Sometimes it’s good to go back to your roots. When slinging code and pounding the pavement in the world of private industry, it’s easy to feel distanced from the thoughtfulness, idealism, and teaching of academe. Yet these qualities are essential to success in any industry. And students benefit from the dialogue as well as they prepare for the world beyond the university’s boundaries.
I graduated from Brown University in 2004, which makes me ancient in the eyes of college students. But my visits to Brown on behalf of pMD, a company that makes mobile charge capture software for doctors, have been rejuvenating. Over the past few years I’ve given technical talks, helped students polish their resumes, and reconnected with some of the faculty members whom I admired most.
Each visit, I’ve been inspired by the insights and diverse perspectives of the students. They haven’t shied away from asking tough questions during my talks - or from putting themselves out there. When I asked a large audience to name their favorite mobile apps, one student immediately shouted "Tinder!" Perhaps the movie “The Social Network” was right, and college students only care about one thing. But more to the point, this is an incredibly successful app that came into existence only two years ago. The students have their fingers on the pulse, and they’ve kept me on my toes.
More satisfying still has been the experience of giving back. Through resume review sessions, I’ve met one-on-one with dozens of students to talk about their career goals and help them fine tune their resumes. As a hiring manager at pMD I’ve had the dubious pleasure of reading more than a thousand resumes, so I know what makes a resume scannable and readable, and what’s attractive to an employer. Many students hesitate to trim and focus their resumes, and they’ve told me that it’s helpful to hear my “less is often more” perspective.
Finally, I’ve found the most joy in giving tech talks at the computer science department. Working at pMD, I’ve had the opportunity to sit with hundreds of physicians and their staff as they learn to use our software for the first time. So most recently I spoke about “How to Build Learnable Apps that Users Love at First Sight.” User experience design is rarely taught in the classroom, yet the students showed a remarkable aptitude and passion for creating truly love-worthy apps.
“I'm in the early design stages of an app with a few friends and we've been debating the issue of borrowing UI patterns from common apps vs. coming up with something novel (which might require more investment from users to learn). Your talk certainly helped me think about that.” -Jonathan Schear ‘15
“I found it particularly interesting that large, well-known companies seem to think they can get away with neglecting new users in their UI design. A team of freshmen (myself included) won Hack@Brown with a voice-messaging app called "Squawk," and we tried to simplify the design as much as possible.” -Joe Engelman ‘17
I returned from Brown feeling invigorated and with renewed enthusiasm to move the dial on great software design. Even more importantly, I met and spoke with another generation of computer scientists committed to building great, learnable software that users love. I can imagine nothing more rewarding.