10 Tips for New Computer Scientists

March 8, 2017
Writer(s): Kristyn Childres



Any time you enter into a new experience, like your first internship or your first job after graduation, there will be things you don’t expect – things that you could have been more prepared for.

That’s why Gergana Markova (BS ’00, MS ’03) says you need a mentor. Gergana is an advisory engineer and pioneer with IBM’s Storage and Software Defined Infrastructure CTO Office, and her focus is connecting the dots between great design and actual implementation.

She co-leads the IBM Women Inventors Community, a venue for encouraging more women (and men) to get credit for their innovations through patents and discourse. She also enjoys mentoring colleagues and students.

We interviewed Gergana about her advice for new computer scientists. Below, find Gergana’s tips for excelling and advancing in the field.

LEARN TO COMMUNICATE
Some people join our industry because they don’t want to talk to anyone, but the main skill that people entering the field need is the ability to articulate their ideas and findings with others. You need to be able to get your ideas across in a clear and persuasive way. Put yourself in situations where you have to practice communicating.

VENTURE OUTSIDE YOUR FIELD
When I joined IBM, one of the reasons why my team picked me was my history with Purdue’s Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program. EPICS helps students prepare for the working world through cross-disciplinary teams and customer assignments.

EPICS made me so much more prepared than people who had never ventured outside of their own majors. When you work with someone who isn’t a computer scientist, you learn to talk to people who don’t understand what you’re talking about. EPICS taught me how important it is to understand where the other people on your team are coming from in order to improve the quality of your product.

GET AN INTERNSHIP
The working world is different than being a student, and it's fun to get a taste of that and build awareness. Go where you’re not comfortable – expand your comfort zone, see the real world, and create ties that might allow you to return to that company once you graduate.

GET A MENTOR (AND BE A MENTOR)
The right mentor is invaluable. Consider having a separate technology mentor and a career mentor. They asked great questions and shared many insights that helped me make better decisions and recover from poor decisions.

Mentoring has created many friendships for me over the years. There’s a reward that comes from seeing that you’re making a difference in someone’s life – you’re potentially opening other opportunities for them and making them more prepared, but at the same time, you are learning, too. I used MentorNet and Lean In Circles.

LEARN TO ADAPT
Our industry changes constantly – the programming languages, the platforms. You need to be driven enough to figure out and embrace the changes as they arise. People who are starting a new job need to figure out which skills are most important to their job right now. Then, they should work on building a network of people who can guide and challenge them to understand things more fully and to challenge the status quo.

BUILD A NETWORK
Young professionals can build a network by showing others that they’re someone to know because they are reliable. Having a network helps you get more done because over time, you create the resources to get the answers you need in a timely manner.

REWRITE YOUR STORY
As humans, we relate to stories. The story you tell yourself about your life demonstrates what’s most important to you.

You bring value to your company or to humanity with the ideas that you have. This is what I want people to celebrate: their accomplishments, the impact they have had on others, the things that are important to them. Write your own story.

FOCUS ON WHAT’S MOST IMPORTANT 
One of the things I wish I would have done differently in graduate school was to focus on the things that were most important. We’re often pushed to work too much without having a clear idea of how that will help us in the long term.

When you’re taking classes, teaching and working as a research assistant, all of those things take time. It’s important to know which ones are most important, and which will get you where you want to go.

KNOW YOUR PATH
Have an understanding of where you’re going and what you want to do. If you’re doing something exhausting, challenging or difficult like getting a Ph.D., keep in mind how that will get you to the next milestone of your career. I’ve been lucky enough to have enough mentors and people who cared enough to share their insights, trade opinions, and often change my mind.

DON’T SETTLE
There are so many opportunities in computer science today – opportunities to apply computing to any field, from healthcare to going into space to artificial intelligence.

Don’t settle. Use your brain. Find the things that you really enjoy and you’re good at, and embrace them.

Resources
Join Women in Technology International (WITI).
Join the Lean In Circles community.
Learn more about EPICS at Purdue.
Connect with Gergana Markova on LinkedIn.