May 7, 2018

Local Tech Leaders Offer Advice for New Grads

Ashley Fletcher Frampton  /  Charleston Digital News

These standouts in the Charleston technology community have shared their personal stories and leadership insights over the past year, including advice for new graduates looking to join the tech industry. The Charleston Digital Corridor has recapped their tips for the Class of 2018.

Just build something

It's so nice these days that you can just build something. You can create an app. It doesn't have to be the product that's going to change the world on your first try. But building anything will help you learn a lot. You learn more in that than just reading about it in a book. You'll develop the types of skills that you would need in the tech industry: researching technologies, putting it together, seeing how a customer would interact with it.

Brian Hutchins, CEO of Waitlist Me

Specialize

Specialize in certain types of software, certain platforms, certain languages. I think the problem is universities and colleges are creating a lot of generalists, which is great because you teach a broad range of skills. But most good agencies or tech firms are specialized in certain markets or industries or certain software or languages or methodologies. You are going to be more attractive to successful agencies and tech firms if you are specialized yourself.

–Ben Cash, founder and CEO of BlueKey

Offer to help

Take any internship you can convince anybody to give you. Work for free. Don't be so hyper focused on, "Oh, because I've got this degree, I should be able to get a six-figure job." That will come. Go and offer to help companies. I think a mistake that a lot of people make coming out of college today is thinking, "I put in my time, I need to get a job."

You might have student loans. You might have a lot of good reasons for saying I need to go get a job. But focus on the community and those companies that are doing things that you think are really interesting. If you can actually help them, they are the ones that are going to see your talent and are more likely to find a place for you, even if they don't have an opening.

Julie Moreland, CEO of Vizbii

Think beyond your degree

Don't focus so much on your credentials. We hire for emotional intelligence first.

Jake Hare, cofounder of LaunchPeer

Be mindful of your approach

In general, young folks that come right out of college, they're ready to take on the world. They think they know everything. They want to be challenged. They want to have continuous feedback on what's going on. I need more, I want more, I need another project, I want to do this, I want to do that. And my advice on that is, that's great; you have the right attitude, but it's how you do that. What's the esprit de corps in how you want to get that accomplished? There's a wrong and a right way to approach your boss in terms of what you want to do.

Ravi Sastry, vice president of sales and marketing for Immedion

Change course if needed

It's OK to not know what you want to be in five years. Find a job and an environment that lets you get exposed to things that you might be interested in. And then if you find that you're not, be OK to change. Just really embrace the fact that this is such a peak time to grow and experiment. And, again, don't get into an environment for long that doesn't support that exploration.

Different than when I got out of school, students now almost have to make their career decisions when they're in high school. It's unfair. That's why we stopped asking, "Where do you want to be in five years?" I don't know if we've ever asked it in here. Let's figure out where you want to be this year, and then set your goals toward that.

Elizabeth Buske, vice president, Booz Allen Hamilton

Look for a liquidity event

Go work at a company that has some traits of an early stage startup but is about to go to that next level, like an IPO or a big acquisition. See it happen. I think seeing things happen and being a part of things is really powerful. I would also say try to get in with somebody who you think can really teach you a lot, no matter what stage of company that is.

Sean Coughlin, cofounder and CEO of FaithStreet

Connect with the community

Trying to find that first job is really, really hard. Even knowing how to code, knowing how to do the job, you have to keep coding every day to keep up your skillset. Don't give up. Continue to publish any work that you do and talk about it. Get out into the community, go to events, talk to as many technologists as you can, introduce yourself and really seek opportunistic meetings. Even though it's a large industry, it's still very much a word-of-mouth process.

The last thing is to do some pro bono work or do some work for nonprofits while looking to get a job. It can't hurt to add value to folks that may not be capable of affording software development work but need it. Look for opportunities to give, and then other opportunities will come your way.

Tom Wilson, executive vice president and chief technology innovation officer for New Jersey-based Tabula Rasa Health Care's JRS Innovation Center

Get out there

Go to events. Network.

Belinda Hare, cofounder of LaunchPeer

Find the right employer

Find an inspirational boss or company to work for and learn with them.

Luke Blessinger, president of TalkTools

Learn the business world

Find a place that's going to foster your growth those first couple years. When you're looking for where you want to go and what opportunity to take, look at what you are going to come out with after a year. What are you going to learn? How are your skills going to improve? How will you be better a year from now? If you can't answer that, then that's probably not a great fit.

Go into it with your eyes open, because when you start in a career, you want exposure, experience. You need to start learning how the business world works.

Jen Boulware, senior director of engineering at Snag

Choose a job based on your end goal

It depends on what your end aspirations are. If you just want to work in technology, I'd say definitely target a bigger company. If you want to work for a small startup or be a technology entrepreneur, you can't start learning fast enough with that. There's a huge learning curve of two, three or more years of becoming an operator of a tech startup. There are going to be tough times, but you just have to push your way through those, and you can't start early enough if that's what you want to do.

Trey Pringle, cofounder and CEO of Sovi__

Keep learning

(The technology industry) is constantly changing, and that is going to accelerate and continue to accelerate. So remain focused on career learning, constantly staying abreast of what's going on both in business and technology.

Todd Lant, chief information officer of Blackbaud