Saturday, August 13, 2011

My most successful student to date

I recently had a student who graduated our undergrad program in April get a job at Apple in California as a senior front-end software engineer. The curious can see the salary range here. I won't reveal the figure here. If you're from the midwest, in particular Michigan, where we've had a 10 year recession with median income dropping by $10,000 during that period, you'll be astonished. It's easy for a person in my student's current career to earn 4X to 5X the Michigan median income.

Was he a typical student? No,

  • he started a company (that didn't succeed) while he was at school;
  • he was remarkably inquisitive and constantly pushing;
  • he took my spring/summer web marketing practicum course;
  • he went to California on speculation that he could get a job in a startup; not for a job but on speculation he could find one.

That said, the job search strategies he used are available to anyone and consisted of networking. Here's the particular approach he used:

  • He created his portfolio and published it on his own branded web site, which you can find here. A key feature of the site is that it is targeted at his potential employers, stating exactly what it is he wanted to do and showing what he could bring to the table.
  • He covered the waterfront. He sent his resume to all companies that were his target market; then heard nothing.
  • However, one person did respond on the basis of the web portfolio, and my student met with him individually, and showed him something he had built. Every successful student I've had has been so because they showed a relevant work product with results either from one of my class projects or from something they did on the side. As this student puts it,

so out of mild desperation I took the source code from an application I had developed, and retrofitted my portfolio with it  and I met with this guy, and instead of having a formal interview about the job I had applied  I told him "Let me show you something I've built".

  • He used all of his background but put it in the context of the jobs he was applying for. For instance, his search marketing coursework was discussed in the context of building a new search marketing platform at one company.
  • From there, it exploded. Ultimately, he had companies competing for him.

In sum, the key here is that the student created a strong story and then communicated it. That obviously took first creating the story, but he also had to know how to communicate it.


  1. Very inspiring Dr. Gibson. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I got impressed.. thank you for sharing2 !

  3. Well, after reading your post, one thing is clear – there is no one road to success. I am a student counselor, and students always ask me how to become a successful Ph.D. student. I give them the tips that worked for me, and honestly, those always work – however, I feel like I should urge the (right) students to pave their road to success because that path is only for the “right” ones.