Pretend Professor


On Life: 

For two semesters I enjoyed a unique opportunity to teach a group of college students, via a national volunteer program. Though the program emphasized I was more a facilitator than a ‘professor,’ I still joked about getting a tweed jacket with elbow patches, and reveled in the fact that students would earn actual college credit for navigating the course with me. 

The program is targeted to first-generation college students from disadvantaged backgrounds. It’s designed to help them understand nuances of the professional world they would not likely learn from parents or friends — things like networking, resume building, and corporate etiquette. 

I was eager to participate in this program because I’d experienced a bumpy transition to the professional world as a first-generation college student. I remember borrowing a friend’s car to get a $60 suit from Sears. No one told me to remove the temporary stitches in the back or in the pockets — I found out about those . . . during my first corporate interview. I also didn’t think to prepare any small talk, so the long walk to the elevator with my interviewer became awkwardly silent. 

Those are just a few of the anecdotes I hoped to share with students in the class. Like most volunteer opportunities I’ve taken on the experience came with a lot of disillusionment. Some students were wildly inconsistent with attendance, and the 1:1 “office hours” I scheduled ranged from incredibly rewarding to a complete waste of time. It was hard to strike a balance between being understanding, and helping them truly prepare for corporate America — a place where often there is no second chance. At times I was astounded by how much students of this generation seem to struggle with accountability, or expect people to do or make things easier for them.  

However there were good moments that made every challenge worth it — times I felt I was genuinely helping others grow, sharing important experiences, and preventing others from making mistakes that once held me back. The best students in the class were a pleasure to teach, and I enjoyed being their ‘professor’ even more than they enjoyed my contextual humor. 🙂

The program concluded with a Corporate Challenge reminiscent of “The Apprentice.” Each section of students in the class competed to solve a business case for a real-world corporation. Perhaps this was due to low expectations, but I was utterly amazed by how well my students performed on the final day of the competition. No longer a pretend professor, I felt like a proud parent. Perhaps there is hope for this rising generation, after all. 

On the Market: 


I plan to write more about stocks soon, but here’s a note on two companies that have gone public since my last post. The first is Zoom Video Communications (ZM) which skyrocketed on its first day of trading even after raising its initial offer price. The second is Slack Technologies (WORK), which is currently trading below its day-one price but is a worthy long-term investment. Both companies have recurring revenue models, something Wall Street tends to appreciate over time. Both also benefit from free marketing — Zoom customers invite their business partners to use Zoom for video meetings, which eventually generates more paying customers. Similarly, young employees joining corporations today are quite accustomed to using Slack for messaging and other functions; Slack is also integrated technically with myriad enterprise software companies. Initial market reactions aside I believe it is very early in the growth story for both companies, and recommend them to buy & hold investors with a three- to five-year time horizon. 

— July 19, 2019