Monday, July 27, 2009

A Social Media lesson. What advice do you give college students?

I just spent an hour and half on a Skype call with a student from my college.

Before I get into this, I want to discuss how this call came to happen.

I, as a member of Linkedin, joined my schools groups which is how he found me. He was looking for an alumni with an accounting background/degree(which I got my BS degree) and was also in IT. Needless to say, not many of us from my class took this route.

I replied to his request with my contact details and since he is working(oddly enough in a Lotus using Enterprise)during the day and I am in London figured Sunday night is easiest for me. So we emailed and exchanged Skype names and subsequently had the call.

None of this would have been possible back when I was in college. The school offered little help or mentors for students struggling to figure out what to study or what to pursue. No one was that approachable, especially if you were not from New York, like me, and had few people to follow. So I got through it all on my own and mostly did well.

But I never wanted the same thing to happen to more students there. Through the years I have rarely been back in NY(4-6 times in 12 years)and wasn't practical to go speak there. They also aren't likely to fly me up anytime soon as I am not a big donor nor a major company.

What I have done is been part of the simple, yet advancing, alumni website, opportunities to mentor or help undergraduates and provide feedback on alumni situations. In 20 years since graduating, this is the 3rd discussion I have had with a student.

Makes me wonder if it is worth it.

On the other hand what could I be doing better to help the interaction?

I suggested a video conference, or a Skype video call to some groups or as part of a series of discussions. Could also encourage more students to ask the school for more interaction with Alumni but since I am not in NY, it would be difficult for me to manage it with the school.

Would love to offer Lotus Connections, but that will come perhaps in time.

But we discussed why I left accounting, what I do, what would I tell college students, what degree should he get and why, outsourcing and what it means for him and how to avoid it.

What was interesting is he doesn't really want to be a developer but wants to be in IT and I can totally understand that perspective. BUT what I can't help is finding what he wants to do. I explained that when you find what interests you, you will know and want to do it. That's how I felt the instant I sat down to use Lotus Notes R2 and even more R3.

His questions were well thought out and I helped him to understand that it's okay to chose a path which doesn't make sense to anyone else. Work for a big company or small one, yourself or with friends, overseas or in your hometown. You make a choice and you adjust that choice as life moves along.

He asked about long hours and pay and I said when you are young and single you do it but once you have a wife and family you better know how to handle your time better. Not that stuff doesn't happen but one should not be working at the office till 9 every night.

I used to have a junior admin that watched me leave almost every day between 5-6 and he might be there till 9 some days. One day he asked me how I do it and I said there is nothing that important at work, regularly, that I MUST stay and finish it. Also if I did my job properly, why would I need to stay late any day? I still subscribe to this idea and when I see/hear about people working crazy hours I just wonder about them. If you own your own business, it's another story of course, but even then you must spend your time wisely.

The conversation left me feeling that I do enjoy what I do and made the choices, hard ones sometimes, to keep doing what I do but realized I had not helped other students. So I was no better off, from this perspective.

So this student and I will work on trying to arrange some meetings with the Dean and some other ideas to help others not get stuck in a rut worrying about tomorrow or next year.

Who knows what will happen, maybe I can convince some IBMers to go speak there this year. I promised to do so, if I make it to NY some time in the future.