Commencement Speech

I was recently invited to be the alumni speaker for the commencement of the Master of Computer Science (MCS) and Master of Software Engineering (MSWE) programs for the School of Information and Computer Science at UC Irvine. The commencement was on December 10, 2021.

When I was writing the speech, I thought about how our society is at a crossroads. We are currently going through so much change and disruption. How can I evoke a sense of responsibility, action, but also optimism?

As I go back and re-read the speech, it almost feels as if I am speaking to myself.

Commencement Speech Text

When I was invited to speak at this commencement, I was incredibly honored and flattered, especially given the fact that I would be the least credentialed person here, and that when I was an undergraduate, I was nearly kicked out of school. That’s a story for another time. Thankfully, I did in fact graduate, even though I do have the occasional nightmare that it’s eighth week with Finals looming, and I haven’t been to class since fourth week. (Not that that ever happened…but you know what I mean.)

I started working in the tech industry when I was eighteen years old, as an intern for an international enterprise software company, based here in Irvine. Over the last 20+ years, a lot has changed; the Internet “fad” has changed so much of our lives, good or bad, I have a supercomputer in my pocket, and the Dodgers won the World Series for the first time since 1988. But what is more remarkable in my opinion is what has not changed. You might be familiar with the Jeff Bezos philosophy that understanding what is not going to change is actually more important, because you can build a business strategy around things that are stable in time. I can certainly attest to this.

So, what are some things that have not changed in the last 20 years since I started working?

The most important: TRUST – Building and developing trust with your colleagues, your customers, and anyone with whom you come into contact, is the most important factor of success, in my experience. When I started my own business eight years ago, it was the relationships I built previously, and the trust people had in me that kept me in business. It wasn’t sophisticated marketing or a hot new product – it was the trust that people had that I had their best interests at heart and that I would take care of them.

Another thing that hasn’t changed: The need for LEADERSHIP. Every project that I have worked on, every team and every company that I have worked with has performed better with good leadership. And I am not talking about necessarily having a high-level job title – I am talking about the small things: Leading by example, speaking your mind tactfully, being a good communicator, actively participating, listening to others, giving constructive criticism, and speaking the truth, especially when it is inconvenient and even painful. One piece of advice – speaking the truth and accepting fault openly is one of the hardest things to do, but it is one of the most powerful. I have had many situations where customers were unhappy because I or my team made a mistake – I’ll tell you what; owning up to the mistake and accepting fault has always diffused the situation and never led to a bigger escalation. The customer may still be upset, but you can now work on a plan to resolve the issue together.

When we think about building TRUST and being a LEADER, we must remember the importance of the human element with technology. While the smoothness of algorithms is attractive, we need to keep in mind the fuzziness of humanity. This is ever important today – as we are struggling to deal with a health crisis, breakdowns in our global supply chain, and a reshuffling and refactoring of our labor force. Fair or not, technology is often seen as the antidote.

When you leave here, you will be asked to help carry the load, and because of your education and training, you may be asked to carry more than others. While this might be a big challenge, you may find, as I have, that we have no choice but to rise to it. It’s not coercion from the government or from society that creates this demand – it is personal integrity and drive; it is the undeniable creative force within each of us that calls us to be the best person we can be, using our education to help everyone move forward.

You are not in this fight alone. Today, you join the community of alumni for the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Science. As the Vice President of your alumni chapter, I would like to congratulate you and welcome you. You are joining the ranks of thousands of professionals, practitioners, educators, and computer scientists that face society’s challenges head-on. I invite you to rely on us to be a sounding board. I invite you to share your story and the lessons you learn in the field. I invite you to make connections with like-minded individuals. I invite you to share a pint or two.

You will always have a home here. Thank you.