“Things I Wish I Knew” as a Computer Science (or related) Major
Whether you’re getting ready to kick off your freshman year of college, transfer to University from a Community College, or switch from a different major, there’s no way to do it perfectly. There are so many college, internship, and career tips Computer Science students hear throughout their journeys, but sometimes these words of wisdom come a little later than we’d have hoped. For this reason, the WICS Committee have put their heads together to compile a list of things they wish they knew earlier on, to make sure you can benefit from them now.
- Apply for internships and jobs EARLY! It doesn’t matter if you’re scared, don’t feel prepared, or want to “figure it out” first – just apply. If your resume isn’t ready, take a day, fix it up, and start applying like crazy, because the longer you wait, the harder it gets. There are less available internships as the school year progresses, because companies begin filling spots as early as the Summer prior, so the best time to start applying is before and during your Fall semester/quarter. Keep an eye on applications opening up between July and August, and your chances of getting the job will be much higher than if you wait until Winter.
- Side projects > GPA. Obviously you want to pass your classes, and do the best you can, but at the end of the day, companies don’t care too much about your GPA, it’s more about what you know and how you apply it. If you have a stellar GPA but no side projects and a lacking portfolio, it’s going to be hard to stand out. You don’t have to create the next award-winning mobile application, even just a small grocery list application you made on your own time can make the difference between moving forward in an interview or not.
- Start practicing for the technical interview, like, yesterday. This information doesn’t tend to make it to transfers and freshman as soon as it should, and it’s key to getting your first internship! You need to be able to pass the whiteboard coding interview in order to land that first job, and the best way to do that is to practice. WICS recommends the following resources, to get you started: LeetCode, HackerRank, Cracking the Coding Interview.
- Explore different parts of the Computer Science Industry. CS doesn’t have to mean just programming all day. If that is something that interests then YAY!!! But if not, don’t fear, there are so many aspects of Computer Science that could be up your ally. Don’t forget to explore the different realms including IT security, PM, UI/UX, web dev, and much more! There is something for everyone within the tech industry, so don’t be afraid of trying to find what you love within it.
- Seek out opportunities to work in teams. Apart from technical skills, companies really value how well you work with other people! It especially plays a large part in evaluating how well you do in behavioral interviews. Consider participating in hackathons (and maybe get a cool side project done — two birds, one stone!), signing up for research groups, and taking project courses.
- You will get ghosted and rejected, so let’s just learn and grow from it! No matter how good your resume is, the reality is, you will get ghosted and rejected by companies. The first rejections and ghostings might hurt. A lot. Applying to over a hundred companies and hearing back from only a handful might have you questioning whether or not you will actually secure an internship. The most important part is to stay strong and learn from each of those rejections. Create a document where you self-evaluate yourself after each interview or after talking to recruiters at a career fair. Reflect on where you did well, and where you have room for improvement. Use that constructive criticism and work on improving certain skills so that you are even more prepared for upcoming interviews!
- Learn about the companies you are applying for. A lot of people apply to jobs but don’t really know anything about the company or aren’t really passionate about the work that these companies do. Don’t just apply to jobs just because they look good on a resume, but rather, figure out what you enjoy, what kind of company culture you see yourself working in, and the type of company you want to represent. Additionally, you might want to figure out why you want to work there, what interests you, and why you think you would be a good fit. Answering these questions ahead of time will better prepare you to pitch yourself in your interview. A lot of these companies have thousands upon thousands of people applying to these jobs. Many of the applicants will have similar skills and levels of experience. What will set you apart from the sea of applicants is how much you fit into the company culture and how passionate you are about the work you will be doing. When you speak with conviction, it’s because you are convinced that the things you are saying are true. When you tell your interviewers you will succeed when you start your internship, your interviewers will believe it!
- Make backup plans when choosing classes! It’s important to be prepared for things not going the way you want or expect them to.Getting classes in Computer Science is hard, but not impossible. It’s all about how you plan and prepare. At schools with impacted programs, it’s common for the class you had your eye on to be full before your enrollment window even opens, throwing off your original plan. Regardless, you will be ok! This happens to everyone all the time which is why it’s important that you have a back up plan prepared and be willing to play around with your options. A lot of upper division CS courses have minimal prerequisites, so it shouldn’t be challenging to find a replacement course that fits the bill!
- It’s okay to not know exactly what you want (until maybe like senior year lol). I struggled with finding what I wanted to do with my life as a freshman and looking back, I wished I hadn’t spent so much time stressing out or worrying. I’ve come to believe that life will figure itself out as long as you know what you like to do, what you’re passionate about, and all that “fluff.” People will be drawn to what excites them most naturally. So fret not – you’ll be okay. Imagine you’re ten years into the future, that class/grade/project that felt so heavy will hardly be a distant memory. Being open and optimistic yet hard working will get you so much farther than your performance in school, at the end of the day.
- Remember that everyone else is learning too. You may see others in your classes or clubs who seem like they have it all figured out: the summer internship, 4-year plan, and everything in-between. But no matter how much they seem to know, they still have a lot to learn, too. Whether it be learning a new language, or just learning to shower regularly (hey, at least they’re learning). With technology always changing, your greatest asset in the Computer Science industry is your ability to learn. Rather than feeling intimidated or insecure by those you believe have it all figured out, take the opportunity to learn from what they have to offer, and remember that you likely have something to offer them, too.
- Talk to your peers! Sometimes counselors can only do so much to help guide you through your academic career. Sometimes, the best advice comes from those who are going through or have been through the same things as you: your peers. Ask them about their experiences, and you can benefit from their wisdom! They can also help you plan out your classes, share tips on which classes to avoid, and give you emotional support as well. I wish I had talked to other students about which classes best suited my needs, before putting so much time and money into them. Even though I didn’t get this advice as soon as I would have liked to, I eventually caught on and was able to get really helpful technical interview tips by going straight to my peers.
- Ask questions! If you’re confused about something, it’s likely that someone else is too. Don’t be afraid to raise your hand or post on your class forum about any questions you have! I know we all get imposter syndrome and think that our questions might be “dumb,” but every student has imposter syndrome and everyone gets a little scared before raising their hand or clicking “post.” Just know that the answers you get to your question will help you and so many other students in the class and you will get your answers sooner rather than later! I’ve spent countless hours trying to figure out what an error means when I could have simply posted a quick question, and would have received an answer within minutes. Someone eventually asked that same question days later and got an answer in minutes (from me). Don’t make those mistakes! Ask your questions and get them answered so you don’t waste your valuable time 🙂
- Network, network, network! I know you have probably already heard about how important networking is, but it really is that important! From recruiters to professors to even your peers, everyone has valuable advice and can support you and your career goals in different ways. Networking can help you improve your skill set, gain resources for your career development, and even introduce you to potential mentors. You never know where your next big opportunity could come from so focus on building good relationships with others. My network has opened me up to so many opportunities I never would have discovered otherwise, and I even got my full-time job through networking!
Contributors: Danielle Muhlenberg, Archita Ganesh, Joyce Luu, Ana Sathish, Kayla Tran, Fern Lukban, Bhavani Panda, Michelle Tran, Chey Chavez, Katherine Hubeny, Achala Shenoy, Megha Kak, Anjali Krishnan
Editor: Danielle Muhlenberg
Graphics: Tiffany Nguyen