I chose to study Computer Science for reasons of Leverage. As I see it, CS maximizes my personal autonomy, and my ability to impact the world.
Are there things you wish you did more or less as a student?
I wish I had started CS research earlier (I began the spring semester of my second year). As a first year, I reached out to a few professors via email, but they ignored me, and I likely took this too personally. Mail does tend to get lost in a professor’s inbox; I should have been more pushy. I also wish I had skipped over the intro CS classes and taken other, more interesting, electives.
To answer the second part, I wish I skipped class less often. I was routinely absent in only a handful of classes throughout undergrad, but a few of them might have taught me something useful had I attended. I also wish I had formed study groups more often.
What have you done since graduating?
A few different things. A week or so after graduating, I moved to Silicon Valley and started a company: Proxino. My cofounder Muzzammil Zaveri [BACS 2011] and I were able to do this thanks to seed funding that we acquired from Y Combinator (YC), a startup accelerator program. In exchange for 6% equity in our company, YC gave us mentorship, networking opportunities, and a bit of money. It’s run by Paul Graham, and if you haven’t heard of him, his essays are really worth reading. You can find out more about YC on its website. (Note: one of the first YC-funded companies, Reddit was also co-founded by a UVa CS alum, Steve Huffman [BSCS 2005]. He also co-founded Hipmunk, the best travel search site on the web.)
More recently, I’ve started graduate school as a CS PhD student at Stanford. Even with company work in the background, I still have far more time for research than I did as an undergrad. This is great, as I love research! Life as a grad student is pretty awesome.
Do you have any advice for current computer science students?
You have more options than you might think. Most students seem to default into taking a job straight out of undergrad. But for a certain sort of person, going to grad school or starting a startup offer reasonable alternatives. Along these lines, if you are interested in grad school then you ought to try doing research under a professor. This will help you decide if grad school the right choice for you, and it will also help in the application process (http://blog.ethanjfast.com/2011/04/state-your-purpose/). As for starting a startup, I highly recommend programs like YC. For undergrads just out of school, there is no quicker way to build a good network and find reliable mentors. If you want more specific advice, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.