16 May

Are you a bad (software) engineer if you don’t do side projects?

This is a question that recently came up on Quora and something that I’ve personally struggled with during and after college. It’s been especially hard for me ever since I started doing recruiting for Intuit, as one of the things that we look out for in promising candidates (at least at a university recruiting level) is that these students are self starters that have side projects listed on their resume. When students ask me what they can improve about their resume, one of the first things I recommend is that they work on a meaningful side project or get involved in extracurriculars to help bulk up their resume.

For me though, I feel a bit like a hypocrite because spending time on side projects is not something I do on my own time. Working as a full time iOS engineer fulfills my need to build, create, problem solve…etc. – I prefer to spend my time engaged in other meaningful learnings that aren’t as explored in my day job.

That being said, there’s definitely other ways that you can gain knowledge and continue learning without having to do side projects – they can even be your day job! I have a very similar perspective to Tracy Chou’s opinion on the matter – snippet below:

I don’t do side projects and I don’t identify as a hacker, but I do read technical documentation, articles, and books; I do attend (and give) technical talks; and perhaps most importantly, I pick my day job based on learning and growth opportunities: which company I’m working at, which team I’m on, and which projects I take on. I stumbled onto this a little bit by accident, but I discovered that responsibilities in your day job that require you to learn are a great forcing function for learning. 

Aside from these things, I’d also recommend joining Meetup groups and attending technical events/conferences. There’s nothing better than learning first hand from experts on the subject matter, and being able to discuss it with them (networking isn’t a bad idea either). What matters most is that you find what you’re passionate about and make sure that the world knows about it, side projects or not.

****One caveat to this though is that if you are currently a student, side projects are definitely one of the easiest ways to make yourself stand out among the rest of the candidates. I’ll add though, I personally didn’t do that many large side projects in school. I did, however, participate in hackathons and was greatly involved in student leadership. These were the things that made me stand out.

13 Aug

Don’t underestimate the power of passion

A person can succeed at almost anything for which they have unlimited enthusiasm.

Charles M. Schwab

I had the good fortune of being selected as one of the engineers to go to the 2012 Grace Hopper conference on behalf of Intuit. It’s really quite strange being on the other side of the table after having been a college student for five years. Suddenly, everything everyone ever told me made perfect sense. Now that recruiting season is almost upon us again, I wanted to bring up something that I noticed at last year’s conference.

After speaking with the endless amount of amazing talent at GHC, it became clear to me one thing that seemed to be lacking in even some of the most qualified candidates. Aside from the general advice everyone gives to technical candidates (study your data structures, brush up on those algorithms…etc.), there’s one specific thing that can make even the most inexperienced person someone that every company wants.

Are you ready for it?

Really ready for it?

Ok. Here it goes.

PASSION.

It’s as simple as that.

The best candidates are the ones that can barely hold back a wide grin when they talk about their favorite classes or the awesome project that they worked on. They’re the ones with the spark in their eyes when they describe what it was like to be involved in a student organization. They’re the ones with the delight in their voice as they describe the first time they wrote a simple mobile app that, by all means, isn’t the most technologically advanced thing most engineers will ever see, but it’ll sound like they’re describing how they discovered the cure for cancer. Those are the memorable ones.

Technical skills can always be developed. There’s no question about that. But, if the passion for problem solving and delivering something that can potentially revolutionize the world isn’t there, then it’ll never be there. That’s something that can’t be taught. You can fill your resume with amazing projects and a ridiculous number of technical skills that would make any recruiter drool, but if you don’t have any passion for the things you worked on, then people won’t be excited about you and what you can bring to the team. You’ll fade into the background, lost in the endless sea of resumes that get collected at these conferences and career fairs. Trust me, that’s the last thing you want to do.

05 Apr

Two steps forward, one step back

I recently received some advice that didn’t really click with me until a few moments ago. I’m like a sponge; as an early career person I feel as if it’s my duty to be exposed to everything and try to soak it all up. But, what happens when you feel as if your current opportunities aren’t giving you as much room to grow as you would like? Now to clarify there’s always room to grow, especially this early, but not every opportunity goes in the direction that’s right for you.

Now, what’s the advice you ask?

Don’t be apologetic about what you want.

I’ve always been very nice. I grew up in a culture where being respectful is everything, but I’ve always been mindful of the things that I want in life also. The general rule of thumb was to step on as few toes (if any) as possible to get to where I want.

I’m not in one of those situations currently. I’m in a position to stomp on more than a few toes if I really go after what I want and I’ve been quite wishy washy about making the decision. Even though this decision will most likely be a positive career change, it’ll probably burn some bridges. While it may seem like the best thing to do is to minimize the amount of damage I’m about the cause, it seems like this may unconsciously sabotage any respect people have for me because it seems like I just can’t make up my mind.

There’s an interesting article about 10 ways women are unconsciously sabotaging their careers. Number 2 rings true here.

It’s important for both men and women to be well liked at work-but you can’t build a career solely around being liked. The trick is to find a balance between being a wishy-washy “nice girl” and a woman who’s too headstrong.

Sheryl Sandberg talked about this in her book Lean In. She states that if you please everyone, you’re not making enough progress. Every time I change my mind about my situation, I’m taking two steps forward and one step back. It’s progress, but at this rate, I’ll never get to where I’m going. So now I’m going to live by these words…I’m not going to be apologetic about what I want. It might put me in a position that takes me out of my comfort zone, but there will never be a big reward without a bit of risk and improvisation involved. It’s just the way the industry works.