To You in the Cap and Gown

By    July 9, 2014

At commencements all over the world, graduates are hearing inspirational life advice from distinguished speakers, but little about how to successfully enter the workforce. Perhaps these nuggets are less grandiose, but they are vital to getting off on the right foot professionally. 

As I look back on the years between the day I graduated and today, I’ve been lucky to take what I’d learned and build my career upon three calls to action:

1. Do what you are passionate about

2. Work for mentors, not money

3. Hone your emotional quotient

The first point should be obvious, but the degree to which it is consistently heeded is surprisingly low. Ask yourself how you want to make a difference and where you want to be in five years, and set out on that path now.

I was in the lucky class of graduates who started their careers in the nascent days of the tech industry. Microprocessors were just invented. We were able to ride the creation of a new industry. Today, the opportunities lie in the wireless industry and enabling ubiquitous connectivity. It’s a phenomenal field to be in, and in the next many decades, connecting the Internet of Things will be a killer app. If I were just starting today, I would also look at cloud computing and furthering low-cost wireless infrastructure, or green energy technology.

Entering the industry that interests you is the first step. Within that segment, be on the lookout for who a good mentor might be in the interview process or through networking. Find the people who will challenge you to jump to program management when you’ve been a coder, layer on another level of complexity just as you’ve made a breakthrough and give magnanimously of their time. These people may not be the highest bidders or work for the company you’ve had your sights on all throughout university. They will accelerate your learning and give you the ability to handle complexity.

As a leader, however, handling complexity encompasses not only having a strong understanding of how all parts fit together – hardware, software, systems integration – but also how people and teams work together in a diverse, global setting. A few years into my career, I participated in a network standards workshop with tinkerers from different countries, and had the opportunity to travel to customer sites around the world. This gave me a global perspective early on, something that has really stayed with me throughout my career. The ability to interact and communicate well with diverse audiences is crucial, differentiating between those with just technical skills and those who can create revenue-driving products fulfilling emerging customer needs. 

To you in the cap and gown, you should feel very accomplished as you enter the workforce. By heeding the above or putting your own spin on it, there’s no doubt that your generation’s innovations will surpass the achievements of the last.