The Idea Guys
As 2014 grads Robert Mikhayelyan and Sam Bock begin their careers in the technology industry — Robert at Microsoft in Seattle and Sam at Concord USA in Minneapolis — we caught up with them to learn more about how their Augustana experience helped prepare them for what’s ahead.
Q: Where are you both working now that you’ve graduated?
SAM BOCK: I’m working as a software consultant at Concord USA in Minneapolis. It’s a consulting company, so businesses will contact them because they need more staff at a site to get a project done on time, and we’ll augment their staff to fix mistakes in their software.
ROBERT MIKHAYELYAN: I’ll be working as a software development engineer on the operating systems group with the core team at Microsoft in Redmond, Washington. I’ll write product code on the operating systems group which covers Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox.
"... having a strong background in the liberal arts ... has given me the ability to plan out a program a lot better."— Sam BockClass of 2014
Q: How did you find your jobs?
MIKHAYELYAN: I was a part of the Microsoft student partner program. That means you’re basically a contractor for Microsoft, raise awareness for Microsoft tech on campus, hold events, do raffles, etc. In this program, the student partners are placed in groups, usually regionally, but since I was the only one in the Midwest, I was partnered with students on the West Coast, and you’re given a senior student partner who’s been in the program for a while. When my senior student partner graduated, he did a lot to help me when I was applying at Microsoft. He helped with resume writing and when and how to contact recruiters. He actually knew some recruiters and helped bypass the awkward, automated resume filtering so I could just go straight to a phone interview. I also went to a lot of tech conferences. I went to (a couple conferences called) South by Southwest (SXSW) and Build 2014. At both those places, you meet a lot of really great people. It emphasizes the importance of networking. There were people who worked at NASA, BMW, Intel. Through those connections, you get your foot in the door because being able to program something that’s an assignment is fundamentally different than being able to program real things, and that requires experience, and experience is hard to come by. So the networking aspect is essential.
BOCK: I used LinkedIn to find my job. I think LinkedIn, short of having the actual connections, is the best resource out there right now for finding a job. Craigslist has a bunch of postings, but LinkedIn seems to get you in touch with recruiters much faster. I applied to two jobs in the Midwest on LinkedIn, and I wound up getting offers from both of them.
MIKHAYELYAN: Another thing to remember is after you apply somewhere, email the recruiter after that because most of the time, they’re not even going to look at your application unless you take the initiative.
Q: What drew you to computer science?
MIKHAYELYAN: Since I was five, I’ve always wanted to work on Windows, so given that opportunity, I sort of jumped as soon as my recruiter told me that.
BOCK: I took Constitutional Law because I was originally thinking pre-law, but it wasn’t a good fit, so I thought, “Well, better find something else to do. What do I like to do in my spare time? Sit in front of a computer. Why not do that for a job?” I guess I would give credit to Augie because the class introduced me to computer science.
Q: Robert, you developed the Augie Mobile app, right?
MIKHAYELYAN: Matt Anderson (2013-14 Augustana Student Association president) approached me. We went to high school together. They wanted a more direct connection to users, to students, specifically. The app was just kind of born out of that.
Q: How much impact do you think that will have on the Augustana
MIKHAYELYAN: This puts the information closer to people at the moment. Maybe in the future, once the app gets more developed, it might play a larger role in drawing people to campus. A website and an app say a lot about an institution.
Q: Is there a big need for computer programmers, even locally in Sioux Falls?
MIKHAYELYAN: It’s a fairly level playing field right now. Obviously if net neutrality gets thrown in the trash can, then that’s not true anymore, but that – you know, if you have some sort of startup created in Sioux Falls, location doesn’t really matter because you’ll be working with people all over the country anyway. Very rarely do people base their operation in the place they live, so if you create the next Dropbox, the next WhatsApp or whatever, the next Snapchat, you can be literally anywhere.
Every year there are fewer and fewer people graduating in computer science, nationwide, so that means companies like a bank or insurance companies will hire plenty of candidates.
Q: Does computer science require a different way of thinking that makes it a good fit for Augustana’s liberal arts core?
BOCK: Some computer scientists think you should have a very heavy math background because, at its base, computer science is math. But a lot of other people think you should take other classes like business or basically whatever you want because it will make you more interesting and make you communicate better, and that’s the majority of what you do when you’re actually on the job. I read that something like 5 percent of computer science jobs actually require using something that is higher-level math-related. You’re never going to write any code that’s going to take derivatives.
I’ll do a quick little plug for the history department. I think that having a strong background in the liberal arts, specifically history, has given me the ability to plan out a program a lot better because it’s just like structuring an essay so you have something templated; then you can go in and fill in the blanks. I mean, when you get to the specifics, you may have to change core things, but that’s the process. Having that experience in history really helps.
MIKHAYELYAN: Same thing for me in the philosophy department. Having that inquisitive nature, being able to break things down, reconstruct things, it’s actually – I mean, there’s some translation that has to go between the philosophy mindset and computer science, but they draw on very similar, very basic ideas, which I would argue is the same across every single discipline. You are better if you have that capacity, but in computer science, it’s critical. You can’t get by without it.
Q: What is the one thing no student at Augustana should pass up?
BOCK: Dr. O’Hara [philosophy] classes, or study abroad is what I’ll say. Study abroad is definitely my favorite part about Augie. Ireland was awesome. Cuba was more awesome.
MIKHAYELYAN: The most valuable experience – students should not pass up on – specifically computer science students should not pass up events done by the computer club because we try to expose students to a lot of new technologies. Don’t pass up learning things on your own, either through some extracurricular body or talking to professors, or staying up to date online. Learning independently is a large portion of college, I would say.
BOCK: Yeah, I guess I would say to the computer science majors, don’t pass up going to the tutors. I worked as a tutor this year, and I saw some students who had really poor grades become some of the top performers in their classes. There’s definitely a lot of appetite for new material, specifically relevant to computer science among the computer science majors, as you’d expect.
Other than side projects, the most important thing to success in computer science is: get internships, multiple.
MIKHAYELYAN: Yeah, the experience is invaluable.
BOCK: They are the biggest thing. I mean, people are going to look at your resume and, if you do something awesome in your spare time as a side project, you probably don’t need internships, but not many people do something that’s genuinely awesome. They just do little things, and that’s good. That’s how you get experience. Internships are what make you stand out. Internships are what get you jobs. Internships are what get you through the screening process.
MIKHAYELYAN: Basically, internships package all the things that are important. Being able to ship a product, being able to work on teams. It kind of centralizes all that into one area, so internships are hugely important. And shoot for the improbable ones. You’ll never know if you’re able to get into Amazon or Microsoft unless you try, and a lot of the time, you’ll discover the areas where you are lacking experience. You might get a question and realize, “Oh, I never thought of that,” or, “I don’t even know what that is” because if you don’t, you’ll never know what it is you don’t know, and then you have no way of improving yourself.
—Jake Shama '14