I Don’t Understand LinkedIn

Recently I have found myself more active on LinkedIn. The professional social network is strange web-space for a naive 19 year old to explore. The more time I spend on LinkedIn the more I have come to question its purpose.

As a tool for professional networking, LinkedIn falls short. Yet, as a platform for users to gain popularity, promote skills they may or may not actually have, and portray an online facade, LinkedIn works quite well.

The popularity contest

A week after I signed up for LinkedIn I had over one hundred requests to connect. These were mainly from acquaintances from high-school. I declined more than half. I am not self-righteous, I simply wanted to maintain the integrity of my profile.

My mindset was the opposite of my peers. I thought, “LinkedIn is intended to be for professional use. I will only connect with people I work with, do business with, or who I genuinely want to be part of my ‘network'”. Almost three years later I have 66 connections – I’m practically nonexistent.

The mindset of my peers is drastically different. Generally LinkedIn users ages 16-24 years old hold one of two mindsets. Either a; they created a profile and no longer use it, or b; they connect with anyone they have ever interacted with. Middle ground is hard to find.

LinkedIn is not useful for those who create accounts and never update them. For these people, LinkedIn serves no immediate value – rather it is a tool they may come back to use in the future, when “professional networking” seems like a good idea.

Group b are power users who work diligently to connect with many people. These users are also overlooking the possible value of LinkedIn. LinkedIn is transformed into a popularity contest. I have heard my peers refer to the, “race to 500”. Connections on LinkedIn are perceived as a valuable measure of ones self-worth. When in actuality the majority of the people you “connect” with don’t know a thing about your professional life.

I have 66 connections. Those 66 people know me. They know what I like. They would vouch for me, support me, and most importantly put in a good word for me if I asked.

What is the point of having a surplus of connections? Am I naive to think that your true connections will get lost in the sea of names and profile pictures?

Skills & endorsements

Bragging about yourself is a good thing, and in certain professional contexts it is necessary.

LinkedIn allows users to promote the skills of their connections, and displays a users “top skills” on their profile. It is perceived from someone viewing a profile that the information in the “top skills” section is forthright, accurate, and honest.

The value of the top skills section is derived entirely from the integrity of the people promoting another users skill-set. Which begs the question, why would someone go out of their way to falsely promote someone else?

The answer is not very scientific, rather it is simply an extension of the popularity contest discussed above. Power users regularly trade “promotions” with other power users to boost the number of people who have promoted them.

From my profile you get the sense that I know a little bit about web development, WordPress CMS, and search engine optimization. This is a fair assessment of my current skill-set. My most promoted skill has the endorsement of 4 people – I must not be very good at it.

What is the point of having people you do not really know promoting skills you may or may not have? Again, am I to naive to think that this is a recipe for disaster?

Where there is value

From my perspective I fear that most all of LinkedIn’s value has been corrupted. Thankfully, the social network has made a recent acquisition that can alter the course.

With the purchase of Lynda.com LinkedIn has gracefully entered into vertical integration. If, (this is a big if) LinkedIn can successfully become a resource to learn skills online they can then leverage their fledgling professional social network site.

Imagine the profiles of my peers filled with certificates from online courses. A balance of “promotions” from other users and verifiable certificates of skills would be a powerful resource for potential employers.

Yes, as it stands, LinkedIn has morphed into an online popularity contest. A virtual world where the number on a users profile means more than the words of a few.

5 Things I Learned After Dropping Out of College

It has been six months since I left the University of Pittsburgh undergraduate business program.

A month later in February I was hired as a web developer at a start-up company in the Washington D.C. area. It took me 30 days to find a job as a college drop out. Here are five things I learned along my job search.

1. Learn and practice actionable skills.

Communicating, thinking, organizing, problem solving, and time management are all examples of actionable skills you should be learning and practicing.

College provides other benefits beyond the scope of academic learning. The university setting helps students learn the basics of communication, problem solving, organization, and time management among others. As a college drop out you now take on that responsibility without the structure of college there to guide you.

Businesses want employees who get things done well. If you can master the skills that your peers are still learning in university you will appear more mature and prepared for full-time employment.

The men and women who you are competing against are most likely college graduates, they have these skills. As a drop out you have to consciously work on mastering your actionable skills.

2. Practice and focus on a personal project.

After leaving school you will find yourself with a lot of free time. Your peers will be busy with academic work, while you end up involved in personal projects.

As a fledgling web developer I took to working on many different websites. Creating silly websites such as DrakeMoods.com helped me practice my skill-set. I researched and read how to create different features and learned how to implement them through all my side projects.

No matter how ludicrous the idea is, developing your skills through personal projects gives you more material to touch on during the interview process.

3. Network with peers and community members.

As a college dropout you are in a unique position. Peers, mentors, and community members are generally upset to hear of your resignation from school and will be willing to help facilitate finding a job.

