At least once or twice a semester, I make certain to visit a university and guest lecture in a class or two. I prefer speaking to engineering students, but end up speaking at business schools quite a bit too. I have taught in several “engineering entrepreneurship” classes, many marketing classes and a few digital media design classes. Why do it? A bunch of reasons:
- I’m mid-career. The distance from where a college student is today and where I am in my career is visible and conceivable to students. When I was in school, hearing 60+ year old business or tech luminaries speak (I remember hearing Ross Perot, for example) was fascinating, but I had a hard time understanding the steps I needed to take in my career to get where they were. I am not suggesting that lots of students want to get where I am, but for those who do, the steps are a bit more clear and concrete.
- The students teach me. In my job, I make lots of assumptions. I much prefer to make decisions based on data. Discussing the state of digital media or the social web, for example, with students living in it every day gives them a chance to disagree with my point of view which lets me recalibrate my thinking. I also hear about what is on their minds, how technology is impacting their life, the indispensable web services they are using every day, and their pop culture preferences.
- I owe it to my school. Penn Engineering really helped me become who I am. Without the core engineering education they provided me, the contacts I made while there, the discipline instilled in me to learn how to solve problems and the piqued curiosity to find new problems, I would not be where I am today. So, I do feel an obligation to share the little I have learned since then with today’s students.
- Students are wicked smart. I love being immersed in a meritocratic environment where contributors are rewarded for strong thinking, intellectual curiosity, and the power of reason and argument. That’s most universities.
- It helps me learn. You really can’t be a good teacher unless you have total command of the material you are presenting. Preparing for a lecture requires a bunch of research on my part and tests my understanding of the subject.
- It’s in my blood. My mother taught elementary school and my father was a medical school professor. I think I am meant to stand up in front of students and try to teach them something.
So, I have been lucky enough to be invited to lecture at a bunch of schools. I think successful entrepreneurs and VCs would gain a bunch by doing more of it, and it certainly would benefit students if more of us did it.