College choice isn’t career destiny, no matter what your high school guidance counselor might’ve told you. When it comes to building a career, the opportunities you take while you’re going to school can be just as important as the name of the institution on your diploma. PayScale’s College Salary Report ranks the colleges and universities whose graduates go on to high-paying careers, but the big surprise is how many “non-brand-name” schools make the list. Developer Evangelist Dallas Tester tells us why college reputation isn’t a blueprint for graduates’ career paths.
(Photo Courtesy of Dallas Tester)
PayScale: How did you choose your major?
Dallas Tester: When I was growing up, I thought I was going to be a chef and own a restaurant! I was introduced to computers via my sister when she was in college. From there, I realized that both cooking and programming were acts of creating something out of small parts. I fell in love with it, despite not being great at math, and started teaching myself to code at age 12. From there, I figured it was reasonable to major in it when I went to university.
PayScale: Does it relate to what you wound up doing?
Dallas Tester: It does relate to my work. I started out as a developer, went to technical writing, went to testing (hilarious given my last name), and now I’m doing developer evangelism, which is basically community building and teach people how to write software for a given platform.
PayScale: What’s the best thing you did during college, in terms of preparing for your eventual career?
Dallas Tester: The best thing I did was take on extracurricular activities – TAing and being a Microsoft Student Ambassador. I went to a no-name school in Tennessee, so it was very unlikely that I’d end up at a large company like Microsoft. That was my goal starting at 16 years old, so I found ways to get involved with Microsoft through their Student Ambassador program. From there, I took part in their Imagine Cup contest and got third in the nation! From there, it led to interviews and a job with them as I graduated.
PayScale: What’s the biggest mistake you made, or what would you do differently?
Dallas Tester: My biggest mistake was, honestly, not being as involved with on-campus organizations to build my network. I was working three jobs and going to school full-time, so it was hard to squeeze in more time to be involved with those organizations. The multiple jobs and school certainly taught me time management, though.
PayScale: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
Dallas Tester: I would highly recommend that you partner with your professors to find opportunities. They can unlock a multitude of great opportunities. In my case, they asked me to TA, told me about the Microsoft programs, referred me for an internship, and encouraged me to build a team for the Imagine Cup. I wouldn’t have known about these opportunities had I not reached out to the professors. They’re there to help you!
Want more #College2Career advice? Check out our special feature in this year’s College Salary Report.
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