Go to the Head of Your Class

Real-world opportunities abound for tech grads.

Dear graduating engineering and computer science majors: Congratulations on having completed your (four-, five- or seven-year college education) work in these exciting fields.

While your friends were out getting degrees in sports marketing, private equity financing and massage therapy, you were in your dorm and at the library nights and weekends. While others studied the great works of literature, you studied the great database works of E.F. Codd, The Short Range Committees creation of COBOL (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COBOL), or the wit and wisdom of Linus Torvalds. Now, youre ready to go out into the world. But, first, a few lessons you might have missed along the way:

Lesson 1: supply and demand. If youre reading this in the United States—and most of you are—the demand for graduates in your fields is greater than the supply. "Why is this? If this is such a great job, why does everyone want to become a lawyer or a sports agent instead of a techie?" you might justifiably ask yourself.

The answer lies in the great crash and the great fear. The great dot-com crash happened while you were still in high school, so forget about that event. The great fear is the one you might hear from your professors who escaped the uncertainties of private industry to embrace teaching.

Basically, it works as follows:

While there might be a shortage of U.S. computer scientists and engineers, that supply deficiency is artificial. If your job can be shipped overseas, it will be. If overseas techies can be brought to the United States by abandoning quotas, they will be. Those graying techies complaining about overseas competition believed they didnt need any government interference in their jobs or a collective voice in dealing with management, and, as a result, many of them are in a very deep hole with no ladder in sight.

Heres my advice for you current graduates regarding Lesson 1: Pay attention to the economics and politics of your profession and figure out a way to gain leverage not just for yourself but also for your peers.

Lesson 2: Your leisure is your future. Your parents and your professors thought you were wasting time with YouTube, Facebook, texting, mashups and GPS social networks. They were wrong. Thanks to all that time you spent thumbing messages and sending photos and videos around the Web, you know much more about what companies need to understand technologywise than the companies themselves do.

Youll walk into the office of your new employer with a better comprehension of what the company needs than all those suits running around on the top floor. In fact, most of those suits are spending their time and the companys money trying to buy their way into businesses about which they dont have a clue. Dont be afraid to clue in the clueless and, failing that, dont be afraid to start up your own business based on what you know and they dont.

Lesson 3: Innovation versus the cubicle. Theres probably no word that large bureaucratic companies like to bandy about more than "innovation." Youll hear innovation championed by the company president, highlighted in companywide memos and held up as the gold standard of corporate aspiration.

Alas, you soon learn that, in the cubicle culture, innovations high goals can be recast by micro managers as tiny improvements in current product lines, as the creation of obstacles designed to trip up competing products or as patentable concepts meant only to cast a legal chill over the economic landscape.

But innovation doesnt have to live only within the confines of corporate edicts. Theres a great need right now for innovation in green computing, security and distributed learning. Understand the difference between innovation in a straitjacket and intelligent invention.

Thats it. Have a nice career.


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