Since graduation in 2004 I’ve been working at Apple, Inc on a variety of projects, most internal to the company, some external. Over the years, we’ve interviewed many people from various backgrounds, and one of the biggest things that keeps amazing me is that a prestigious ivy- league resume doesn’t translate directly into an amazingly intelligent person. I’ve seen fantastically technical candidates come in, spouting algorithms, bragging about how many computer languages they know; but when we ask them to solve a real life problem, some of them can’t easily think it through. They become limited by their depth in a particular branch of knowledge, and have closed their mind to new experiences, new paradigms of thought, and new opportunities.
Lawrence was the one place that taught me that breadth is important, and a valuable and profitable career path. Depth of expertise is handy, but using that as an excuse to ignore learning things in areas new to you is dangerous. Keeping your mind open to new ideas allows you to find commonalities across teams, across problems, even across professions. You can realize, for instance, that the solution to a technical problem can solve a societal one; or that understanding the concepts of how a device works from top to bottom — even if you don’t know the technical details — can help find and fix problems far faster than someone else that’s mired in only one level of the device.
The classes that I took at Lawrence helped stretch my mind by teaching foreign concepts and highly theoretical ways of thinking. At the time the usual maxims applied; “who really needs to know this stuff?” and “this won’t apply to what I’m going to make money at anyway.” But several universal truths have since clarified these experiences. The first is that it’s always easier to learn something the second time; remembering every detail on your final exam isn’t what you’re supposed to take away. But once you’ve learned something once, a ghost of it sticks in your head, and years later when you recall “I once learned how to solve this problem!” you’ll learn it again, quicker, better, and more applicably. The second is that learning new things becomes a skill to hone. The more your mind becomes stretched by new concepts, the easier it is to learn in general. They say that once you learn a second language, learning the third is easy; similarly, once you learn several skills, learning new ones becomes a piece of cake, and a very applicable professional skill.
By exposing me to things I wasn’t familiar with, teaching me to learn things (some that I really hated learning), and encouraging me to think critically about new ideas and scenarios I was presented with, Lawrence became a very strong part of my résumé, easily helping me find and perform a great job at a great company.