Choosing where to work after graduation as a software engineerFeatured

BackstoryDuring my senior year of college, I was lucky to be choosing between offers from a few great companies. At the same time, I wasn’t sure what I wanted from a company after graduation. I just knew I wanted to work as a software engineer on applied machine learning. I narrowed my choices down to two companies that offered me that opportunity. I interned for three months over the summer at Microsoft and I interned for a month in January at I am now currently working on speech recognition R&D at Here are the biggest factors for how I decided where to work right out of college.Company CultureDoing an internship at a company will give you a better idea of what day to day life will be working there. It exposes you to the culture and people you will be working with. These are people you have to see and work with for eight hours a day, five days a week. Ideally, you would enjoy being around these people so that being at work will be a good experience. If you don’t have the time to do an internship before you have to decide, ask questions and take in the atmosphere during an on site interview. Company culture helped sway my decision towards a startup because I simply enjoyed interacting with my coworkers there more. ResourcesAfter graduation, I didn’t want my learning to stop. I wanted opportunities to learn in addition to what I would be learning from work. Look for the learning resources available as a benefit to employees because companies also want to invest in their employees. Some companies will pay for your graduate school or give you a budget to attend conferences. In my case, I wasn’t considering graduate school so I chose to go with the startup since it offered me more of an R&D position and opportunities to attend conferences. If you’re not sure what you want to work on, also look for companies that will allow you to transition to a different team within the company so that you don’t have to switch jobs. Some companies offer rotation programs that let you work on different teams for a brief period and let you decide what you want to work on later.CompensationIt’s a good idea to try to negotiate if your offer is not explicitly non-negotiable. When I asked a recruiter whether I could negotiate the offer they gave me, the recruiter said, “Why not? The worst that could happen is I tell you no.” There are studies that show that women are less likely to negotiate their salaries than men are. It is definitely scary putting yourself outside your comfort zone, but it is worth at least taking a shot at getting more compensation. When looking at your compensation, look at more than just the salary or the signing bonus. Companies might not be willing to increase your salary, but are more open to giving you more stock. This is one of the drawbacks of working for a startup; maybe the stock you’re given will not be worth anything, maybe you will be a lot wealthier. Ask your recruiter about how much stock is currently in circulation to figure out what your stock options might be worth. The stock at big companies that are publicly traded is probably a more stable form of compensation.Final ThoughtsIn the end, it really comes down to what will make you happy. A job will take up a significant chunk of your time. Make sure it’s a job you are happy at so you don’t dread going into work every day. Nobody knows what you want better than you do. In the end, you just have to communicate what you want. Tell the recruiters if you want to work on a specific team. Tell the recruiters if you think you deserve more compensation. Michelle Huang is a Speech Scientist at working on speech recognition technologies. Before joining, Michelle interned as a software engineer at Microsoft, Socedo, WePay, and DIRECTV. She received her BS in Computer Science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Thanks for sharing these thoughts Michelle! I'd love to hear you elaborate on how you think people can effectively gauge the culture of a company during an interview process (without the benefit of spending time as an intern). What kind of questions would you ask? What are some things in the environment that you would look for or take note of?
Hey Teresa! If you are only given a chance to interview over the phone/video call, I would ask about the work-life balance. If your interviewer is on the team, ask them about what people on the team like to do for fun. Another question I always like to ask is if there is an on-call duty for the team. If it's a smaller company, I would ask about how the company was started because the founders play a major role in how the company culture grows. This might be vague, but you could also ask your recruiter what values they are looking for. Sometimes companies do recruiting with culture fit in mind.If you get to interview on site at the company, that's a great time to gauge the culture of the company during the interview process. Sometimes you'll get to do a "lunch interview" where you grab lunch with some people at the company. I would take that time to ask them about what they do for fun, or if they have a favorite/memorable company event they went to. While on site, the environmental clues I would look for are the desk orientation (open office? cubicles?) and whether there's music in the background. Is it a laid back setting where people freely walk around and chat with each other during their downtime? Is the office really quiet and everyone is just really focused on working?Hopefully this helps! Feel free to reach out with more questions :)