Who am I?
Reshma, currently chair of the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management Advisory Board. Professionally a Visiting Partner at YCombinator. Alum MIT, Microsoft, Facebook, and Box.
Why am I writing?
The Raikes School is ambitious, we (the administration and board) are working hard to improve the educational experience. In this spirit, the Raikes School leadership team is running a new experiment, board members are going to do 10 minute Office Hours meetings with students this year. We hope that each student in the Raikes School program should meet 1:1 with a board member in 2021.
These are optional for students, but I’m writing this post to entice you to join the office hours. It includes three things I wish I knew when I was in college. You can feel free to use the topics here as inspiration for what to discuss during your office hours.
Abundance vs Scarcity
When I talk to students, and I remember this feeling myself, there is apprehension about what the future holds. Sometimes these come in the form of questions like:
- Will I be able to find a good job if I don’t have a perfect internship?
- What will my parents and friends think of my choices (major, job, etc)?
- If I don’t earn a lot in my first job, will I be stunted for life?
I completely empathize with this feeling, and I do think it is healthy, I also wish that I took the time early in my career to try and try and think about what I would do with my time if I weren’t constrained to earning a living or setting myself up for the optimal career.
We have learned, over time, that there are outsize rewards for abundant thinking: learning to think for yourself and having great self-awareness. Early in my career, I was a good worker — worked hard, fast and was technical. This resulted in people dumping tons of work on me! As I (slowly) realized my own strengths and interests, I started to advocate for myself and started to only do things that helped me develop and were beneficial to others. I did way more work that I wasn’t interested in than I needed to, and an ounce of abundant thinking would have helped me greatly.
Thinking about your peer group
It’s natural to look up to your teachers, and to enjoy the perks and freedom of college life, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that relationships with your peer group are one of the things we hope that you takeaway from your experience at the Raikes School.
It’s tempting to think of your peer group as “competition.” Some feel that they don’t fit in. Others are just trying to get a good grade on project work, and don’t want others to “drag them down.”
We’d like to steer you all away from this line of thinking. In truth, the labor market is skills and motivation driven. You are not competing with each other at all, but are rather (with the right relationship) going to be a resource to each other throughout your lives. If you work together, have a good working relationship and bring out the best in each other when working together in Design Studio and other projects you raise your own skills and have others who will be a resource to you throughout your life.
Mentorship and Agency
I (and the board generally) get a lot of requests for mentorship. We generally enjoy teaching and mentoring — that’s why we have joined the Raikes School Advisory Board in the first place. However, I myself, and other board members get a ton of requests something like this “I’d like to have a good career, will you mentor me?”
This causes a collective groan, because it is absolutely the wrong way to think about mentorship. Ultimately you are responsible for your own career and success. Your mentors can open doors for you or give you meaningful advice if your engage them the right way.
A mentor wants to help you, but they don’t really have enough context to make any decision for you, nor should they. At best, they can help give you a perspective you haven’t thought of, or even recommend you for something that they have access to that you don’t.
It often helps to come to a mentor with a specific question, for example:
- I have offers for PM and Engineering next summer, how do I decide what’s right for me?
- My internship offer was rescinded due to COVID-19, and I’m considering taking classes over the summer or contributing to open source, how should I decide?
In working through these specific decisions, it helps the mentor get to know you and assess your interests, abilities and drive and will make mentorship much more productive for both parties.
I am certainly not an expert in higher education, in fact, other than attending college myself, I truly am a novice. One of our board’s New Year’s resolutions is to be more engaged with actual students, so thank you in advance for joining office hours.
Given these three points above, we’d like to encourage you to join office hours with the board! You are free to use this checklist for your 1:1, or choose your own path — the time is yours.
Ideas to discuss in your 1:1
- I really enjoy X and am interested in career path Y
- Am I making the most of my peer group experience?
- I’m doing poorly at X — how can I improve?
- I am pushing my comfort zone by doing X — am I headed the right direction?
- I really admire X, Y, Z — how can I use this knowledge to make the right choices?