You don't just become a "Nerd", You Earn it
By Arijit Banerjee
The online Oxford Dictionary says that a ‘Nerd’ is
“A foolish or contemptible person who lacks social skills or is boringly studious”
And then the same dictionary gives a second meaning to the word:
“A single-minded expert in a particular technical field”.
Now that’s a definition I can live with. In fact, I would love to be called a nerd. Especially, if I am perceived as an expert in a technical field and not everyone is given such a name. It has to be earned. Don’t you want to earn it?
In the world of Software Engineers, being called a nerd is a lot more special – especially when it comes from other nerds. It means that your expertise is being recognized by the community to which you belong – a community of experts. It is these so-called nerds who created the likes of Windows, Facebook, Google, Snapchat and Instagram and their creators are now immensely rich, famous, and most importantly, admired for their innovations.
So what does it take to become a nerd?
It all starts with the basics. Pay special attention to the basics that you are being taught in college today. You need to know them like the back of your hand. This is critical for laying the groundwork and building your foundation towards becoming a "nerd."
To become an expert in the IT industry, you need to build expertise in various tools of the trade. You need to know a few programming languages, a few debugging tools, know how compilers work, understand various automation suites amongst many other such areas. You also need to be good with working on various platforms such as Operating Systems, .Net, J2EE.
In addition to tools and platforms, perhaps the most important factor is understanding technologies. They could include OOPS, Structured Programming, Client-server, Just-in-time compilers, Interpreters, Distributed Computing, Real Time Systems, Embedded Systems and so on.
Applying what you learn and understanding real-work applications of these technologies and platforms is almost a given. Use your time in college to gain some working experience on a few of them and by the end of college, you will be able to figure out which ones you really enjoy working on. By doing this, you might also get a better understanding of the industry you'd want to work in - it could be telecom, healthcare, financial services, transportation, automotive etc.
How can I get this kind of knowledge?
Gaining domain expertise takes the most time and this should be your focus as a budding IT expert. You need to embrace the fact that you will be a student all your life. Tools, platforms and technologies change so rapidly, that one needs to be continuously learning just to keep up. And remember, merely doing the same job over and over again doesn’t mean one has learnt something new.
Learning falls under the following categories:
It’s the bare minimum required to do one’s job. If you need to know C++ before you can start on a project, you will have to learn it. Hygiene learning is what makes you eligible during placements.
These are learning opportunities created by chance e.g. attending a college conference, participating in a tech-fest or being part of a special project within the college. Manipal University provides various opportunities for opportunistic learning. Formula Manipal is one of the biggest examples - it comprises of a group of students who aim to design, conceptualize, fabricate, test and race a single seater, open-wheel Formula Style race car. Imagine the learning opportunities if you were part of this project. So, take hold of all the opportunities that come your way.
This is learning aimed at meeting specific career goals and objectives. You start with an end goal in mind and prepare yourself. This journey may take a few years, but you can start the process in college itself. Gaining competence on the various dimensions mentioned above takes effort and calendar time – but the first few steps are as important as the last. This is an activity that typically falls under the “important-not urgent” quadrant. So it is important that you don't fall for the tendency to postpone it.
The good news is that the rewards are more than worth it. Companies are redefining the technical ladder and allowing their technical workforce to take their rightful place under the sun. It is no longer necessary that a fresher can only advance at a certain pace. The only thing that matters is competency.
Your ambition should be to become the go-to expert: the nerd who is so cool!
About the Author:
Manipal Global Education Services (MaGE)
Arvind Thothadri is the Vice President at Manipal Global Education Services. A post graduate from IIM - Lucknow with about 20 years experience, Arvind has spent the last 10 years in leadership roles advocating technology in Learning, Training and Assessment with customers across the globe.