System Management) you probably already see that there are many opportunities waiting for you. No matter where you live, you are among few graduates who have career that allows you to make a good living.

To some of you, graduate and have a good job mean the end of learning. Do not make that mistake! Your student life may end but your working life is just begun so learning must continue. When you go to work, there are many things you need to learn. Do not think your managers will tell you what to do and all you have to do is just follow the instructions. You are not assembly line workers but technical workers and technical jobs are more challenging with more than one way to do it. Your managers believe that since you graduate from college, you must know how to do your job with minimum instructions. They will assign you to a project even you may not fully understand what to do. That is why your relationship with team members is important. Your success depends on how fast can you learn and how well can you work with team members to complete the works. My advice is to find an experienced member who is willing to help you to understand the works. By using your teamwork skills to work with others, and your technical skills to do your work, you will go further in advance your career.

The first thing you learn when working is your technical skills only help you to keep your job but to advance in your career you need soft skills. Many graduates believe that the more technical knowledge they have or how well they can code, they will do well. That is a mistake! The difference between a good technical person and an average technical person is how well they can communicate with others. By explain your ideas clearly and write good comments you let others to understand your works. By writing good technical documentation you help managers, many who are not technical people, know what you have done. By clearly explain your ideas in meetings, you can impress others and get attention of managers that you are person with the potential to move up. Another important thing while working is that company put the most important factor to workers who can complete projects from start to finish. Managers like to promote workers they know can implement the whole project than someone who can do only part of it. You must learn fast about every phase of a technical project rather than just coding or testing as the knowledge of the entire project life cycle is the key for your future success.

The most common mistake among graduates when working is not keeping their technical skills up to date. Today technology changes fast, even you already have job, you still need to learn new things. Please remember that learning is a lifetime activities. The longer you work the more skills you should have because learning must continue. You should take time to learn new skills. You should read more technical books, follow technical articles or websites to track technology as it changes. Your job is NOT secured as you think if you do not keep your skills up to date. Some graduates believe that since they graduate, have degree and job, they do not need to learn anymore. That is a big mistake! Without learning new skills, your career may be short. Company always discards workers when there is no need for their skills. My advice: Never stop learning.”

Beside technical knowledge, I often advise graduates to learn about business and economics to broaden their view. Students often asked me: “Why should Information Technology people need to know about business or economics?” Today we are living in a globally connected world where everything is impacting others. Technology workers who also understands the business is more valuable to a company than pure technical workers. When you work, you are a knowledgeable person. You should be able to talk, to share ideas, to recommend, to discuss with others, some are managers or customers. You should be able to understand their views, which may not be technical. You must be able to know business basics to know how everything in the company works. Economics knowledge will help you to look at the “big picture” of how businesses operate and why certain things happen as they are. By knowing the supply and demand, by knowing competition, by knowing about globalization and the impact of technology, you will broaden your knowledge and know which skills that you need to acquire to further your career.

As a young person, you should try to learn new things do new things, and try different jobs in different companies. Your goal should be to learn what types of jobs you would like to be doing for the next 20 to 50 years of your life. Trying different jobs is an excellent way to learn new things and advance you career to the maximum. However while you are advancing, you may avoid to get into management positions in the first few years of your career. It is easy to become a manager if you do well. The technical field always needs more workers; and more workers mean they also need more managers. But this is a dangerous path. It is very difficult to stay technically competent as a manager. If you move to management in a very short time, you will lose your technical skills and after few years, you will not have current technical skills. As technology changes fast, new workers will not respect you if you do not have current skills then you will become a weak manager. Companies always need technical workers with the most up to date skills to build new products but not weak managers who cannot do much, especially if they do not get respected by workers. And without current technical skills, it will be difficult to find new job in other companies. My advice: Continue to build your technical skills and only move up to management position after you have a lot of experiences that means you should work at least five to seven years before even consider to get into management position.

Every year you will get a job review and a pay raise. In good companies, the amount of your pay raise is relating to the quality of your job review. Therefore you should be prepared by list all the things that you did during the year and evaluate yourself on how well you did them. Then discuss that list with your manager for his opinion BEFORE your manager prepares the review. Most managers are busy; they often do not remember your accomplishments and many often give everybody the same raises to keep everybody happy. But it is your job to remind your manager about what you did so they may consider you differently and in the end you may get what you deserve.

As a knowledge worker, your job is not only contributed to your company but also to your family, to your society and to your country. That means you must take your responsibilities seriously. Everything you do, you must think about the consequences. You must be conscious about quality of your work as it reflects on you and your company. You must be conscious about being honesty and have high integrity as it reflects on you, your family and your society. Every person can make a difference to the society if they are conscious about their responsibilities. You do not have to do something big or heroic to make a difference. A small act of kindness, a small generosity or volunteering can help change someone's live. By being a productive member of the society, you will be contributing to your country in a positive way.

Sources

  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University