May 3, 2017

9 Tips For New Graduates From Charleston's Tech Leaders

Ashley Fletcher Frampton  /  Charleston Digital News

Graduation season is around the corner. As the latest class of graduates prepares to join the workforce, the Charleston Digital Corridor highlights advice from local tech leaders.

ASK QUESTIONS

Don't be afraid to ask questions. Business and careers are intimidating things to talk about. No one has all the answers, so feel free to ask questions because chances are you are going to strike up a conversation and actually be able to talk about something.

Good example, if you get on a plane to fly somewhere, you have a choice to make – do you put earphones on, or do you have a three-minute conversation with the person next to you on the plane? Most people put their earphones on just to zone out. But you're making a conscious decision to pass by a truly captive audience for three hours. I'm not saying that you're going to harass them, but they might have some really interesting things to talk about. And maybe they need someone just like you to work for them. – Eric Wages, Hardware Operations Manager for Google's Berkeley County Data Center. Read more insights from Eric Wages.

USE YOUR NATURAL ABILITIES

The most important thing is to do what you love and what your personal attributes will allow you to succeed at. For example, there are creative people that will never be good accountants. Although there are some creative people working in accountancy, and their jobs are horrendous because they aren't using their natural skills. So try to find the combination of those two. – Jerry Callahan, Founder and CEO of ISI Technology. Read more insights from Jerry Callahan.

KNOW YOUR STUFF

Be competent. Know your stuff. I think that education in the United States has moved to a race, but when you rush through and you're doing calculus in middle school, to use an extreme example, you lose something. I personally would rather have that employee who learns slow but very deep rather than one who raced through to doing differential calculus as a junior in high school but really only knows things about an inch deep. You really need to know what you're going to do at a deep level. That's what makes a standout employee. Knowing a little bit about a lot doesn't really make you that valuable of an employee. – Keith McElveen, President, Chief Technology Officer and Founder of Wave Sciences Corp. Read more insights from Keith McElveen.

SEEK AN EMPLOYER WITH STAYING POWER

There's not nearly enough talent in technology right now. So I would say get into it and find a business that's doing something real. Find one that you really believe is serving a need and will be there for the long haul. – Levi Morehouse, Founder and CEO of Ceterus. Read more insights from Levi Morehouse.

FIND PEOPLE WHO WILL INVEST IN YOU

Find your first job that can support some aspect of learning. Find a job that's going to pair you up with people and surround you with more experienced people who will spend the time to not necessarily train you, but to give you the opportunity to learn. You need to find that first job that's going to invest in your learning. – Marc Murphy, CEO of Atlatl Software (formerly CEO of SPARC). Read more insights from Marc Murphy.

SAY YES TO EVERY OPPORTUNITY

Volunteer while you are not working and always say yes to every new opportunity. You won't really know what you like until you try it, and even if you hate it, you have learned something and gained experience. And you never know what person you are going to meet at that job that you didn't think was perfect for you who might be the gateway to the next thing in your life. – Valerie Sessions, Chair of the Computer Science Department at Charleston Southern University. Read more insights from Valerie Sessions.

PROTECT YOUR INVESTMENT

The advice I always give my fresh graduates: I tell them that you've invested a lot of money, time, sweat and tears into your college education so far, and now you've graduated. Like any investment, the value of that investment can go up or down. When you go to apply for your next job or promotion, and somebody looks at your resume, they're going to see the college or university you attended. They're going to determine the quality of your education based upon how much that degree is worth at that time. Not how much it's worth now.

So I tell them, try to protect your investment. You can help protect your investment by giving back to the university by participating on their advisory board, going back to talk to their students, leading an industry projects course. Not financially – some of our students who make a lot of money can invest financially, too, and we will be happy to help them with that. But it's more investing their real-world expertise by going back to talk to the future generation of students. – Sebastian van Delden, Chair of the Computer Science Department at the College of Charleston. Read more insights from Sebastian van Delden.

HIGHLIGHT YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS

For graduates that are interested in cybersecurity or interested in working in technology – we interview a lot of people here, and a lot of them are smart, and a lot of them have work experience. The No. 1 mistake I see, or missed opportunity, perhaps, is to highlight accomplishments. I would much rather know about how someone accomplished a project that had meaningful impact for the company than to know that they understand 14 different programming languages and can write mobile apps in their sleep. – John LaCour, Founder and CEO of PhishLabs. Read more insights from John LaCour.

PROVIDE VALUE TO YOUR COMPANY

I would encourage people entering the workforce to consider that we are still in an age where corporate entities are kind of a requirement. Not everybody can be a freelance developer or an independent consultant.

What people need to understand is that the organization has needs, too. Young people entering the workforce need to understand that the organization exists to provide value to its stakeholders – that's both internal and external. But external customers, they reciprocate to the organization by virtue of money, payment. The internal stakeholders, the employees, need to remember that they are responsible for the care and feeding of the organization.

While they give their time and their skills and their talents to the organization to provide value to the external customer, they also have to remember that the organization needs nurturing. All of that is to say that they shouldn't look at it as, "What can the organization do for me?" They need to say, "How do I help the organization achieve its goals? Which, in turn, helps the organization do good things for me." It really needs to be a symbiotic relationship. – Peter Woodhull, President and Founder of Modus21. Read more insights from Peter Woodhull.