“How to act like a baby unicorn”
It’s never been harder for a new grad to get a job in Silicon Valley, and it’s also never been easier. There are a number of forces that have converged to drastically change how new grads have to find their first job today versus how I was able to look for my first job years ago.
In the old days, when people used to have to walk to and from school in the snow uphill both directions, graduating with some technical skill meant it was fairly easy to get a job in Silicon Valley. A few reasons for this included:
- IT was a highly manual business, so they needed every body they could get;
- Schools were more up to date in the technical skills they taught versus what the job market required;
- Employers expected to have longer relationships with their employees and were willing to invest in training new employees;
- A significant percentage of technology jobs were centered in Silicon Valley, so many technology workers gained their experience here;
This has changed significantly in the decades since I got my first job in technology. The circumstances above have pretty much reversed:
- IT is significantly more automated, so many fewer bodies are needed to run a technology business
- Many schools are far behind in providing marketable technology skills for their students
- Employers expect to have shorter relationships with employees, and prefer to find new employees with the experience they need already rather than train new employees. In fact, there’s a common belief that training employees with new skills will lead to them quitting and finding jobs elsewhere with higher pay.
- Technology jobs are now much more widespread, so Silicon Valley is able to import experienced workers at higher pay who can afford to live here rather than train new grads who can’t afford to live here.
And there are some new forces to consider:
- New technologies and skills are changing so fast that companies are providing free training and easy access to technologies that most universities can’t provide. For example, any computer science student should learn Apple’s new Swift language to easily find an internship or entry level job
- The prevalence of open source projects makes it easier than ever for technology workers to already gain expertise in technologies before even graduating from school.
- The pervasiveness of social media and social reputation profiles such as LinkedIn, Stack Overflow and GitHub are making it easier for new grads who invest in these areas to stand out versus those who don’t do any public work.
I was inspired to write this blog by a new grad friend whose finding it difficult to find an entry-level technology job in Silicon Valley. My friend is puzzled as to why sending many applications to company websites and LinkedIn job postings is not generating any results. He complains that his classmates have inside connections to get them jobs, but he is finding it “too hard” to get a job. I won’t reveal his name, but we all probably know someone like this steeped in the “old way”.
As a contrast, I would like to introduce you to a student that I think truly exemplifies “the new way” for students and new grads today. Meet Tai Tran from UC Berkeley Haas School of Business. I have no issues introducing you to him because he’s quite visible in social media. In fact, he’s so good at social media, I thought he was a graduate student, rather than just an undergrad. If you look at Tai’s portfolio, you’ll see he’s already writing advice blogs in LinkedIn, is an instructor for his fellow students, and is a contributor to social media publications. Among my LinkedIn connections he ranks better than Shai Agassi, and Lars Dalgaard, and is only slightly below Bill McDermott and Jonathan Becher. This is probably why he’s already scoring an impressive portfolio of internships. No doubt Tai will continue to be very successful. He understands the new game already.
Such are the expectations of employers in Silicon Valley today. Tai Tran exemplifies a high degree of maturity compared to most students and truly stands out as a professional. Today’s engineers are highly valued if they contribute to open source projects, and if they are recognized experts. This expertise can be quantified in commits to GitHub repositories and reputation scores on Stack Exchange communities. I recently joked that the development process for an open source developer consists of: code -> test -> commit -> blog -> tweet. However, the joke is that it’s really true.
It’s even more extreme for marketing professionals. If you don’t have at least a few hundred followers of your Twitter account, there most be something wrong. I’m not saying that you need to have the highest Klout score for your topic of expertise, but if you are in the business of amplifying a message, there must be some public evidence of your work, and your knowledge of the craft.
The good new is that it’s actually very easy for students and new grads to play the new game. In fact, if a new grad follows my recipe, I assure you that you will see results, learn a lot about the job you want to do, and have fun along the way. If you aren’t having fun, maybe this isn’t the job you really want anyways – and learning that is a good result too.
Greg’s recipe for “being” the job you want:
- Know the topic you or general area you want to get a job in
- Research the job titles related to this area, both for new grads and for experts
- Begin a personal quest to become the “job title” of the expert in your area of interest
- Conduct “informational interviews” with experts who hold the job title you eventually want to achieve – find out how they got there, and gain their advice about career steps
- Learn what specific skills you need to know today to get that job. Take classes at university extension, take online MOOCs, download free software and training. Consider obtaining certifications for these skills if they exist and are credible.
- Begin a blog series or column about your personal quest. Nothing is easier or more relevant than writing a how-to blog for a beginner about your beginning.
- Keep updating your blog as you learn more and advance in your quest
- Join one or more Meetup groups that cover your areas of interest, and attend their events
- Become an organizer for one of these Meetup groups. You don’t need to be a topic expert. Most Meetup groups are starving for organizational help rather than expertise.
- Blog, Tweet, and write about what you learn through your Meetup groups and the people you meet.
- Participate in relevant public projects. For engineers, this might be an open source project. For other kinds of work, this might mean volunteer work for organizations or non-profits. However, make sure your work is public, and become an evangelist for your work and the cause you are working for. If its not worthy to evangelize, its not worthy of your time.
- Participate in social media groups related to your area of interest – Stack Exchange, LinkedIn groups, or other relevant services. Pick one or two that are a best fit in terms of people you like and enough traffic. Focus your participation into becoming an elite in that online community.
- Wash. Rise. Repeat. Keep at it. You’ll begin to see small results, which then translate to even bigger results. When you land your first job, don’t let up – keep improving your public reputation.
- Don’t be afraid to change as needed. Technology changes. Interests change. Fashion changes. If you can evolve with your existing communities, great! If you need to build up reputation in a new area, no big deal. Just keep following the recipe.
- When you start feeling more like an expert, take the steps to become an industry analyst in your area of expertise.
Comments and suggestions are welcome. By no means do I think I nailed the full potential for how new grads need to play this new game about “being” the job they want.