Santa Clara University


Grad Students Learn Lessons for Life

Grad Students Learn Lessons for Life

Graduate students in Ray Kehoe’s COEN 485 class get more than just a capstone course for software engineering—they learn lessons for life, too.

At the heart of the year-long course is the task of applying engineering and project management skills to the creation of a new software product. In the fall, students conceptualize and pitch ideas to classmates who vote on the top four products to be developed in teams. Resumes are exchanged and members are “drafted.” “This experience prepares them for the real thing,” said Kehoe, Senior Program Manager for Palm, and SCU adjunct professor for the past 15 years.

“They pitch their products just as they would to a venture capitalist or to a vice president of engineering. They choose their teammates based on their qualifications, just as they would on the job. I’m really not lecturing or teaching; I’m there for guidance. I train them to listen closely and ask themselves three questions: do I understand what I’m being told, do I believe what I am being told is true, and can I improve upon what I’m being told.”

As the course progresses, teams regularly present their projects’ progress and capabilities to each other, and they present their ideas and prototypes to area venture capitalists through a number of different means. This high level of practice in presenting their ideas, receiving criticism, and refining product definition prepares them to embrace entrepreneurship.

Aside from facilitating students with product development and presentation skills, Kehoe takes time to help with life skills as well. “I want them to achieve their goals, so one of their assignments is to create and present a 10-year plan for reaching them, both personally and professionally. I tell them to treat life like a project and to plan it like one.” Kehoe notes, “When I told a senior manager at Intel about this, he said, ‘I wish somebody had done that for me, because I just muddled through my career.’”

Kehoe is pleased that at the end of the course, his students know how to create and develop a software product, have improved their ability to present themselves and their work to industry leaders, and walk away with a 10-year plan vetted by 25 other students and their instructor. “Everyone has an idea, but no one ever asked these students what it was. I tell them, ‘You have the tools; now go make it happen.’”