Reach out to your personal network on LinkedIn. Locate people who will take an interest in hearing about your change in academic standing and reach out to them. Friends who own businesses, or hold sway in the community should be top priority.

Actively get involved with your community. Volunteer, attend religious services, do anything to get out and meet adults in your area. Be outgoing, talk to people, and grow your network. It is surprising how much people are willing to help when you make a good impression.

4. Pursue certifications and other alternative education platforms.

Online education is an excellent way to stay sharp while not enrolled in a university.

Coursera, Udacity, and a myriad of other online services offer free courses from prestigious universities. Take advantage of these and other options online.

Enrolling in an online course will serve as a great talking point in an interview. Employers want to hire people who are outgoing and engaged in learning. Completing a series of courses in your field on Coursera will make you a stronger candidate and give you the confidence you need to interview well.

5. Do not sell your self short, stay confident and humble throughout the interview process.

Dropping out of college is not the end all be all. Now more than ever employers are less enthralled with degrees and grade point averages. Businesses want to hire women and men who are good at what they do, can communicate well, and want to learn.

When interviewing for a position stay confident – “no degree” does not equate to “no job”.

Join the conversation on Reddit.


Why I wish I went to community college

As I sat last night listening to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address I had an epiphany – I should have gone to community college.

This was a convenient thought considering the fact that I am now enrolled at a local community college close to my parents home. Yet my epiphany was not confound to last night. Over the past month after having resigned from the University of Pittsburgh, I have come to the conclusion that community college would have been a better, more reasonable option then attending an out of state four-year university.

High school does not prepare you for college

Honors programs, AP classes, and high SAT scores do not mean a student is ready for the diversity of challenges that arise at a four-year university.

I attended a nationally accredited, “Blue ribbon” high school in an affluent, successful area. I took 10 AP courses from my sophomore to senior year, and scored over a 1900 on my SAT’s. I didn’t make the decision to go to college, that had been predetermined well before I could comprehend it, rather I made the decision where I went to college.

I enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh, having been accepted into their undergraduate business school. When reflecting back on why I made the decision to attend Pitt I have come to one conclusion – I was confused. I made the decision to attend that school because of social pressure from my peers making their own decisions.

I found that focusing academically was also a challenge after graduating high school, yet not for the reason I had anticipated. I remember my older sister (graduate of McGill University) telling me how classes would require me to “take more responsibility” to pass. I came into my first 350 person lecture hall expecting the weight of this new found “responsibility” to overcome me, to challenge me. The opposite occurred.

Entry level courses at Pitt had less relevant substance then the AP courses  I had previously taken my final semester of high school. As a declared “Business Information Systems” major, I found myself in humongous lecture halls for a variety of economics courses, a history of jazz music course, and a natural disasters course. Yes, I needed to be more responsible in order to learn in these classes, yet their materials were so inexplicably boring that I found I could not.

Ultimately this led to the most difficult challenge I faced at Pitt – motivating myself to want to learn. This is a silly concept in theory – you would think a high school student that excelled academically would naturally be engaged in class at the university level, yet the opposite is more prevalent in my experiences.

Excelling in high school is not difficult. Scheduling for AP courses that are notoriously easy to pass was the name of the game, and I played it to perfection. Yet at college you actually have to want to learn the material in the courses, and for an entrepreneur like myself taking jazz and disaster courses, that was difficult.

Immediately I reverted back to my high school ways – put in just enough work to pass, and apply your time, effort, and energy elsewhere. During my first semester at Pitt I founded a LLC in my dorm room, and sold protein powder over the web. I passed my classes with A’s, B’s, and C’s, and learned more relevant information outside of those lecture halls then within. I paid over $40,000 to do that for the entire year – that was quite the privilege.

Community college might prepare you for college

If I could have a “do-over” I would have attended the community college I am now at over the four-year university I had initially enrolled in. After completing three semester at the University of Pittsburgh I have paid over $100,000 in out of state tuition and fee’s for the experience of learning there.

I was not mature enough, I was too focused on entrepreneurial pursuits, and I did not have the desire to learn that was necessary to get my money’s worth at Pitt. Yes, this is my own doing, but that has only become clear in retrospect – it would have been nice to have known before I wrote all of those checks.

This is why community college makes sense, this is why I think all high school students should seriously consider taking one, two, or even up to four semesters of community college courses.

I could have saved $95,000, my credits would have still transferred  to my next four-year university (University of Maryland), and I most likely would have still had that epiphany last night.

It is just a thought, but maybe Obama is on to something. Maybe community colleges hold a more pertinent role in our society then we think. Completing general education credits at community college should be the choice that administration and parents presses upon their kids, not the expensive out of state universities.

The idea that community college is not a long term option for career success has been engrained in my mind. That is not to say that community college is not the perfect foundation for students to gain a sense for the importance of academics, maturity, and money management before pursuing a four year degree. Rather, that is exactly the role community colleges should play in our society.