5 Tips for Students to Get Ahead in Technology and Business

What advice would you give students interested in your field?

That’s a question we posed to our network of Xconomists around the country. They range from academic leaders to startup founders to venture capitalists. What we found was that their answers were generally bigger than their particular field of expertise. Taken together, the tips provide a framework for getting ahead in an increasingly competitive era of technology and business.

If I had to sum them up: learn to think, and then apply that thinking broadly, outside your comfort zone, and be different.

But let’s hear from the experts themselves:

Hesam Panahi, clinical assistant professor in the Bauer College of Business and founder of RED Labs, the University of Houston’s startup accelerator: Don’t follow the predictable route. Academia tends to cluster faculty into two groups: those that provide thought leadership through research in their field and those that do not research and primarily teach. It’s easy to believe that you’re constrained to those two options. You’re also usually isolated to your own department or college. The reality is that you’ll find unexpected opportunities by looking elsewhere. Learn as much as you can about fields other than your own which interest you—I’ve found that some of my most enjoyable work sits at the intersection of my field and others such as industrial design, engineering, and computer science.

Clay Johnston, dean of the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin: Frankly, you can’t really differentiate yourself very well based on grades and MCAT scores. These can show that you can get the coursework done but they say nothing about your passion for helping people, and your ability to push the boundaries for the larger field of medicine. We really need a new generation of physicians who can lead the charge in making our health system more person-centered, embracing technology, and recognizing that the best solutions will provide better outcomes for lower costs. Leading or having a key role in a program that tries to improve health in a creative way could be very persuasive to medical schools and could lay a better foundation for leadership in the future.

David Nordfors, CEO and Co-Founder of IIIJ: Think of how to make a profit on raising the value of people (ordinary people, not the superstars).

Kate Mitchell, managing director at Scale Venture Partners:
Go get operating experience first. If you are not an engineer, think about getting a job in sales.  It makes you close to the customer, educates you about the competition, makes you more resilient to success & failure, and helps you develop a sense of how best to present yourself. The good news is that experience will help you succeed in almost any field!

Art Mellor, CEO of Zero Locus: Using “data analytics” as my field: Technical capability is necessary, but not sufficient. It is far more important to be good at framing a question to solve.

Learn how (and why) to:
– extract a precise definition of what needs to be answered
– understand how the answer will allow someone to take a beneficial action
– define how success will be determined when you think you have an answer

Once the question is precisely defined you will know what data you need to perform the analysis, you will know how to approach the analysis, and you will know when to stop analyzing.

[Editor’s note: To tap the wisdom of our distinguished group of Xconomists, we asked a few of them to answer this question heading into 2015: “What advice would you give students who are interested in your field?” You can see other questions and answers here.]

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2 responses to “5 Tips for Students to Get Ahead in Technology and Business”

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