Scott Hornung '88:
Work Your Tail Off for Opportunities

scott_hornungI am an '88 graduate, B.S. in Computer Science. In my senior year, Digital Equipment Corporation, then the #2 computer company in the world, was calling around looking for co-ops. I took the call on the hall phone of my dorm, 1st North Heinz, and spoke to the company HR person. I said "Yes, absolutely, I'm interested, are you kidding?" I went in for a day of interviews—I think four or five in all, and was given a position.

The co-op was a six-month term, and I earned $19K—at the time good money, especially for a college kid. I was elated to say the least. This was February, and I'd already been into the classes for the spring semester, so I rearranged a couple classes to accommodate the co-op, which was a full-time, 40-hour, regular job. I moved one day class to the summer and finished my degree that summer (1987) and graduated the following year. I worked at Digital's Cherry Hill, N.J., office as a programmer/analyst.

Here's the thing that I think really "made it" for me, and something I've told students in the past at alumni speaking engagements—when you get the opportunity, seize it, fight for it, learn everything you can, work your tail off.

For me, when I got to DEC, I started taking technical manuals home to read. People thought I was out of my mind. I remember their reactions to this day, and it's funny to remember. But every day I had at least one manual with me on the way out the door, and a stack on weekends. I kept my other classes up and my work load at the co-op, but I was determined to make them want me to stay, to become valuable to them. So I did all the little things, staying late, writing extra software utilities to help my team and simplify mundane tasks, and reading and studying everything I could get my hands on. At the end of the six months they asked me to stay on. I continued my learning patterns and was promoted several more times in the four years that followed. I sought out people who could mentor me and learned all I could from them. I became an expert, a go-to guy, for more and more technologies the company used, by studying and using the things I had invested so much in.

So my message is this: To be successful and get that start you need, you need to know these things:

  • Nobody owes you anything/the world owes you nothing. You must work hard to make opportunities by studying and working hard, working smart.
  • When opportunities do come to you and they are right for you, you must chase after them with everything you have.
  • Humble yourself. Realize that while you may be talented, have good grades, whatever, you still have everything to learn about business, about working with people, and truly learning your chosen craft. Keep your mind open to learning. Chase learning with passion. Be open to being mentored and coached, take and welcome critique and apply what is useful.

Lastly, in this economy, new grads are competing more than ever with each other, with people changing careers, with retirees re-entering the workforce, with people all over the globe. You have got to have a competitive drive to some extent. Do not be content to think you're going to walk out into the world after college and someone will hand you a job. That may happen, but it's the exception. You should expect that you're going to have to work your tail off for your opportunities, to chase them and keep them. You cannot rest after you land the co-op or internship, because an opportunity can also be lost or taken from you. Work to keep it, work to be the best, even if it's not your ideal job. Don't complain, gossip, get caught up in office politics, just work hard and the rest will take care of itself.

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