A blast from the past and a new path forward

Over the last few years, the pandemic has thrown my eldest son’s college search for a bit of a loop. It’s difficult to talk about visiting college campuses when colleges are just trying to figure out how to keep there current students in the classroom. With that in mind, much of his search has been virtual.

As campuses open up and graduation looms, though, we have had the opportunity to set up some visits with his top choice schools. One of them, to my great pride, is my alma mater, Allegheny College. So I spent my President’s Day, an unseasonably warm and sunny February day, walking the paths and hallways of Allegheny.

It was a weird experience.

There is no way that I can say that my experience at Allegheny defined who I am today. I am a product of 40+ years experience across a variety of schools, companies, organizations, and relationships, and to categorize the four years of my college experience as the defining years of my life would be unfair to those other experiences. But, my four years at Allegheny were a unique chapter of in my life, one that encouraged a level of self-awareness and helped me learn to interact with the world around me.

For me, the college experience was less about the education and more about the life experience. That’s not to say I did not learn anything at Allegheny, far from it. But the situations and experiences that I was in forced me to learn more than just what was in my textbooks.

What kinds of experiences? Carrying a job in residence life for two years as an advisor and director taught me a lot about team work, leadership, and dealing with people on a day to day basis. Fraternity life and Panhellenic/Interfraternity Council taught me a good deal about small group politics and the power of persuasion. Campus life, in general, gave me the opportunity to learn to be an adult in a much safer environment than the real world tends to offer an 18 year old high school graduate.

College is not for everyone. Considering that news stories like this one pop up in my LinkedIn feed pretty regular is a testament to the change in perspective on a four year degree. What caught my eye from that article, however, is that there is some research to suggest that some schools are, in fact, better than others. It begs the question, is college right for my son, a prospective computer science student?

Being back on campus with a prospective Computer Science student allowed me to get a look at what Allegheny’s CS department is doing to prepare its students for the outside world. I was impressed. While the requisite knowledge of a CS degree remains, they have augmented the curriculum to include more group work, assisted (paired) programming, and branched into new areas such as data analytics and software innovation. Additionally, they encourage responsible computer science practices with some assistance through the Mozilla Foundation’s Responsible Computer Science Challenge. This focus will certainly give students an advantage over more theory-heavy programs.

As I got an overview of the CS curriculum, it occurred to me that I can, and should, be doing more to help guide the future of our industry. At work, I can do that through mentoring and knowledge sharing, but, as an alumnus, I can provide similar mentoring and knowledge sharing, as well as some much needed networking to young students. Why? I never want to be the smartest one in the room.

I was never the smartest guy in the room. From the first person I hired, I was never the smartest guy in the room. And that’s a big deal. And if you’re going to be a leader – if you’re a leader and you’re the smartest guy in the world – in the room, you’ve got real problems.

Jack Welch