One of the big personal struggles I am trying to overcome right now is determining what I actually want to explore once I graduate college. In high school for me the process was straightforward. Perform well so you can get into a good college. Now that I am at a good college I have to actually learn to make up my mind and start following what makes me feel fulfilled. This has proven more difficult then I thought it would be.
Part of the problem is that there are so many different options out there for every single field. Sure, I can say I am interested in computer science or psychology but what does that actually mean as a career? What if I start walking down the wrong path or miss a better option? What do I do now to guarantee I am happy in 30 years?
My main take-away from TechTrek is to relax. These things have a peculiar way of working out in the end.
At nearly every company we visited, the person presenting to us would start by providing an overview of who they were and how they ended up at the company. Mike Perry, who now works at Twitter, made it a point to mention that it was only after his second time applying that he actually got accepted to work at Twitter. We met with someone from Apple who worked for the company, then left, then returned later realizing how much he enjoyed working there. Each person we met with had their own path that eventually allowed them to present in front of us. The common thread that tied them all together was that none of the paths were straightforward.
As a sophomore in college this is a very nice thing to hear. Mind you, the notion that very few people follow a straight path to success is not something I had never heard before. I have, however, never heard it from so many successful people—many of whom were on TechTrek only a couple years ago—over and over again in such a short span of time and in so many different contexts. It really was a comfort.
The Personal Brand
Of course, just because it will probably work out does not mean I have permission to slack off. In fact, on this trip I learned that quite the opposite is true. Another common theme that tied many of the talks together is the reliance upon a network of people in order to get their foot in the door. This of course means actually networking, the terrifying process of talking to tenuously connected strangers in the hopes of building a relationship that could eventually transform into a job offer or, more likely, an introduction to another even more tenuously connected stranger. Networking is not my strong suite but thanks to TechTrek (and especially the Tech Counsel Event) I have developed the skills necessary to overcome the initial anxieties and get the ball rolling.
At Oracle we met with Dave Donatelli, an executive vice president of the company’s Cloud Business Group. Among other things, he said that “regardless of what your work is, you have to learn to speak.” There are very few lines of work in which ability to communicate well does not translate into the possibility of future benefits. If I cannot speak coherently, if I cannot present my personal brand in an appealing light, then I have a very slim chance of succeeding professionally. While technical skills are important for someone such as myself looking to get into the tech industry, it is the interpersonal and networking skills that provide the biggest leg up in landing a job and guaranteeing a sense of career satisfaction over time.
The BC Network
Thankfully, in addition to seeing a bunch of incredible companies, I had the opportunity to witness the Boston College alumni network firsthand. Since I started at the school last year I would hear reference to (and made jokes about) the BC network. I was unaware of just how insanely strong it actually is. People would literally be talking about how cold emails with Boston College graduates landed them jobs in Silicon Valley. So many alums took time out of their day to present to us students just because we shared a common school. I think the power of the BC network is most exemplified in Peter Bell, a general partner at Amity Ventures. In our first night in San Francisco Peter Bell shared with us the fact that he wanted to have a different piece of BC clothing to wear every day of the week because he loves the school so much. This man is an immensely successful businessperson willing to help out BC students just because they share a common school and he believes so much in the mission that BC stands for. It is nice to know that I have a good network to tap into after college.
This trip was an absolutely incredible experience . I had the chance to make new friends, become one step closer in discerning my career path, and start making connections that can help me throughout my professional life. Everything I hoped to accomplish taking this course has been done.