Tech pros share advice for new computer science graduates

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Credit: flickr/Laughlin Elkind

Computer science graduates are in demand. Last year, 76% of computer science graduates were working full time within six months of finishing school -- the highest full-time employment rate among new college graduates and well above the 58% average across all majors, according to a new report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

But as veterans in the tech world know, earning a degree is just the beginning of a new professional’s education. To help this year’s newcomers navigate the transition from academic life to the professional world, we asked tech pros to share their best advice for computer science graduates entering the workforce. Here’s what they had to say.

Have fun and ask questions

"Find a career you enjoy. There is nothing better than getting up each morning looking forward to your day at work. Once you’re on the job, never be afraid to ask questions. Too many times I see people just starting out who are afraid to admit they don’t know something. I’ve been in technology for 18 years and I’m still learning and asking questions.” – Jacob Ackerman, CTO of SkyLink Data Centers

Accept the knowledge gap and be ready to learn

"[It’s a myth that] the knowledge gained from your degree will prepare you 100% for your role. Fitting into tech culture is all about knowledge. If you don’t know how to perfectly manipulate a CSS or how to write a JS script, you will get laughed at. You WILL be an outsider. The key is to OWN it. The knowledge gap is just temporary. The best response to fitting in is to be curious and inquisitive. Asking questions goes a very long way. Trying to learn will garner you respectability. The more you try to fight the knowledge and technical gap, the worse it will be for you. Roll with the waves until you become an integral part of the team." – Pierre Tremblay, director of human resources at Dupray

Practice old-school networking

"Even in the young, hip, tech space, the best way to network is still pretty old-school: build a network of peers. Go to hackathons, engage on social networks, participate in forums, etc. Everyone you talk to and meet can be an asset whether it's now, five years or maybe even 10 years from now. A fellow developer will be an ally when you are looking for your first job or a new job down the line when it's time for something new." – Nishant Patel, CTO of Built.io

Build your own lab

"Develop your specific skills by building yourself a lab with enough basic components that you can test your skills and knowledge. This not only improves your understanding of the field you're looking to get into, but it also helps with getting [industry certifications such as a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)]. It can also give you an edge in an interview, so be ready to market the fact that you have a personal lab. You can build an inexpensive network lab for a couple hundred dollars with old gear purchased off of eBay, and a server for code development is just as easy. I've actually hired folks that had this and impressed me and the team with their learned skills." – Tim Parker, vice president of network services at ViaWest

Participate and contribute

"Online participation in open source is the new job interview. …A candidates' participation in an open source community tells a lot more about the person. Not just their understanding of computer science concepts, but also their ability to communicate clearly, and how they work in a team. … No matter what area of computer science you want to focus on, you can easily find a half dozen active open source projects in that field. Participate, contribute, and you may well find yourself being courted by companies looking to hire you before you graduate." – Amrith Kumar, CTO and co-founder at Tesora

Develop problem-solving skills

"Companies who know what they’re doing will want to see how you think and problem solve. They may give you a problem or scenario and ask you to talk through how you would approach solving it. They want to know that you can think through the process, ask the right questions, and come to a conclusion. This may or may not involve writing code. … The specific language(s) you know are not as important as your ability to learn and to problem solve. Anyone can pick up a language. It’s much harder to find someone who fully understands software development." – Ann Gaffigan, CTO at National Land Realty

Don’t rush into projects

"Make sure you have collected enough data before you begin a task. Become a voracious note taker and investigate problems with the care of an old-school investigative journalist. Know the ‘who, what, where, why, and when’ behind a problem before you formulate ‘how’ you’re going to address it. Good engineers and developers will operate within the guidelines of a process like Six Sigma DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, implement and control), but too often the definition and measurement [phases are] shortened or overlooked. That leads to assumptions in the analysis and implementation… and often uncontrollable outcomes." – John Chapin, lead consultant at Capital Technology Services

Sharpen customer service skills

"We find that a lot of recent computer science graduates have very similar skills and experience, so when hiring, we look for other things. Any customer service experience is valued here (like retail or waiting tables), because that tells us the candidate knows how to communicate with others well. We look for humble candidates because there is always something to learn – even if someone comes to us with stellar coding skills, we need to know that he or she will be able to take criticism and also be open to learning other programs." – Aryana Jaleh, social media manager at Eboxlab

Get to know the sales team

"You should absolutely spend time with the sales team at your company. Make a point to walk by their cubes and speak with them. Invite them to lunch, go to their happy hours. It will be out of your comfort zone. Good. You need that. Realize that there will come a day when you might want to start a company, and you know absolutely zero about sales. Fix that ASAP. ... Not saying you should ignore your development colleagues, just make an effort to know the sales team. You need to find out who the top performers are and spend time with them. You also need to know who the low performers are and avoid them. Figuring that out is an amazingly valuable life skill that you didn’t learn in college." – Robert Reeves, CTO and co-founder of Datical

Work on communication skills

"One of the most critical items that I see missing from many new grads entering industry is a lack of proper communication skills. As helpful as it is to know technical concepts such as algorithm analysis, if your coworkers and management don't enjoy being around you, you are going to find it difficult to have sustained career success. I highly recommend computer science and software engineering graduates to deliberately work on soft skills such as communication and learning to get along with team members. It will lead to a more enjoyable career path and better overall work culture." – Jordan Hudgens, CTO of CronDose.com, co-founder of devCamp, and graduate student in the computer science department at Texas Tech University

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