I spent my first two years in higher-ed at our local community college, followed by two more at the University of Maryland (UMD), where I earned a bachelors in computer science. Both schools ranked okay nationally–especially for public schools–but I got grief from certain life advisers at the time for not attending a more prestigious school, like Carnegie Mellon or MIT.
I valued my family and friends too much at the time to move away, and I didn’t want to accumulate crippling debt. I was inclined to stay local. One thing I weighed losing out on was the ability to rub shoulders with future leaders. Being a commuter student who lived an hour off campus meant I would be spending most of my campus time in class, at the library, or in the computer lab. My classmates and I weren’t the best at networking. It simply wasn’t in the undergraduate CS culture at UMD.
I appreciate the connections I made while there, while also regretting not taking more advantage of the time I had with them or seeking out even more connections. I have learned since then that I didn’t need a prestigious school to network well. Several of my former classmates or schoolmates I met for the first time in industry years after graduation. We compared notes, figuratively, and realized we were in many of the same classes and even had vague recollections of each other. They have been great coworkers, advisers, and friends over the years. They are leaders at significant organizations. And I’ve had the fun of seeing them run circles around people who attended more recognized schools. Here’s just a smattering of examples:
- Director of Engineering at LivingSocial, Stitch Fix, and Shopify
- Staff Engineer at VMware, Microsoft, and Apple
- Senior Consultant at Carbon Black and VMware
- Senior Consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton and Microsoft
- Engineering Manager at Capital One
- Engineer at InstaCart
- Principal Product Designer at Main Street Hub
- Chief Product Officer at GlobalGiving
- A co-founder at LivingSocial
- And another I reconnected with at a private event at Skywalker Ranch
I have a wealth of connections and friendships that I’m extremely grateful for–all who attended the same public school I attended.
I’m not belittling prestigious schools in the least. I’m simply encouraging us all to get past the stereotype that to make significant professional connections you have to attend a prestigious and expensive school. Don’t limit your opportunities like I did those two years; you’re probably just a few feet from greatness.