To Future Engineers: 10 Things I Wish I Knew Out of College

Heaven Chen speaks to future engineers who are contemplating a career in tech to share 10 things she has learned on the other side of college.

I still remember the search for my engineering internship before I graduated from Rice University. It was a little overwhelming. How do you decide which opportunity is right when you’re not really sure what’s expected of you? I knew I’d have to work hard, but who decides what working hard looks like? Does my definition match others? Did college prepare me for the “real world”?

I applied to several internship opportunities, but in the end, I came to salesforce.com. I remember feeling excited to work in the heart of San Francisco, but also wondering what it would be like to work for an Enterprise company. To be honest, I was surprised at how much fun it was. It felt like what many would only expect from a startup or consumer company – fast-paced, tons of perks and events, exciting projects, casual environment, and cool people!

My internship convinced me that I wanted to come back after I graduated, and that is exactly what I did. Now that I’ve been working at Salesforce for a year, I thought I’d share with other future engineers that are contemplating their career in tech what I wish I knew before graduating:

1. It’s OK to ask “dumb” questions. 

99.9% of the time, your questions aren’t “dumb” at all! You are expected to learn and asking a lot of questions is how you do that. Don’t get anxious if you feel like you are not contributing right away. As long as you’re learning, it’s ok.

2. People want to help.

If you ask questions, someone will help you. The engineers’ workspace is more collaboration than competition. People want you to grow so you can be a valuable member of the team.


3. There will be a lot of freedom, maybe too much freedom.

It’s a beautiful thing, but it also means that no one will tell you what to do, or what to learn. Your job is not guided by a course curriculum. Self-motivation is important. Having a goal is important. If those are challenging, it’s helpful to find a mentor or someone you want to be in 2 years.


4. You will not use everything you learned in college.

You may not use half or even more than half of what you learned. What I found most useful was how I learned, not what I learned. College helped me with both. The technology world is extremely fast-paced. The ability to learn new things may be your most useful skill.

5. Your opinion matters.

Just because you are starting your career doesn’t mean you lack opinions – and it definitely doesn’t mean you don’t bring value. You’re encouraged to share your ideas and challenge thinking.

6. You will work in teams.

Considering and at times even accommodating another’s working style is important. You will be in meetings and learn things outside of your own job. You will also have an impact on others when you screw up.

7. It’s not just about coding.

There is a larger codebase and environment to consider. Process is needed for security, scalability, and other reasons. It’s not as simple as in school where you have your own isolated project.

8. There is such a thing as work/life balance.

You have nights and weekends to yourself, unlike finals week. You don’t have to work 24/7. Enjoy life outside of work. Actually, it’s even possible to enjoy life in work!

9. Startups are cool, but it’s not the only thing cool.

Don’t feel obligated to join or found a startup. There’s a lot of hype for many good reasons, but you may miss out on other opportunities and companies that are just as exciting and fun.

10. SF culture is unique.

It’s energetic. People are passionate about what they do, because if they aren’t, they’ll just get a new job or start their own thing. Failure is not a problem. It’s a problem if you never try.

These were my top ten, but I imagine others have more to share. What would you add?

If you’re interested in new grad careers at salesforce, check them out on our website here.

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To Future Engineers: 10 Things I Wish I Knew Out of College