As a university student, thinking about getting a job can be intimidating. Because I had no experience of the working world, I imagined a lot of situations about it that really scared me. Now that I have spent some time working as a software developer, though, I have realised that many of the fears I had were completely unfounded. Here is how I shifted my fearful mindset to win.
As a final year software development student, I vividly remember the excitement I felt when I first started my degree. Now that the ‘real world’ was closer than ever, however, and I had no idea about what was to come, I was panicking.
In an effort to stop this, I decided to start reaching out to people in the industry to find out more about what I could expect once I started working. I was often intimidated about speaking to these people, and so a lot of these meetings didn’t go so well. I wasn’t sure what questions to ask, which didn’t help clarify my understanding of what working life would be like. The more people I spoke to, the more overwhelmed I got. Finally, a realisation struck me: The only way I could work out a way forward as I entered this new world was to actually get involved in it myself.
I never wanted to be a person who crumbled at the sight of adversity, and so, I took some time to think about what interested me most when it came to software development and where my talents and interests lay.
By doing this, I made the process more about me than the more abstract idea of the ‘working world’, which made it a lot easier to manage.
After a few months of searching for the right jobs which fitted in with what I was passionate about, I was offered the chance to work in cyber security. This was an exciting moment for me because getting to this point had required me to work through a lot of confusion and fear. I realized how amazing it was that the “universe always falls in love with a stubborn heart”.
Coming from a place of fear and being able to change my mindset about how I approached my future, taught me a lot. Here are some of the biggest hurdles I faced and how I overcame them.
I was scared about making a decision
Deciding on what I wanted to do was something that weighed on my mind for a long time as I was coming to the end of my studies. During my degree, I had looked at various topics and every day that passed made the process more difficult to decide as more ideas and options cropped up. I felt like I was wasting my time because I couldn’t make up my mind.
I knew that I wanted a job that was fulfilling and would earn me good money. What this job could be was what was stumping me.
I changed my thinking to factor in reasons, not just things
I tuned out all of the external noise and self-doubt and realised that the smartest thing for me to do was to focus on the aspects of technology that I found interesting. Thinking about the modules I had enjoyed most at university, I spent some time reflecting on why I enjoyed them.
This led me to think about what I wanted to experience in my job and not just what job I wanted to have.
Through this self-reflection, I discovered that I really love solving meaningful problems. Cyber security, artificial intelligence and embedded systems were all branches of software development that would allow me to do that. These fields in particular appealed to me because they focused on solving real world problems, such as making people feel more secure online or creating intelligent applications that promote efficiency.
Having this understanding about what interested me and why made it a lot easier to make a decision on which jobs to start looking for.
Tip: Take the time to really understand the why as well as the what when making a decision
If your experience is anything like mine was, you might find the sheer volume of options intimidating when looking for a job. This intimidation can make you want to curl up in a ball, and, in the end, choose what is easiest, even if it isn’t what you are most passionate about. That is where most of us fall victim to an unhappy life. We want results too quick to do it the right way…
Think about what resonates with you. Think about it like this: when you’re in room filled with people, all wearing different perfumes, only the scents that really appeal to you will attract your attention. Taking the time to find what really appealed to me gave me the courage to start pursuing what I enjoyed the most. Basing your career on enjoyment can be scary in today’s world where everyone is always striving to be serious. In my opinion, using what you love as the foundation for your decision-making is the key to happiness.
Remember that self-reflection does take time and can feel overwhelming. When this happens, remember that you are investing this time in yourself.
I didn’t know how to establish a work-life balance
Something that really terrified me when I started asking questions about what it meant to be a software developer was the idea that my whole life would become my job. Already in a sensitive situation coming to the end of my studies, I was anxious about leaving home and everything familiar to me. To be stuck in a position where I would have to sacrifice precious time with my family and friends, as well as my daily routine that I had worked hard to establish made the working world seem very dismal.
I developed a broader perspective
After having decided that I was going to take the time out to think about what I really wanted to do, I started observing those close to me who had full time jobs. By doing this, the ‘savage’ world that I had imagined in my head quickly revealed itself to be nothing but an entirely subjective perspective.
