The Most Important Lesson I Learned in College

Aug 31, 2010

Classroom

Photo courtesy of LeeadLeaf

I remember having a conversation with my father during the last few months of summer before I went away to college, when he gave me one of his expectations of my college experience: "you won't have time to party, since you'll be in the library all the time". My memory of my reaction to that was one of disbelief, and the thoughts in my head akin to a mischievous elf getting ready to pull the wool over someone's eyes.

It turned out the way my college career played out I did indeed spend a lot of time in the library (and even more in the computer lab - good ol' CSIL), but in all that studying I almost missed the biggest lesson of all.

The lesson isn't really all that earth shattering: it's make friends, and keep in touch with those friends.

I graduated over 10 years ago, and I've recently realized that my friends are the most important resource I have in business. In college I had the good fortune to become friends with some great people: a few that I've hired and worked with, a few that I'm doing business with, and a few that will undoubtedly lead to success in my career going forward. For example, from UCSB Computer Science (CS) I have remained in touch with Lisa Kavanaugh, who came to work with me at Ask.com and is now a VP of Engineering of the web development team. I've also got friends from UCSB CS who are now at LinkedIn, Sony Online, Slide, and a number of other companies that I can now contact if I've got a question or need to meet someone who is an expert in the products they are working on.

Another of my friends, Scott Kim, is now the CTO over at Ask.com. We first met when we interned together at IBM in Austin (looking around the room during orientation, where the instructor helpfully explained to us that we needed to "leave our gun racks at home", I spotted Scott, a pretty normal looking guy). He worked on a project called Java OS (pretty sure killed now) that summer, and I worked on an internal project that I'm pretty sure never went anywhere, but the relationship we established over 10 years ago is still alive and kicking today. We email a couple times a week to talk about personal stuff, but we also share job leads, references, startup tips, and almost everything else.

Speaking of Ask.com, I met some of my closest friends while working there, and now that they've left Ask they are incredible resources to have to reach out to and talk about any subject in the valley. My startup is now moving to do some PR work, and I have a great friend who did PR at Ask and is now a Senior Manager at a PR firm who is happy to help all he can. When we need connections into mobile advertising I have another friend from Ask Ad Operations who is now at a major mobile ad network, and is happy to help. The point is that all these relationships were developed while I was seemingly focused on another goal: success in my career and in business.

At the end of the day nothing is going to make up for a poor work ethic, or sub-par skills. But I know if I work hard and achieve success, a big part of it will be the incredible friends I've made along the way.

Dad: that's one of the most important lessons I hope to leave with my children as they embark to college someday.