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Transitioning from University to Career - My Advice from an Alumni Panel

My story into tech is no secret. I was severely depressed and lonely, went to college where I discovered programming and a classmate taught me C# which changed my life! That is what led me to studying Software Engineering at Manchester Met University and never looking back!

I made the decision when applying for university, that a placement year in industry would be really beneficial. A year of earning, experience and maybe even a job at the end. Now the job at the end didn't pan out, as our whole IT department was outsourced to a company in India, and we were all made redundant 2 months before my placement was due to finish. :(

But what I did get out of it, that I never realised would happen, even though it is quite obvious looking back, is maturity and a new attitude to work. I was never work shy, I put in maximum effort in all things that matter but when I came back to university for my final year, I found myself more prepared to work hard. It paid off, I got a 1st!

In my final year, one key ingredient was the people around me. I had friends who also wanted to do well, had done placement years and felt the same about knuckling down. We used to meet up every weekday before lectures and work on assignments together. Even if it wasn't the same assignment, we would just have a place to brainstorm, focus and have fun.

Another person who made a real difference to my success was Dr Matthew Crossley. He is a senior lecturer and programme leader, but back when I knew him in my final year, he was working on his PhD and offering his time to help students with any code related issues. One of those students he helped was me! Sometimes he helped me write code, sometimes he just listened to me in his office. But to this day I remember those sessions. It was the start of me realising how much things get easier if you just ask for help!

So when he reached out to me recently on Twitter, and asked if I would be interested in taking part in a panel event of alumni, to help inspire second and final year students, I happily said yes!

That event happened on Thursday 19th September 2019 and I wanted to do a quick sort of Q&A post where I list the questions I was asked (that I can remember) and then the answers I gave so anyone unable to make it or just interested, can hear my advice.

How do you think your time at university prepared you for your career?

I studied Software Engineering so in my final year, my dissertation was a group project. This was super stressful. There are different reasons for why the real world can sometimes be stressful but it prepared me for life with a team which is how most development teams function. I also learned that taking a year in industry was super helpful for experience. I even got my graduate job at Fujitsu thanks to the Careers and Employability Service at the university so make use of them, it can make a real difference!

What is your best advice for a student currently in their second or final year of studies?

University isn't always about assignments and lectures. Try and do more outside of uni (and no I don't mean the pub!). Manchester has a thriving tech community with loads of code clubs, hackathons and opportunities to give back. Go to these meetups or events and get to know people. Mentoring for example, is a great way to help others but also a way of realising how much you already know! You may even learn something along the way. Being a teacher doesn't mean you stop learning, believe me!

What is the achievement you are most proud of?

Definitely becoming a Microsoft MVP. Technology changed my life and sharing knowledge, giving back and supporting my peers means a lot to me. I want to help make a difference to someone else feeling as lost as I did. Plus I just love to talk about my favourite subjects. So to have a company as huge as Microsoft, not only notice what I am doing for others, but also deem me worthy of such recognition as MVP, was a very proud and emotional moment.

What would you say is the difference between interviewing to be an Intern and a Graduate?

This is a harder one to answer because I never interviewed for an Intern position. However I would approach it the same. What they look for in a candidate might be different because of the length of time. But they still want to see someone who will be a good fit, hit the ground running with knowledge of their chosen tech stack and a passion for learning.

What non-technical skills do you think are important?

Not being afraid to ask for help! As I touched on in my intro to this post, learning to ask for help was a key event for me. Nobody ever thinks less of you for asking a question or asking for help. Like in university, you should always at least try first so you can report what you have found and what you have tried. But you won't get punished for being human and getting stuck.

Also work life balance. It's all well and good taking on a degree and a full-time job, liking the idea of a really nice looking bank balance but if you are burned out and ill, you can't spend it anyway! University is tough with all the assignments, classes and lectures so let yourself put your studies first for a while.

Do you think a company's reputation matters when looking at where to work?

Yes, definitely! You will spend many hours of your life in work, surrounded by the same people so it is important you find somewhere that makes you happy. If you can, reach out to current employees and see what they think about working there.

I have changed jobs a few times since I graduated because for different reasons, it wasn't making me happy anymore, or a chance to be even happier came along. Don't be afraid to change jobs as you will do your best work when you are happy.

What advice would you give to help prepare for interviews?

Do your research! It goes a long way when a company sees that you took some time to get to know the company and understand what they do. You don't have to be able to name the CEO, CTO and CFO but knowing a bit of the history and showing you cared enough to look up the company, says a lot about you.

Another thing I would add is be yourself! When hiring, companies look beyond just your CV and technical knowledge. Some of their employees will sit near you and work with you for ~40 hours a week so they want someone will fit in with the team and enjoy working there. If you relax at interview and be yourself, they will get an idea of who you are beyond a piece of paper.

When in the interview itself, remember to take your time. You don't have to give the first answer you think of, it's totally OK to take a minute to think about it. Just like I do now in my day job!

I feel like I might have forgotten some questions, or mixed up answers but you get the idea!

University was hard but amazing, and even though my recent achievements maybe matter more when hiring me now than my degree does, it still helped teach me a lot besides technical skills.

With Twitter being so popular now, LinkedIn and all the great meetups and events in Manchester, it is a fantastic time to be a student in Manchester and really make the most of it. There is an organisation called Hac100, who run a lot of hackathons in the community. They are a great start for events to either attend or volunteer at. I am proud to call a lot of that team friends, and have seen the benefit their work does in the community so get involved!

If you have any more questions and want some advice from someone who survived university, feel free to contact me on Twitter

A photo of me from Graduation 2014

Emote of Luce making a heart gesture

Luce Carter

Dev 🥑 at MongoDB | Microsoft MVP | Twilio Champion | I help developers build confidence and battle Impostor Syndrome, one line of code or story at a time | She/Her