3 To-Do’s for Your First Year in University
Starting early is everything in a field as competitive as tech. If you’re starting university this fall, I suggest putting some real thought into it, and these three things on your to-do list.
I didn’t really think about university too much going into it, I kind of just started rolling with the punches. Because of that, I missed out on a lot of opportunities that I wish I’d taken.
The first club meeting I walked into I left immediately pretending I was lost. I was so intimidated by all the upper years, and I was still dealing with trying to feel like an actual adult. I didn’t want to be that one kid who couldn’t keep up in the social group, and so I just didn’t even try.
I would especially recommend joining a women in x (tech, engineering, cs, etc…) organization. I didn’t think I would be affected by the whole stigma and minority thing around women in tech, but after hearing so much about it and constantly being exposed to conversations around it, I felt marginalized. I started to believe in it, I started to feel the effects of it, and I started becoming intimidated and confused.
The social game is a huge part of university, and life in general. Finding your community, even one you don’t think you’ll need, is important for having somewhere to run to when you’re lost. Being a part of any community helps you build your safety net, it helps you branch out and grow, and it gives you an unconditional support system.
I scoffed at the women in x groups on campus because I thought I was better than these people who seemed overly sensitive and cliquey. That was before I started dealing with imposter syndrome, and wondering if I was no more than another woman in tech. It can be a hard mental battle to face as you enter university, and even if you think it might be useless, it’s worth it to put your email down on their mailing lists just in case you ever change your mind.
Go to All the Events You Can
Conferences and hackathons want to support the little guy/gal. They want to give people as many chances as they can, especially as they’re just starting out. Some hackathons will give preferences to first time hackers, and some conferences will offer scholarships and grants to help fund your attendance.
Even if you know absolutely nothing going in, scratch that. Especially if you know absolutely nothing going in, you’ll grow and get to learn from some of the best in the business.
Early on is when you want to explore as many paths as you can, because after you’ve invested years of time into a career, you’re less likely to leave it. Go listen to a talk about blockchain, build a website at a hackathon, or go attend a workshop on cloud computing. Figure out what you like, and then go out into the world and try to work at it the best you can. It’s hard to find the time while you’re in university to work on things unrelated to school. University is demanding, limiting in scope, and exhausting. Try to focus what free time you do have into a project or field you could see yourself loving and building a career out of.
Bring a friend and laugh at how little you know together, or go by yourself a find a group of other singletons who will struggle with you through workshops. I guarantee you won’t leave without having learned something new.
Learn How to Talk About Yourself
You have little to no work experience in the field. You have two months to get ready for job interviews to try and land an internship for the summer, but you also have that physics quiz next week. What in the hell is going to get you hired?
Employers get it.
They’ll see your resume, they’ll see that you’re in your first year, and they’ll understand that they can’t necessarily ask you about software architecture or splay trees. So how do you impress them if not with the technical knowledge that you absorbed the day before from Wikipedia?
You talk about yourself.
You’re Herbie, and your competition is that fancy sports car that can go 0–100 real quick. They have heated seats and cupholders, but you have character. You have the ability to work hard, the drive to learn and prove yourself, and you have years ahead of you to contribute.
Maybe you’re good at music and understand what attributes are important to a streaming company. Maybe you have a real passion for photography, and would understand the consumers of a travel or blogging website. Maybe you can bake great cakes and just happen to love bringing in the extras for Friday afternoons.
You have unique things to contribute to a company, and you need to know what those things are because employers won’t.
You’re also undoubtedly weak in some areas, and you need to be able to articulate them as well. You know what you can and can’t do. It’s better to just straight up admit it to the employer instead of trying to stumble your way through a question or co-op. I’m not saying go ahead and blurt out how you’re a slow eater and you get really tired and lazy around 3pm every day. I’m saying that you should understand what your technical limitations are, be courageous enough to tell an employer about them, and figure out how you can work on them.
Convincing them is easier when you’ve already convinced yourself. Show them who you are as an individual and a person, because that’s really the best thing you’ve got.