The story starts with a chain of serendipity. Here is a quick summary of how I was invited to Indiana University.
- I interviewed a woman named Jin (a terrific person) for a PM role at Engagio 4 years ago. We hit it off, but didn’t end up working together.
- Jin asked me to guest lecture at a Stanford class she was teaching.
- The students liked the presentation and I mentored some of the students including one woman named Li.
- Fast forward a few years.
- I post on LinkedIn that I am hiring people for Treasure Data. Li asks if she could repost the job on one of her Masters degree online forums mostly for Chinese students.
- I get a flood of applicants from Georgia Tech, Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, and Indiana University. (and some others)
- On phone screens, I spend extra time with each student to give them mentoring as well as evaluate their skills.
- Word spread of “good mentoring” for this job and I received even more applicants from IU.
- One student JS introduced me to their professor, Jeff.
- Jeff coordinated and scheduled everything.
Notice all of the shallow connections. You really never know when one shallow connection will lead you somewhere important. This is why you should always make a good impression and go the extra mile. It’s the little things in life that turn out to be the most important.
The flight across the country was on United Airlines. I am not a fan. They suck for multiple reasons, but this one really bugged me. There was a sign saying “Free WiFi!” – so I connected. It didn’t work. So I asked the flight attendant and she asked me, “Did you pay for it?”. I said it was free and she said, “No, sorry, it’s free to connect to the app where you can buy things.” United sucks.
Anyway, I got to Indiana and the students picked me up. They were so friendly and engaging. I loved all of them. We ate at this cool pizza place where they encouraged graffiti on all the surfaces. Nice!
I spent the whole day doing design reviews and eating. I probably could have skipped half of the meals. All of the design reviews were basically the same. Here is the generic version:
- This is a product site, not a Tinder profile. YOU are the product. Sell your capabilities and features to your buying persona, the hiring manager.
- Stop trying to blend in. Be creative, come up with different approaches. Be more interactive. Why, oh why, do all portfolio sites look identical? It’s crazy. Put some life into the design!
- Make the font readable. I must have said this 2 dozen times. Yellow font on Gray background is a major foul.
- Use Navigation. It’s incredible to me that the only navigation option that design students came up with is “make it a giant long page”.
- Use Progressive Disclosure. Not everyone wants to read all the details. Give people a chance to drill in where they want to and skim in other places.
- Help each other! With so many students sitting right next to you, it was shocking to me how little they helped each other create something thrilling. There were specialists in engineering, graphics, storytelling and more. It’s a gold mine of talent and everyone was ignoring it.
I also spent some time showing my own work from the past 25 years. Some of it was dated, but I think they appreciated how I (hopefully) was ahead of my time. It’s a great program and I hope to continue helping them in the coming years.
There was this one moment, where I was explaining why I was there and what I was doing. I said that I didn’t have mentors when I was young and really hated it. I wished for people who could help me on my journey. I wished for people to guide me. My visit to their school was to model behavior that I hoped they would do when they were older. I wanted them to see a mentor and say, “Hey, I could do that too!”
The world needs more mentors. It needs more leaders. Don’t wait for other people. Don’t assume you aren’t good enough to be a mentor. Put yourself out there and try to help people. Everyone, no matter what age, should be doing this.
This moment surprisingly made me emotional. I felt intensely vulnerable and choked up. I thought, “What if they don’t even like me? What if I am a fraud? An imposter?” These kinds of episodes happen to me, it happens to you, it happens to everyone. Don’t let your dumb brain get in the way of helping people.
I just emailed someone at Cal Berkeley to do a similar trip. I hope it goes as well as this last one. I hope I get to do these alot. Thanks Jin, Li, JS, and Jeff!