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When Networking Works

A student and mentor talk at a past language networking event.

A student and mentor talk at a past language networking event. 

Friday, November 3, 2017

On a chilly Tuesday evening in 2016, students and mentors alike gathered at Union South for the “Language for Life: Alumni Career Mentoring” event. At the time, then-Ph.D. student Clinton Otte-Ford was interested in starting a career in the tech industry. During his time at UW-Madison, he enjoyed working on a class project that had heavy technology emphasis and decided to pursue this interest further after graduation.  

Oftentimes, it’s intimidating for students to transition from a full-time college student to a full-time career. For Otte-Ford, he knew he wanted a career in tech, but wasn’t exactly sure how to get started in the tech industry. He decided to attend the Language for Life: Alumni Career Mentoring event, and left the event with key network connections that assisted him in finding a job post-graduation.

Otte-Ford credits a past alumnus with helping him to navigate the tech job market, guidance which eventually resulted  in obtaining his current position as a System Administrator for Schematical, a small startup company.

“One of the alumni, Gage Trader, was a former CS major and is now a developer. He assisted me by listening to my interests in databases and websites and suggesting ways I could make horizontal movements into the IT world,” Otte-Ford said in an email. “One of his best tips was inviting me to come to a meeting for software framework developers.”


A Mentor’s Perspective

Ever since he discovered the Nintendo Entertainment System as a four or five-year-old, Gage Trader has always been interested in computers and technology. When he entered college, he hoped to earn a degree in computer science and music performance. Very soon into his college career, however, Trader realized music wasn’t going to pan out for him in the way he had hoped. He swapped the music major for one studying the Norwegian language and culture and never looked back.

Trader now works for Lumino, Inc., a mass-market manufacturer of window treatments, where he’s worked since he graduated from UW 10 years ago. He currently manages all IT operations for Lumino and has become deeply involved in his community, attributing the skills he learned at UW as instrumental in his professional and personal growth.

“The skills I learned at UW-Madison have been invaluable for my career (mostly the technical skills) and my personal life (mostly the Scandinavian studies),” Trader said in an email.

As a community leader, Trader strongly believes in the power of networking, which partly explains why he returns to UW to attend events like Language for Life as a mentor. Even though it took him a few years after he graduated from UW to realize the importance of networking, he said his skills and abilities greatly improved through growing his network.

“Because of the strong networks I have, I feel like I have the greatest job security in the world - there is no doubt in my mind that I could find a good job the next day if I needed, all because I know so many people who work in my field and have a connection with them,” Trader said.


Networking in Action

Trader came to the Language for Life event in 2016 as a mentor. It was at that event where he met Otte-Ford and advised him on how to get started in the tech industry. Following the event, Otte-Ford reached back out to Trader and the two continued to touch base, and even met several more times in person so Trader could answer some of Otte-Ford’s questions.

Although Trader helped Otte-Ford get his foot in the door, Trader insists Otte-Ford did all the heavy-lifting himself and that a networking connection can only go so far.

“It felt great to be able to help someone make their way into a new career. I want to make one thing clear – he did the hard work to put himself in position,” Trader said. “Being able to point him in the right direction was all I did, but sometimes it’s not easy to know that sort of thing without some help.”  

As a student, Otte-Ford said he learned a lot during this experience, including the value of keeping your mind open to new opportunities.

“Something I learned along the way was that every path is different – no one’s story will look like mine, but will have similar themes, so stay open to the opportunities in front of you,” Otte-Ford said. “Also, if you’re able to get an internship or part-time job in your field now, it’s definitely worth it.”

Get started on your journey by attending the IEW Alumni Career Mentoring event on Nov. 16, 2017. 


Story by Emily Curtis, Language Institute