Thursday, October 09, 2008

Open letter to a Stanford computer science undergraduate

Dear C_______,

Although I was representing my employer when met you at a recent career event, what I'm about to write here is not a statement of my employer or of anyone else.

The short version of what I want to say here is:
  1. Your resumé is very impressive.
  2. Your resumé tends to make me feel worried about you.
On #1, I don't guess you needed me to tell you that. I mean really, your accomplishments, both technical and in promoting women's participation in STEM, are exceptional. I would love to have you work with us next summer if we could find something that interests you; we have a lot of problems to work on, and we have a lot of freedom in the intern program to let you work on them. But there are also many other companies who would love to have someone like you work for them. Some of those companies are household names, so I consider that we would be very lucky to be able to snag you. So provided that the economy doesn't go completely down the tubes, you'll be in high demand. Including by us.

On #2, and this politically incorrect part really isn't a statement of my employer.... Maybe it's because I have daughters rather than sons, but when I look at your resumé, this is what I worry about: I hope you get enough exercise and sleep and fresh air, that you find time to do volunteer work, that you get out dancing or to concerts, that you read novels or poetry and take time to relax and reflect... that you find enjoyment in life outside of math and science. I did not do much of that at Stanford; I was in a big rush, which is a sort of theme of my life.
Apropos of nothing: My daughters are about your age, and I'm just as proud of them as your parents are of you. When I think of why I'm so proud of them, their schoolwork isn't at the top of my list. Of course my heart overflows with affection whenever I think of them, so I'm not really objective. But I think of their compassion, their joy in life, their love for God, their courage and maturity and generosity -- and that is what busts my buttons. Now it doesn't hurt that their verbal SATs beat mine, that they have better grades than I ever got, or that their teachers love them. But that's secondary.
Well, all that was really incorrect politically -- again, not a statement of my employer! -- and I hope I haven't offended you. But I certainly hope that you take better advantage of Stanford than I did -- that you take classes in areas outside math and CS and engineering, and I don't mean Philosophy 161. And that you "waste" time with friends and think and talk about where you're going in life. I hope you get a few Bs and maybe even a C (okay, a B-minus if a "C" is unimaginable) or two because you've taken the time to be with a friend rather than cram for the endless sequence of exams.

Because there's so much more to life than math and computers and engineering. I hope you don't make the mistakes I did, is what I'm saying.

Best regards,

PS: whether you come to work for my employer or not, here are a few things you might enjoy reading. Maybe in a few years?

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