It is a common process for students to be unclear on the path they wish to follow at the time they begin their college career, and that was definitely the case for Alex Cash ʼ12. Cash, who graduated with a degree in Computer Science and Information Technology, began his Graceland experience as a music education major.
"I think it’s pretty normal to not be 100 percent sure what you want to do when you get to college and Graceland allowed me to experiment and make sure I was getting the degree I wanted."
Cash, a software engineer in Silicon Valley, has used his Graceland education at Nest, a Google subsidiary, and now at Apple, two of the largest and most famous technology companies in the world. He writes software that ships on hundreds of millions of phones and tablets every year, and he gets to work on products that, in his view, truly change the world.
Perhaps surprisingly, it is a U.S. Foreign Relations class that stands out among his favorites at Graceland. The class covered the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and almost immediately, Cash knew it was a mistake.
Having spent the last couple years in mostly all computer science courses, he was not comfortable taking notes and didn’t have the confidence to write a paper. “I was in the deep end!” he recalls. But the subject matter was fascinating to him, so he asked for help. He found a study group of history majors willing to take him in, and the professor met with him several times.
“It wasn’t my best of grades,” Cash recalls, “but I passed!” He says he enjoyed the experience and believes it taught him a lesson he still uses every day in his professional life: humility. “It’s a strength to be able to ask for help.”
Other important lessons came to Cash through Graceland’s “house” system. He was a member of Agape House, and he felt like his competitive personality fit right in. “I always aspire for the best in anything I do, and I’m happiest when I’m on a team with people of a similar mindset. Even outside of scored events like IMs or air band, we would look at everything we did and say ‘How can we turn this up?’ We wanted to be loud, proud and over the top. I loved it.”
Cash made many friends in Agape, and the connections were strong. However, he feels he learned an even more important lesson through his connection to his house: how to respect, cooperate with and appreciate those with whom you aren’t that close. He says, “the house system is very much like a family in that way. You don’t choose your family; and that can be a good thing. Everyone comes out the other end a better person for it – both the harmony and the friction.”
Cash would tell current Graceland students that their time at Graceland is what they make it. “If you put in more effort, you’ll get more out. If you want to learn about something the curriculum isn’t directly covering, you can engage directly with the faculty to study it both inside the classroom and out.”
In the end, Cash went into software instead of music education, he says, because “there was an end product that I could point at – something people could use.” He believes he’ll still be in the business for several years, “building things that others can use and enjoy.”