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Stanford University

software engineer/IBM
University : Stanford University ( 1982 )
Major : Sociology
Still in Field? :No
Effort Level : 4/5 (Worked Hard)
Gender : Male

Jobs held since college:
1. Software Marketing
2. Software Engineer/Stanford
3. Software Engineer/Taligent
4. Software Engineer/IBM

    I'm 46 and graduated in 1982. Stanford might be different for students now, certainly the times have changed. I've been living in the area (Palo Alto, Menlo Park) continuously since graduation, and I've seen the area change. Palo Alto downtown is much less sleepy than it was when I attended, but if anything it's even less interesting. But if you have access to transportation there's plenty of places further off campus that are worth going to.

    What I needed from Stanford, and what I didn't get, was a sense of direction and purpose. My advisors did little or nothing for me-- just helped me assemble enough course credits to graduate. I took classes pretty much at will with no planned course of study; and as a result got a 'well-rounded' but shallow education. I didn't continue on to graduate study since I had no strong interests and certainly hadn't planned enough to apply anywhere. This though I did quite well, in terms of grades, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. The head of my department, who met me on graduation day, was startled (and disappointed, I sensed) to discover just how unfocussed I was.

    Classes were mixed, as other people have said. Some great professors, some awful professors, some good graduate student teachers, and some unintelligible ones (I particularly rememeber a chain-smoking linear algebra TA with a disdainful air whose accent I could just never penetrate). I had my share of small seminars and large lecture classes. Smaller is always better...

    One good aspect for me-- well, perhaps ultimately it wasn't 'good'-- was Stanford's very flexible policy on dropping classes. I enrolled in classes just to hear the lectures, sometimes, and to see which classes caught my fancy enough for me to actually work at them. You can (or could, anyway) drop a class anytime before the final with nothing on your record. It keeps the pressure off when you get in over your head, and I still favor this policy. I ended up (despite being a techie by nature and in later life) doing a pretty much liberal-arts major so it was easier for me to drop classes than it would have been for the engineering students, who had much stricter graduation requirements.

    Stanford is also very flexible about letting you stop and restart your course of study. That was (really) the best thing about Stanford for me-- when I stopped out for two years and went overseas to Taiwan to teach English. It's simple-- you just don't enroll one quarter. And when you come back, you just enroll again (although res ed did lose a box of my stuff that I had stored). Once admitted, always admitted (I was in more than one class which had a 40 or 50-year old housewife who had returned to finish the degree she had started decades before and never completed). Stopping out and living overseas helped me mature a lot and develop more of a sense of purpose, which helped greatly when I returned for my senior year. You might say, only half-facetiously, that the most valuable part of my Stanford experience was the part when I wasn't at Stanford.

    My career (as a software engineer) has had absolutely nothing to do with any of the Education I received at Stanford. I earn a decent salary (enough to pay a mortgage on a tiny home here-- if you know the area and housing prices you'll understand) but my job is pretty undistinguished. My sense is that most Stanford graduates have done better socially, financially, and in terms of career than I have. In an odd way, that's the downside of Stanford-- you get the feeling that as a Stanford grad you're supposed to be either running a business or hold several patents on a valuable new technology, making decisions that affect hundreds if not thousands or tens of thousands. At a minimum you're supposed to have a successful career by your mid-40's, instead of just a job, which is what I have. And lots of Stanford grads do, I just don't seems to have the personality for it.

    I guess this is all a way of saying that what you get out of college depends a lot on what you bring to it. I brought strong academic skills but no purpose and no people skills, and that's still very much the way I am today. Stanford didn't change that. Having Stanford on your resume helps, a little, but after a few years a BA doesn't help much anyway-- certainly not as a software engineer, even if it is from Stanford.

    Stanford is a great place for someone with a sense of direction and purpose. But I personally would have benefited from doing something else for a few years before going to college. I didn't have the energy, confidence, or independence to do this, but perhaps I could have realized earlier (or some adult could have alerted me) that I needed to get a better sense of myself. I really enjoyed my senior year-- the extra two years of living overseas really helped. I just wish I'd had that experience and maturity a bit earlier.
Stanford University
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