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Commencement Speech for the Class of 2013

A few months ago, I was kindly asked to give a commencement speech to the graduates of Faculty of Computer and Information Science, University of Ljubljana.


Dear Graduates of the class 2013,

Thank you for allowing me to be a part of the closing of such an important part of your lives and of course beginning of the new chapter. Not even one year has passed, since I have graduated. I know that there is a very heterogeneous group of people sitting in front of me. Some of you have perhaps already started your own companies, many of you already have successful careers, but most of you are only beginning to travel this road. However, you all gathered here today in this room to also officially complete your studies.

Congratulations! Today is your day. Today, be proud of yourselves, because you have proven that you do not give up easily, that you can overcome obstacles in life and finish what you have started. Your degree confirms that and nobody can take that away from you.

Let me tell you a story from my life. Three years ago, at that time I was a 4th-grade student, I saw a posting at the Faculty’s website for a programme called “Vulcanus in Japan”. I had no idea at the time what that was and how it would change my life. The description was scarce and it said it “is a internship programme for European students in engineering (or other technical sciences)” and that students spend one year in Japan. Because I wanted new challenges, I decided to submit my application. Before I knew it, the EU-Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation in Brussels short-listed my application and not long after I got notice that SANYO (now Panasonic), a Japanese company I wanted to take my internship with, accepted me. That was a remarkable, wonderful year. Among other things, I learned Japanese, I travelled across Japan, made a prediction system of electricity consumption and various simulations for battery systems in KASAI Green Energy Park; and experienced the worst earthquake and natural disaster in Japan.

In that year I learned that life is unpredictable. Sometimes, new opportunities that we haven’t anticipated emerge. I certainly didn’t think I will work and live in Japan for one year. I also learned that first impressions are important and that it pays off to do more than is expected of us. I follow the unwritten rule: when I am too comfortable, I know I have to change something. From time to time one has to make a step out of one’s comfort zone.

After coming back from Japan, I got employed at IBM as IT Specialist for WebSphere Application Server and graduated from Faculty of Computer and Information Science the same year.

Let me tell you something you already know.

The world around us is turning with lightning speed. But the world in our profession is turning even faster. On Hacker News, TechCrunch or any of the hundreds of pages with computer-related news we can every day read about new technologies, projects and inventions. Google, a company without which we can no longer imagine our lives, was established in 1998. Facebook in year 2004. Stack Overflow in year 2008. Coursera in 2012.Nokia, just a few years ago synonym for technical perfection, nowadays licks its wounds. Celtra, the company that I currently work for, operates in a market that didn’t exist five years ago. Those are facts. It is not easy, staying ahead of all these changes and innovations. One constantly has to learn, continually following new technology and new trends. But it is not new stuff that is important.

Curiosity is important.

Therefore, be curious, be inquisitive.

I remember very well the university lectures from course Computer Communications and Networks, where the professor asked us different questions. At the beginning, we always hurried to answer correctly. But the right answer to every question was: “it depends”. You had to look critically at the question and realize that the answer may be very different, depending from which angle we look. Which is the best operating system? It depends. Are relational databases better than nonrelational databases? It depends. We engineers know how to think critically and logically to evaluate the effects of individual decisions. And this is a powerful weapon that sets us apart from the rest.

After one year I decided to quit a career in IBM and accept a new job as an Analytics Engineer at Celtra. Today I can say that this was one of the better decisions, even though I didn’t know that back then. To you, I also recommend, if possible, go work in growing industries and companies. You will probably work more, but you will also learn exponentially more. Money is important, but no one should work just for the money. We spend (at least) one third of our adult lives at work, so do what you’re interested in and what you’re excited about. 

Let me conclude with a thought.

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.