Show you can learn on your own

StandOutDuckSo what really matters when you finish your program? Is it the diploma or degree? Is it what you learned in class? Is it your extracurricular work? Your work experience? All those pieces fit together to form your resume. But how do you stand out to an employer? How do you get that interview? How do you get the job.

Of course the answer is: it depends. It all helps. Having a diploma or degree tells an employer you have specific skills you learned during your courses, you can learn new concepts and technologies, you can manage your time effectively, and you can finish a major undertaking (your degree or diploma program). Don’t underestimate the value of proving that you can learn new technologies to a potential employer. Do you know what programming language I used on my first job? COBOL! (Yes I am old, but not THAT old), then I used Oracle and PL/SQL, then it was SQL Server and T-SQL, then it was C, then it was VB, then it was VB .NET, then C#, now HTML5. The point is, the technical skills you gain in school may help you get that first job, but your ability to learn the next technology will keep you employed in the future.

I was in the Bronx in New York, presenting at NPower (a really cool organization that provides IT training to underserved young adults). I met a student who was telling me how she felt she hadn’t performed well at her summer job, because when she arrived on the job she was told to do something in SharePoint. She hadn’t worked with SharePoint before and so she found some videos on Youtube and some training materials online and had to teach it to herself. She felt that because she didn’t have the right technical skills for the work assigned, she was letting her employer down. Absolutely not! Let me tell you, I wanted to hire her on the spot! Let me explain why.

She showed initiative and used the resources at her disposal to accomplish the task at hand. Sometimes there is someone in the office who can give you training, or sometimes you can take a course, but sometimes that simply isn’t an option. In her case the only training available to her was what she could get online for free. There was no professor to walk her through it step by step, she had to find the information on her own and teach it to herself. I can’t tell you how many times during my career I have been faced with similar situations. There are some people who will simply freeze up in that situation and do not know how to cope. They need someone to sit down with them and show them how to do the work. When I find someone who has that ability to learn something on their own, that stands out!

Students are great at learning! You are constantly absorbing and applying new information. That is what you are doing in every course, in every lecture, with every assignment. That gives you something to offer that is a particular strength to students. If you want to stand out from other students, show you can learn on your own.

How do you do that? One option is to build a phone application. I am going to suggest specifically building a Windows Phone Application, and not just because I work for Microsoft. You can download all the tools you need at App Hub, and as students you can even download the full version of Visual Studio development tool for your development at Dreamspark. One of the great things about developing for the Windows platform is you have access to such a great development environment. Visual Studio is a mature development tool so you can get your code written and deployed sooner because a lot of the little things are taken care of for you. If you have talent in graphic design you may also want to download Expression Blend so you can create your own 2D and 3D graphics as well. There are also lots of great resources out there to help you learn how to build an application, Paul Laberge put together a great page of resources to get you started. We’ll be providing even more resources to help you as the year progresses. Imagine giving a potential employer a link to a windows phone application you put into the marketplace on your resume. What you learn now in your courses is important and will get you a job. But learning how to learn on your own will give you a career!