Even if you just want to work in tech at someone else’s company (like the 99.9% of us who are not CEOs), there are a few skills that can help you to be successful. Here are three that I’ve found extremely useful as a recent graduate:
How to get it: Spend the $11/year and purchase your own domain — it’s a great way for you to force yourself to learn some HTML/PHP and CSS, and improve your personal brand in the process. Do some research online or ask a friend to get you started with hosting and your FTP. Google will help with the rest of your coding inquiries (W3 Schools always seems to be the first result, and a reliable one at that: http://www.w3schools.com/). If you’re still at Cornell, take a course like “Intro to Web Design” — a few of my friends did and they found it was extremely valuable.
2. An Eye for the User: It’s all about the user experience with tech startups. If someone tries your product/website/iPhone app, and it doesn’t serve a unique purpose or look visually appealing, there’s no way they’re going to come back a second time. Knowing what users want, and sometimes more importantly, what they need but don’t even know yet, can lead to the development of a truly successful product.
How to get it: This one is a bit more abstract, and not exactly something that can be “taught”. You have to put yourself in the shoes of the every day user, and then the shoes of the once-a-month user, and then the shoes of the user over in Russia. Basically, break out of your own mindset when it comes to interacting with a product. Focus on how other people would receive and interact with it in different situations. If you still get stuck, just ask someone. Talking to others about why they use certain products or services can help you develop that 6th sense you need.
3. Collaboration and Creativity: Working together to find the simplest and most effective solution is crucial when the clock is ticking. New problems need new solutions, so do the cliche thing and “think outside the box”, but this time bring your whole team along so everyone is on the same page — a new, shinier, faster page.
How to get it: Surround yourself with more than just “yes” people. As others challenge you and your ideas and opinions, you’ll learn to defend them creatively or fabricate a more mutually-beneficial solution. If you’re still at Cornell, take NBA 5150: Leadership Theory and Practice with Mike Hostetler. It’s a great course for learning to develop yourself as a leader-manager, and learning how to collaborate instead of just compromise or compete.