What To Do At University To Kickstart Your Software Engineering Career

What To Do At University To Kickstart Your Software Engineering Career

Being a developer is a fantastic opportunity. Not only do get to know about how the digital world operates and how stuff is made, how apps get deployed, how your Instagram feed is generated and how Amazon gets your orders, but you also exhibit the skills to work from absolutely anywhere and at anytime — on your terms, as you please.

A friend of mine has a child starting a computer science degree at a lesser-known university and wanted some tips on what they should do to get a good software engineering position when they graduate. Here are a few of the tips I gave them.

  • Expect to work harder to get noticed. You're not going to a "name brand" computer science or software engineering school like Waterloo, Stanford or Carnegie Mellon. It's an unfortunate fact, so be prepared for it. The good news is that remote interviews are commonplace now, so companies don't have to spend money to fly you out and they'll be more willing to take a chance on you once you do get noticed.
  • Get and keep high marks -- it's important when you don't have a lot of experience. When you're just starting out, companies don't have a lot to go on and marks is one of the things they look at. High marks won't necessarily open doors, but low marks can certainly close them. You want good marks in general, but you especially want high marks in computer science and mathematics courses.
  • Engage in CS-related extracurricular activities. Think about joining any computer-related clubs, participating in programming contests and hackathons, working on projects for profs. Again, things that can help get you noticed.
  • Get programming jobs. If your university doesn't have a co-operative education program, it'll be up to you to find your own summer jobs. Make sure they're programming jobs. The experience you'll get on those jobs is invaluable. Don't plant trees for the summer, no matter how noble that is.
  • Learn the programming languages that the companies you want to work for use. For Google that would be Java or C++. Yes, you can interview in Python for a job at Google, but the reality is that most teams at Google don't use Python and your prospects will be limited. For other companies it will be different. Do you research and make sure you have real experience in one or more of the preferred languages.
  • Start preparing for programming interviews. Whether or not you like it, a lot of software companies use 45-to-60 minute programming interviews where an engineer will present you with a programming problem and see how well you can solve it. You need to prepare yourself for this kind of interview format. It's not fun, the interviews are stressful and not realistic, but it's what companies use. There are plenty of books and websites that will help you get ready, take the time to prepare so that you can ace those interviews.

The reality is that all the things you do to get noticed by recruiters is what you need to get your foot in the door, but it's the interviews that will get you the job. Start your career journey in first year and by the time you reach fourth year you'll be in a great position to find an appealing software engineering position.

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