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James Turner's Commencement Speech for Graduating 2013 CS Majors

Posted 29 May 2013 - 07:46 AM

An interesting look at pointing some direction at the CS 2013 graduates by OReily blogger James Turner. Here's some bits and pieces I found interesting, but you should read the whole.


In my 35 years of experience in the software field, Iíve met a lot of developers, young and old. And the one thing that separated the truly successful ones from the crowd is passion. Now passion is an overused and abused term these days. Too often people take it to mean a passion for being successful, for achieving a personal goal in their life. When I talk about passion, I mean love. Iíve been in love with computers since I was 14 years old, and Iíd be playing with them even if I didnít get paid for it. If software engineering is merely a means to an end, youíre not going to be happy in the long term working in this field, because much of it is God-awful boring unless you have a passion for it.

Being passionate about software is critical to being successful, because the field is a constantly moving target. What will net you $130K today will be done by junior programmers in five years, and unless youíre constantly adding new tools to your belt, youíre going to find yourself priced out of the market. Many of the best projects Iíve ever worked on came to me because I had already gained the skill-set on my own.
People in their 20s tend to jump into small, fledgeling companies, and thatís one of the best things you can do
But donít fall into the trap of trading long hours and happiness for the gold ring of equity. You are never going to be in better shape, less constrained by responsibilities, or have more energy than you will right now.
Pick the right technologies to learn. Itís easy to be seduced by the flavor of the month, and spend time learning something that will never gain significant traction. That isnít to say that you shouldnít learn something new if youíre genuinely interested in it, but donít follow the herd just because everyone is talking about language X or framework Y. In fact, Iíve never been hurt, career-wise, by waiting a year or two to learn a technology, because thatís when a truly useful item starts to show up in job positions.
Realize that there is more than one path to the same solution.
At the same time, diversity for the sake of diversity benefits no one.
So, class of 2013, go out and do great things. Iím sure you will, just as every graduating class has, from the ones that gave us Alan Turing and John McCarthy to the ones that gave us Linus Torvalds and Tim Berners-Lee, and beyond. You know, the passionate ones.


A little less pat and hollow like most commencement speeches, and has some great answers to the typical questions that crop up about what to learn, where to work, how to be a programmer, etc.

Poking around it seems Wozniak had a good speech recently at UC Berkeley as well.

(Audio and break down here)

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