Few days ago I had the honor of being the guest speaker at the graduation ceremony of my alma mater. Just in case you’re interested in what I told future Slovenian IT geeks, here’s a short summary.
It’s important to graduate. A lot of IT people realize too soon how much they’re worth and drop out of college following the easy money. A lot of them regret that when they’re older (unless, of course, you’re Steve Jobs, in which case you probably don’t care a bit). Pushing all the way through all the exams and finally the thesis proves that you’re able to complete a multi-year project. The confidence you gain by getting a huge job done usually doesn’t hurt your professional career either.
You should never stop learning. IT is one of the fastest-evolving fields in the human history, which offers you great opportunities, but also the challenge of continuous learning that never stops. IT career is like a life-long marathon: if you stop running to rest a bit, you’re left in the dust ... and it’s pretty hard to catch up.
However, there’s a trick you can use: always try to understand the big picture. Try to position every new technology in a framework. After a few decades, you’ll figure out that nothing really changes; what looks like a new idea is usually a reincarnation of an older concept, this time implemented with vastly improved processing power and significantly increased bandwidth. Your knowledge of “historical” IT concepts will always help you spot the benefits (and drawbacks) of every new technology.
Don’t fall asleep. I’ve seen many great engineers become complacent in their mid 40s (usually after a few career successes that they worked really hard to achieve). Don’t fall into that trap; the moment you think you’ve reached the pinnacle of your career is the moment it starts going downhill.
Never stop being curious. If you lose your curiosity, you’ll lose the ability to learn about new technologies and solutions that would have excited you years ago. Try to be like a child.
Follow your dreams. Career achievements and financial successes are important, but it’s more important to make something you’ll be proud of. If you have a dream you want to make true, go for it. Don’t let the bystanders (including your friends and family) telling you it’s impossible derail you. If you don’t try, you’ll never know whether you’re able to pull it off or not. If you fail, try again. It’s the effort you put in and the lessons you learn that matter most.
You’re responsible for your own success. Don’t complain about unfavorable circumstances; we all had them. Work with what you have and figure out how to make progress. Don’t rely on your country, the society, social services, your company or your boss helping you. They are all interested primarily in what you can do for them, not what they can do for you. There’s a single person in this world responsible for your career and your success – you are.
Individual faculties of my university have their own graduation ceremonies; having only IT graduates in the audience made my task way easier (it would be hard to come up with something that would be equally relevant to classical philologers).