I noticed that the people around me who had set working hours still managed to get important ‘life’ things done. I realised that I could have a fulfilling life alongside a successful career and so, while thinking about what interested me, I also thought about what was important to me. Things like family time and getting to the gym for an hour make me feel good and so, making those things a priority, I went into my job search looking for positions that would be open to understanding this.
Tip: Optimise for being productive over being busy
As a starting point, I would recommend taking the time to understand what helps you feel balanced in your life. It is easy to think that work must become your priority when you get your first job and that things like friends and family can catch up later. This is not true and if you follow this way of thinking, it will be easy for your career to suck you in.
Be clear on what your priorities are in all aspects of life and make sure to keep them priorities!
When you start looking for jobs, be honest in your interviews that things like flexible hours are important to you so that you have the time to focus on yourself as a person as well as on your job. Only by being honest will you really get what you want and need to succeed.
That being said, you need to plan your time wisely. You might have landed a job where they are happy for you to make your time your own but how you use it is what counts. When thinking about how I can get the most out of my day, I focus on planning my day to be productive instead of busy. By doing this, I am able to get the most important things done with enough time to spare for other activities, like working out or listening to podcasts (I am currently doing this when I’m driving or cooking and it is amazing!)
Many people forget that after a typical work shift, and daily sleep, there are still 5-6 hours left in a day to utilise. Life is full of opportunities and we have access to them all if we just focus on using our time smartly.
I didn’t believe in myself
When I started exploring what a career in software development might look like, I only reached out to people that I thought were successful for answers. Inspired by them, I directed my questions at more senior students and lecturers who I met at university, as well as the top names in industry who owned their own companies and had big reputations. Despite how nerve-wracking reaching out to these people was, I thought that they were the ones who could give me the best guidance.
However, their answers often cut me back and overwhelmed me. They spoke about how hard it was to make it and how much time and effort I would have to put in to get anywhere. I was worried that because I was young and inexperienced, I would inevitably be unhappy until I became ‘great’ like the people that I was speaking to. This filled me with little hope as it wasn’t clear from these conversations what the path to greatness was, how I could get on it or when I would get to its end.
I started trusting in my personal resilience
Similar to actually making the decision about what career I wanted to pursue, I took a deep breath, tuned out all of the noise, and focused on what I was good at when it came to software development and how I could use these skills to add value to the industry. Taking the time to reflect on this really lifted my spirits because I realised that making a difference in this field can be done by just about anyone who has the passion to do so.
I decided that if I was committed to working smart, learning and giving it my best, I could be ‘great’, at least by my standards, from day one. I accepted that no one can ever be fully set up for a career in software development because things are constantly changing, and so what it really takes to be successful is commitment.
This means that ‘levels of professionalism’ in this industry aren’t based on knowledge but rather on experience and, so, as long as I was in the game, I would be gaining experience alongside the professionals I had spoken to.
This realisation really boosted my confidence and made me excited to get going.
Tip: Don’t let yourself get in your way
Remember, the work that you do is meaningless without you. If you don’t show up, the work doesn’t get done and if you want to succeed, it is pure perseverance that counts. Use this as your starting point: You won’t be great straight away but continuing to show up will get you there.
Software development requires you to learn constantly. If you have any sort of training and a passion for the field, trust that this will have given you enough knowledge and determination to get started and carry you from there.
As Master Shifu from Kung Fu Panda 3 says, “If you only ever do what you can do, you will never be anything more than what you are now.”
In a nutshell, I would like to leave you with the key lessons I learnt when I decided to stop being afraid and dive head first into the rest of my life:
- To make a wise decision, you have to have a clear understanding about what is important and enjoyable to you.
- You need to make your personal priorities as important as your career. Without personal passions to carry you through, a job can quickly overwhelm you and this is not good for your mind, body or soul.
- It takes time to grow yourself. The process can be quite overwhelming, but trust yourself and follow through – on good days and bad. Keep up with this and, you never know, one day you may just be proud of yourself. 😉
René Chunilall is a recent university graduate who is on the path to being a polymath. He is working towards being well-versed in artificial intelligence, cyber security, software development, blogging and creating motivational content. Most recently, he has ventured into entrepreneurship as he wishes to gain momentum in building his own empire.