When Asa Kusuma (’12) graduated from ACU with a degree in computer science, he had no idea that the platform he used for his job search would be the company he now works for. Over the past decade, the staff software engineer at LinkedIn has seen his vocation intermingle with his faith and personal growth. We asked Asa to reflect on his educational experience as a SITC student and how the foundation laid as an undergraduate has influenced his life.
COBA’s vision is to inspire, equip and connect Christian business and technology professionals to honor God and bless the world. How do you think you live out that vision in your work?
LinkedIn, my employer, has a very compatible vision: Create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce. The desire to work, be productive, be creative and provide for your loved ones and yourself is a big part of being made in God’s image. It’s been a blessing to be a very small part of a very big organization on a mission to empower everyone globally with the opportunity to satisfy that desire. Specifically, my team has been part of large efforts to ensure LinkedIn products work well across the globe, for the many different languages, devices and internet speeds worldwide.
How does your faith impact your work and personal interactions?
I’m not a naturally empathetic person, but empathy is so important for doing anything as a team. The example of Jesus demands empathy, and that is such a healthy demand for everything from work relationships, to sports teams, to marriage. It’s humbling to see the missed opportunities when I miss the mark, but a blessing to see the positive impact when I learn from Jesus’ example and my own mistakes. I still am often surprised at what can be accomplished by simply focusing on the needs of others rather than my own immediate needs or goals.
Were there any big surprises when you entered the working world after college?
I’ve received a lot of advice over the years, and though I rarely doubted the advice, I was still surprised at how viscerally and empirically accurate much of the advice turned out to be. Growing up, you hear so much about teamwork, it feels like a platitude. Until I hit the workforce, environments where teamwork was obviously required, like sports, felt divorced from “the real world” and life after school. It’s not that I doubted that teamwork was important, I just didn’t understand how much work can really only be done as a team and how hard teamwork can be. Now, as a professional, so much of my time and energy is focused on working as a team, where the best outcomes are clearly from working together, even if it feels less efficient in the short term.
I could go on and on about surprisingly accurate and universal career advice I’ve received; you can be very successful by just being kind, showing gratitude and humility goes a long way, money doesn’t make people happy and often does quite the opposite, etc.
How did your time at ACU/COBA shape your future?
My time at ACU was formative in large parts because of the different perspectives impressed upon me by professors, church family and peers. There can be a tendency for college to accidentally reinforce the notion that your self-worth is derived from success in your field of study/work or your social strata or finding a significant other. No institution, ACU included, is immune to these tendencies, but I’m very grateful for a community that provided an education while also invoking a broader purpose in life.
What advice would you give to current students to prepare them for their future? What should current students take advantage of while on campus to prepare for their future?
The ability to deal with uncertainty becomes even more important after school. Take the opportunity to try new things and embrace new experiences that may be uncomfortable. College is a great time to learn how to respectfully disagree with someone. It’s also a great time to learn how to admit you were wrong about something, since everyone is experiencing new things together. I still remember seeing white gravy for the first time as a freshman at ACU, and thinking, “wow that looks terrible.” Boy, was I wrong. One of my lifelong friendships started with my first trip to Whataburger and proving that white gravy is indeed delicious. I’ve made some amazing friends since leaving school, but most of my truly deep relationships were formed at ACU.
What is your favorite ACU memory?
Probably meeting my future wife country dancing at Oplin (my first and possibly last time ever country dancing) with several other lifelong friends from ACU.
Did you have a favorite professor? If so, who were they and why were they a favorite?
Yes, Dr. Dwayne Towell (’86). Besides having an uncanny ability to explain theory in a practical way, he was both a mentor and friend and gave breakthrough advice that went far beyond my professional trade. I’m sure it’s tiring to gently and constructively correct a student over and over, so I’m grateful that Dr. Towell was willing to do that for me. He was the mentor that encouraged me to use LinkedIn to find a job, where I ended up applying for and getting an offer for a job at LinkedIn.
I would be remiss to not mention Chad Hutchins (’08), another ACU graduate, who while not a professor, was also a very important mentor and friend for me both in school and early in my career.
What advice do you have for incoming freshmen?
One LinkedIn value is taking intelligent risks. For some, learning to take any risk might be a challenge, while for others, the “intelligent” part should be emphasized. But regardless, college is arguably the best time to iterate and try new things. Taking it one step further, college is also a great time to get better at learning and iterating, and specifically learning how to be self-critical in a healthy way, being self-aware and getting less uncomfortable with failure. For me, a big part of this process was finding mentors and asking for advice, mostly from folks at church, my mentors at my internships and professors.
There’s a tension between trying to take advantage of the unique time that is college, versus preparing yourself for life after college. Sometimes there is true tension here, but often you can accomplish both with a certain perspective. For introverts like myself, don’t just make friends at college – use your time in college to learn how to make friends so you can continue building relationships after college.
What would you say to a prospective student who was trying to decide if they should attend ACU?
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of surrounding yourself with good people who care about you. ACU is highly optimized to do this while also providing a formal education. Both your network and your education can be critical for accomplishing goals. Wherever you end up, be proactive about the people you surround yourself with.