Tech pros share advice for new computer science graduates

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While in school, pursue learning outside the classroom, too

"School is the best time to fail because, frankly, you have nothing to lose. Start a business or a company, develop a product, or two or three. Every line of code you write in a practical setting, integrating an API, SDK or learning a new technology will pay you back in the future. … Build something that works, and publish it to GitHub. Everyone else is also working on a few projects, so don't worry about someone stealing your billion-dollar idea. If you're passionate and skilled, it'll show and you'll win. By joining the community, you give yourself a name and open yourself to learn from others. These projects are also a great way to get noticed by recruiters and to build an identity for yourself in the tech community." – Nishant Patel, CTO at

Remember the users

"[Staying] mindful of User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) is crucial. Not all computer science professionals know how a user actually engages with an interface, but job applicants who understand those nuances will rise above the pool of other candidates. At the end of the day, we don’t create programs that are used by other computer scientists. Focusing on the behavior and understanding of the user who will be engaging in the programming, and delivering a product that is based on the other person’s perspective, are what will set you apart." – Dane Pelfrey, vice president of product development at Businessolver

Commit to learning business basics

"Harvard's computer science program is rigorous. There’s not a lot of time or energy left for studying other subjects like business or sales. But as an employee at Threat Stack, I’ve learned that software engineers need to understand the business value of the products they’re building. I regularly chat with our company executives and sales and marketing team members, which has given me a holistic understanding of what it takes to build, refine and deliver products to customers. Having this kind of hands-on exposure simply isn’t possible at school; I’m gaining the critical information and skill it takes to be an entrepreneur, which is something I’ve always dreamt of pursuing." – Michael Chen, a Harvard undergraduate who decided to defer a full year before his final year of school to work at Threat Stack

Demonstrate talent, personality

"Over the years, I have hired dozens of developers and engineers to build our software application. Some of the hires were young graduates, and a few of them turned out to be stars in the company. In summary, I’m looking for two things: 1) talent – this is the raw skill and technical ability and 2) workability – how easy is this person to work with? For technical jobs, applicants can showcase their skills through an online portfolio. I really like coders who develop things as pet projects on their own time. It shows genuine interest and passion for the industry. And having an active GitHub repository is a good way to showcase this side of the candidate. Now for the second point of workability, the best way is to be yourself. Be natural, transparent and honest. The hiring manager is looking for a ‘cultural-fit’ in the organization. So if you are a good fit in terms of your work style, then you’ve a good chance of making it to the next round." – Zaki Usman, CEO of an HR app at InterQ

Work your networks

"Referral networks are one of the strongest ways a company will grow. Generally people will recommend people they know to be competent and will fit well with the organization. Keep tabs with all of your friends at different companies and ask them if there are upcoming openings. A lot of times companies will have referral bonuses for their employees so your friends will be incented to help!" – Pablo Stern, CTO and senior vice president of engineering at Radius

Embrace the cloud

“If you are searching for a systems engineering job after graduation, remember that the most valuable systems engineers are the ones that have fully embraced the cloud. While many organizations still have siloed engineering teams, companies are starting to shift away from that model as they become more sophisticated in cloud adoption. This has created a need for well-rounded engineers who are able to work on cross-functional teams. Let your interviewers know you are up to that challenge and are able to adapt to the shifting cloud landscape." – Stephanie Tayengco, senior vice president of operations at Logicworks

Seize the data opportunity

"Today’s graduates are the first data-native employees entering the workforce, but the trickle of graduates isn’t anywhere close to the torrent of demand. These graduates will have the opportunity to reshape how access to data and insights are managed in enterprises. Data scientists will be expected to not only be able to analyze big data, but make it understandable and actionable by different departments within the organization. Currently, data science teams work in isolation from the rest of their enterprise. The new batch of data scientists will be much more integrated into their enterprises’ workflows, and will need to be able to think creatively, integrate data into business strategy, and communicate their findings accurately to non-technical users. As data becomes more ubiquitous in every job role, it will be the data science team’s job to provide data in a way that is visually understandable and workable by non-analysts." – Ashish Thusoo, co-founder and CEO at Qubole

Highlight your soft skills

"Soft skills will set you apart. There aren’t that many developers out there, relatively speaking. Even fewer have soft skills -- the ability to communicate effectively, work well with others and handle a leadership role. Look your interviewer in the eyes, speak clearly and confidently." – Ann Gaffigan, CTO at National Land Realty

Know the market, gain experience, network

"Pick a company that is building to this new distributed systems architecture versus maintaining traditional systems, AWS vs. infrastructure companies. SaaS vs. package software. Apps built on the iPhone that take advantage of location and identity capabilities. … Software is eating every hardware industry. Be on the software side. … Experience matters. Garner lots of internships and projects on the way. … Learn how to network. Go to meetups. Do lots of informational interviews. Find mentors. Learn how to project yourself through social media in a positive way. Be part of the conversation." – Alan Cohen, chief commercial officer at Illumio

Think agile

"Enterprises and startups are demanding agile graduates. It's no longer just about the tech skills but can employees work creatively and collaboratively with a cross-functional agile/scrum team made up of business owner, product manager, data scientist, marketer, financial analyst, UX/UI, and others to contribute to the vision and execution. Employers are looking for employees with entrepreneurial spirit who will create/enhance/contribute to product design, and not simply doers who blindly execute against spec." – Scott Amyx, CEO at Amyx+

Lastly, a good reminder for all ages and stages

"Make sure to dry your hands thoroughly when you leave the restroom. You never know whose hand you’ll have to shake the second after you exit. Ever shake a damp hand? Ugh. People remember that." – Robert Reeves, CTO and co-founder of Datical

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Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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