Silicon Valley, and the software industry in general, are truly unique in today’s world. It’s a powerhouse of innovation that’s ready to push the envelope by taking significant risks and exploring something new. Sometimes the experience is so engaging, it doesn’t even feel like work.
I feel privileged that I got the opportunity to work at great companies like Rubrik, Google, and Glean – and I often get questions from new grads about how to approach and build their career. So although there’s plenty of excellent and valid advice floating out there already, I’ll be briefly highlighting the most salient career-building strategies that worked for me.
As an ambitious recent college graduate and newly hired software engineer, the reality is that your role in your first project likely won’t be challenging enough for you. When I graduated with my masters, I believed that my in-demand skill set and decent academic record was sure to land me in some exceptionally interesting role right away. This, unfortunately, simply wasn’t the case.
While a good background and strong skill set can secure your position in a great company, you’ll need to establish a base of trust and a reputation for success before you see yourself assigned to significantly challenging and interesting responsibilities. Once you do so, however, the rest becomes history – a steadily-built reputation for success and innovation often guarantees a chain reaction of growing connections and bigger opportunities.
In fact, my second job (founding engineer at Glean) came as a result of having worked with Arvind Jain, one of Glean’s co-founders, at Rubrik. So keep in mind – the Valley and the tech universe can be a small world. Chances are, your connections and professional reputation can often be directly responsible for that high-responsibility role you’ve been looking for.
Every profession has a learning curve, and software engineering is no exception. There’s always a lot to learn – and the bulk of it happens in the first year or two of real work experience, making it difficult to keep up. Doing so, however, will put you in the top 80th or 90th percentile of all engineers out there, making those first few years key to kick-starting your career.
So make sure to set aside a few hours every week to simply read ideas, blogs, and papers in the areas you want to be an expert in. A good starting point is top-tier academic conferences and tech company blogs, like:
After mastering the core engineering skills in an area – e.g. design, small well-tested PRs, and code reviews – one important thing to keep in mind is to stay broad – continue your education, be receptive, and constantly iterate. There are several great reasons why I think it’s important to learn a diverse set of skills as a software engineer:
The lesson here is to never stop learning. Always read new stuff. Pick a course or a technical book every so often to sift through. And always remember – your career is a journey, not a destination.
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