What New Software Engineering Grads should look for in a Software Company

I still remember when I was coming out of College and was looking for that first job.  The college I went to did not attract Software companies, so I was honestly eager to solidify the first job offer I could get.  Looking back however I am actually a little ashamed at my approach since that first job out of college can be critical to your career.  Your first job really does help shape and set a lot of work ethics and patterns that you will carry with you throughout your entire career.  For that reason I thought it might be valuable to spend a post to discuss what a software engineering grad should look for in a software engineering company.

What New Engineering Grads should look for in a Software Company – It’s Culture.

As a software engineering grad this might seem like a very odd item to focus on first — but I believe the companies culture will be one of the greatest make or break items for you.  A software engineering grad will have either a great career filled with growth and opportunity, or a career filled out of dread and hatred depending on the culture of the software company he or show works for.

What type of culture do you want?  Are you a software engineer interested in a 9-5 so that you can be home in the evening with your kids?  There is absolutely nothing wrong with having desires to be a little league coach and volunteer in after school programs.  However you will be frustrated at a Software Company if the culture does not cultivate this type of work ethic.  Despite your best efforts you will most likely not change the companies culture.

Maybe you are a Software Engineering grad who wants a more aggressive approach.  Maybe you are interested in working longer hours and pushing the limits of software and architecture.  Maybe you are a Software Grad who wants to make it rich while still in your 20s.  There is nothing wrong with this — many people thrive off this type of environment.  They key thing is that you need to understand what type of environment you want to be a part of.  Then you can look for that in a software company.

The recruiting phase is critical for a software engineering grad.  You have little time to get to know the software company that is recruiting you.  Ask questions about the culture.  Here are some of my favorites:

  • What type of team building activities does your XYZ Software Company do? (and how often?)
  • What are typical business hours or schedules of some of the various roles at XYZ Software Company?
  • How would you describe the CEO?  How would you describe the management team?
  • How would you describe XYZ Software Company’s culture?

These questions are great ones to ask as new software engineering grads.  They are open ended questions where you allow the interviewer to explain to you in their own words what the companies culture is like.  It also gives you valuable insight into schedules, the moods that often filter down from management, etc.

What New Engineering Grads should look for in a Software Company – Product.

In some cases you might think — “why does the end product matter – I’m just a software engineering grad…”.  Well – that attitude is actually part of the problem.  You are not “just a software engineer”.  Throughout your career you will be tasked with pushing the boundaries on thousands of ideas and designs.  Many will succeed, many will fail.  The ratio of success to failure often relies on how much you apply yourself to the task.  How well you are able to imagine the end product and design towards that.

If you work for a company that builds an end product that you are not proud of, then how will you be able to truly apply yourself.  You should strive to work for a company where it doesn’t matter exactly what you do — you are just part of a team that builds an incredible product.  You will have pride in the product and will strive to make your contribution that much better.

What New Engineering Grads should look for in a Software Company – Leadership Team.

Getting the details on the leadership team may be difficult from the perspective of the college grad.  The lesson here though is really about doing your homework.  Do you remember that Investing 101 lecture where an investor with money would only invest in a solid management team — regardless of the product or idea they had?  This was because the investor knew that as long as the management team was solid – they could bring any product to market.  The same principle is true here.  A dysfunctional leadership team will lead a dysfunctional company.  A leadership team that works together to accomplish goals will run a great company.

When you choose the company you are going to work with out of college, you are making a long term investment.  Your investment is in both the company as well as in yourself.  If you choose a company with a poor leadership team you will great reduce your odds of providing a return on your investment.

What New Engineering Grads should look for in a Software Company – Career Potential

This first job out of college is critical step for your career.  However it is not the end.  5, 10, 20 years from know you will most likely be doing very different things, most likely for a different company.  Evaluate how this current company will prepare eyou for the future and help your career to blossom.  Here are some tips on finding career potential in a company.

  • Is there a defined architecture in place for various roles?
  • Are there training sessions, mentoring or other programs in place to help you gain new skills?
  • Will the work be engaging and challenging or will it be mindless and filler work?

Keep in mind that for many large companies you will need to prove yourself before being given freedom of your tasks and assignments.  Make sure that you understand the difference between a temporary “proving time” and a never ending mindless job.

What New Engineering Grads should look for in a Software Company – What about money?

There is so much more we could cover.  I want to keep this post however to these critical items that I think are so much more important then money and benefits.  I strongly believe that there is little difference between Salary A and Salary B when you are a new grad.  More critical is the ability to decide which company is healthier and will provide you with more career potential.  Too often people make decisions based purely upon the salary, taking a lesser job that might pay only a few thousand dollars more a year.  Of course, the first step is truly knowing yourself and understanding what type of work or challenges you are a looking for.  Without that, as a new software engineering grad, how will you be able to find the perfect software company?

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