Four Tips for Students Entering the Technology Industry

August 22
blog author

Appno Blogger

Appnovation Coop

I'd like to start off by saying a little about myself. I'm a university student who's just getting into computer science and software development. At Appnovation, I do quality assurance as a student contractor. This is my first job related to the technology industry. In the three and a half months I have worked here, I have learned much. Some of the most valuable lessons I have taken from this job fall into the realm of work habits and lifestyle. If you are also a student who is starting or looking to start a new job at a software company—or any other office job, for that matter—then I hope these tips based on my experiences at Appnovation will be helpful to you: 1. It's okay to feel intimidated, but don't let that stop you So you've started your first few days at a new job in an industry of which you may only have surface-level knowledge. The employees helping you settle into your new job are firing off a list of unfamiliar terms like "regression", "workflow", "sprint", and "agile". If you haven't heard these terms before, then they likely sound like jargon to you. Many of us students, especially those working on our undergraduate degrees, have only grasped the fundamentals of whatever field we're pursuing. For example, those of us in computer science may know how to develop small programs, but have no idea how large-scale projects are developed and managed (unless, of course, you've researched it yourself). And that's okay. As a student, you're not expected to know everything before you work your first job. In fact, it's even okay if you feel like you know very little. That said, hopefully the following advice can remedy some concerns that a new student employee may have. 2. Communication is key If you're in a software-related education program, you've likely heard from instructors that the software development process is prone to confusion and miscommunication. This is especially evident when you start your first software development job: with the many new tasks and terms that crop up, it can be rather difficult to know what you're supposed to do, what things mean, or even what questions you need to ask. This is where communication factors in. Keeping the dialogue open between new and experienced employee, contractor and client, or any other combination of cooperating parties, is key to making sure that everyone is on the same page. If you're not sure how to perform a task or the meaning of a term, ask a co-worker about it. If s/he doesn't know, then s/he is likely to direct you to someone else—or at the least, a resource—that can help you. If you're so over your head that you're not even sure what to ask, then take it up with your supervisor: s/he can break down what you need to know into more manageable chunks. This will make it easier to know the right questions and the right people to ask. If anything is still unclear, keep the line of communication open until you are sure you're on track. As a new employee, you may feel intimidated about asking questions. If so, remember that fellow employees are meant to help one another out. Even if there are a multitude of small issues about which you are not clear, it is best to clear them up lest they pile up on you. Remember: although performing your assigned tasks is important, ensuring that everyone is on the same page is equally important. 3. Communicate clearly and effectively That said, once you have a clearer idea of how to do your duties, you can help the work process to proceed smoothly by communicating effectively. Consider the following scenario: you are a QA analyst testing a bug fix on a contact page. You notice that the page's contact form has condensed to half its width. You suspect this issue may be related to or caused by the bug fix, and go to the project's issue tracker to log it. Now consider these two ways of logging the bug:
  • You write: "The contact form on the contact page is now half the width it was before."
  • You write: "On projectwebsiteurl.example/contact-us/, the contact form is condensed to half its original width. See screenshot for details." You attach a screenshot of the bugged contact form.
Logging the bug in the second manner paints a clearer picture of the bug to the person tasked to fix it. This same principle applies to any job where one party must communicate to the other. In general, to practice effective communication, place yourself in the position of the person to whom you're communicating the information, then ask yourself any questions you suspect this person may have. If you answer these questions in your initial message, you will help make the work process proceed smoother and easier. 4. Compartmentalize (to a comfortable extent) When you have commitments such as school, friendships, and personal projects in your life, starting a new job may add to your stress levels. One way of dealing with this new stress is adapting a compartmentalized lifestyle: divide the events and tasks in your life into categories, and at any given time, focus only on the categories of present importance. While at work, focus on your assigned tasks and any other work you may need to do. If you go to school, focus on absorbing knowledge during your classes and set aside some time for studying and homework. Outside of both, give yourself some time for having fun, whether it's solitary activities, group activities, socializing with friends, or working on a project of your own. Taking care of business at both work and school can reduce your worry about either one during your free time. However, this doesn't take away from the fact that life is holistic: events and issues in one aspect of life may affect other aspects, and such issues can arise anywhere. That said, it is likely impossible to completely separate your life into categories in the extreme manner I have described. While compartmentalization can help you organize your time and work in a more efficient manner, you only need to go as far as you are comfortable. In the end, adapt to a lifestyle that works for you. Starting a new office job comes with many challenges. However, taking on a positive mindset and a proactive disposition will help you adapt and overcome them. By the time you've finished your work term, you will have gained practical skills and learned valuable lessons in both your field of interest and your lifestyle. These will stay with you for the rest of your life.