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I'm getting my Software Engineer degree in one year here in my country, and I want to continue my studies with a Master degree in the US. Since here in my country is not a common practice to ask or write such letters, I'm not sure about some details. I have two main concerns about them:

1) How important is the written date of the letter? (It's OK to get one now, dated accordingly, if I will be submitting it in say, 2 years?)

2) Must the letter be always addressed? (It's OK to be generic, not addressed at anyone in particular? -At this moment I don't know what University I would like to apply-)

I'm asking those two questions because currently I'm developing an important software for the local Police (the 911 emergency line) and I think this could be a nice vouch for my technical skills, however since I'm changing jobs in a few weeks it's possible I won't stay in touch anymore with the Chief, or maybe this Chief won't be around in the future to ask him. This also because now I can ask for it and get it in paper, with the official letterhead and seal/stamp, so that will be a proof of authenticity.

Let's say my idea is to get this letter now and save it for later. Of course this would be a field expertise type of letter. Thanks!

  • I think you need to edit the question to indicate the "Chief" is really the head of the informatics department, not a police chief. – aeismail Mar 13 '15 at 4:25
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Your letters should preferably be written by one of your professors, that will hopefully be aware of the protocols on how to write them. Also, usually you don't get access to your letters, but provide the university you are applying to with the contact of recommendation writers that have agreed to write your letter. The idea is that letters are supposed to be blind, so the recommender can freely express their opinions about you, and also make sure you haven't tampered with it.

I would advise against getting a letter from the police chief. He can certify that you did that job (and that should be attached to your application), but he doesn't have the technical skills to evaluate your job beyond "it works", and he cannot put you in perspective compared with other students. Plus, industry letters are usually a string of cold facts:

This person worked here from November to April developing the system C.

Whereas an academic letter is on the line of:

I strongly recommend the student for the program because... as he showed working on ... [And some paragraphs more saying how awesome you are].

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  • Thanks, I wasn't aware about the methodology, I thought you collected the letters and then you send them together. I didn't want to pile on details, but this Chief is in fact the head of the technology and informatics division, so he knows about software development. Also (at least for the universities I searched), they ask for technical rec. letters (not only academic) as one of the requirements is to have x amount of years in working experience, and something to vouch for them. – Zukki Mar 5 '15 at 18:11
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A good letter of recommendation should be specific for the position you are applying for, and be written by someone you actually worked with personally (or did course work for), so that they can say something about you and not just about your work. So I do not think that a generic letter from the police chief will be very useful as one of the reference letters you will be asked for in two years time.

However, that doesn't mean that it isn't worthwhile to get some sort of formal statement of the work you did. My advice would be to ask for a short statement saying what you did, and (hopefully) that you did a good job. Then in two years time you can include that with your applications on top of the required reference letter(s) from your professors, as I do think developing something for the emergency services is worth including in your resume.

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