Advice to College Graduates

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BYU just held its graduation ceremonies last week with more than 6,000 students finishing their undergraduate college experience. I’m glad the traffic is gone. I have some advice for graduating college students everywhere.

Explaining the success of His Greatness, famous hockey player Wayne Gretzky reportedly said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.” FastCompany claims that Wayne’s father Walter should get credit for this famous saying. Nevertheless I love this quote. And I think that more college graduates should take it to heart.

And maybe the advice is even better for high school graduates: if you want an exciting career, choose a field of study that will lead you someplace special. I chose to major in Russian in the 80s, thinking that work in that field would be exciting. But then came perestroika, glasnost, and the fall of Soviet-era communism. So Russian skills are not as central to U.S. intelligence as they once were. Today, if I were in college, I’d want to learn Chinese or Arabic, for different reasons. A friend of mine is fluent in Chinese: today he is building Seastone, one of the fastest growing companies in Utah, in large part because he has manufacturing relationships in China.

But besides learning a language that could be useful, pick subjects that will lead you into the very depths of cutting edge research or application of world-changing technologies. Alan Kay said the best way to predict the future is by inventing it. There are so many important things yet to be invented, refined, developed, marketed and adopted by consumers and businesses world wide. It’s a super exciting time to live.

But not necessarily if you major in accounting or plan on going to law school. (I only pick on these two professions because most people that I know who chose accounting or law did so for the money, not for the love of it. And we have way too many smart people practicing law who could be and should be creating value in our economy.)

Think about physics and engineering. A university in Texas is one of few institutions to offer a Ph.D. in Nanotechnology. I love what Nanosolar is trying to do: make solar power competitive with conventional energy.

Consider genetics. A friend of mine has a Ph.D. and is working for Merck’s research lab on personalized drugs and potential cures for diabetes. There are a number of interesting Utah companies in this space, such as Sorenson Genomics and Myriad Genetics.

If you’re in business, don’t just start a franchise: consider teaming up with medical researchers, biologists, digital media or communications experts and doing something innovative and important.

Why settle for a boring 9-to-5 job working for a company you don’t love in a field that is not exciting and engaging and forward-looking?

Read Wired Magazine and Popular Science. Stay current with technology news. Find something that looks promising and exciting and then find a way to work in that industry. How will you explain to your grandchildren 50 years from now that you lived through the era of personal computers, the internet bubble, the biotech revolution, the era of nanotechnology, robotics and space travel, and that for a living you managed accounts receivable for a small ski shop? I guess someone has to do it. But why does it need to be you?

Gretzky was right. Skate where the puck is going to be.

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