CCNY Alum Dr. Fenster Shares Career Advice for Young Professionals


Many notable CCNY alumni visit the Zahn Center throughout the year, including Dr. Paul Fenster, ’60. Dr. Fenster is a patent lawyer and expert in microelectronics. He was a full time professor of Electrical Engineering at City College of New York for 5 years, and has taught courses at Tel Aviv University, The Technion Institute of Technology in Haifa, The Weizmann Institute and was also a Visiting Professor of Physics in Medicine at Cornell University Medical School.

Recently, he visited the Zahn Center and spoke with aspiring entrepreneurs on what it means to pursue their dreams. University Innovation Fellows Mahmoud Khedr and Rayna Penn learned useful career advice from Dr. Fenster and recorded this advice here.

13 Professional Lessons we learned from CCNY Alum Dr. Fenster:

1. Wake up every morning thinking, “Today’s going to be an exciting day,” and then make it happen.

You are the number one influencer in your life. When you realize that things don’t happen to you, they happen with you, you will see that you are the sole decision maker in your life.

2. Never go back to where you were.

Let go of the past and move forward in life. You want to excel, not be held back. In Gary Vaynerchuk’s famous words, “all that looking back is hurting your neck.”

3. Be loyal and you will get loyal back.

Loyalty is important in every aspect of life. However, be careful who you give your loyalty to, and always be selective with your time (the most sacred resource, ever).

4. Always take a job with people that you like and will like you.

You’re only going to perform well at a job that you’re happy at. Your job takes 8-10 hours of your life every, single day. You might as well spend those hours with people you like and who like you as well.  

5. Never be afraid to make a mistake. Learn from it and make more mistakes.

No one is perfect, we all make mistakes. Just don’t keep making the same mistakes. Learn from them and grow.

6. Build on your strengths and avoid weaknesses. Work on things that you’re already good at.

This is a major key to success. Trying to be good at everything will only hurt you. We are all different, and we have our own strengths and weaknesses. You have to find out what you are good at, and when you do, figure out how you can get better at it.

7. Be willing to work hard.

This is cliché, but hard work is greatly underestimated. It takes real grit, sweat, tears, and time to achieve great things, and you won’t do that unless you truly work HARD. There is absolutely no shortcut to any great thing you want to achieve in life, you need to put in the hours.

8. Always give credit where credit is due.

This is especially important if you are starting a project, team, or company. Any good leader knows the importance of crediting your peers, employees, or colleagues. A “thank you” goes a long way.

9. Think about when the time is right to ask for opportunities. Go when you’re ready. Don’t jump into things you’re not prepared for.

While sometimes you’ll want to say yes to every exciting opportunity, you don’t want to ever spread yourself too thin, but sometimes there will be once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that you can’t pass on.

10. Get to know the people you’re working with. People are more important than the idea.

When you are building something, make sure you really LOVE the people you are working with because you will go through many hard times. The idea will change, the solution may not work any more–so you have to make sure the people that you are with actually care and are people you care about.

11. When you’re trying to figure out what a person is doing and their goals, ask them why they’re doing it. Keep asking ‘why’ and go far with your answers.

This is the key to hiring and finding great people for any team you are trying to build. You won’t know how passionate someone is about a project until you ask them why.

12. Anticipate problems.

Always prepare in advance. When obstacles come up, they won’t affect you as much since you made yourself ready for it.

And, finally,

13. Ideas are garbage without execution

Everyone has ideas. However, ideas don’t matter if you are not making them happen. Put your ideas to work and bring your vision to life!

At the Zahn Center, we’re all about learning. We believe that diverse viewpoints spur innovation. We’d like to thank Dr. Fenster for his support of the Zahn Center and for sharing his views and lessons he’s learned throughout his life.