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Discovering your career, Student Events

Day in the life: Software engineers

Recent grads discuss the tools they use daily, how they found success in their job search, and more.

What do software engineers do all day, and how did they land their jobs? In this panel conversation, hear from two recent grads who found jobs as software engineers at Google and Capital One. They discuss their work, the tools they use daily, and how they found success in their job search. Watch the event recording below, or read on for a summary of Laylah and Alvin’s insights!

  • Laylah is a software engineer at Google, where she has been working for almost a year in Google Play services on the Android team. Before Google, Laylah was at University of Texas at Austin and graduated in 2021 with her Bachelor’s in Computer Science.
  • Alvin is a Senior Associate Software Engineer at Capital One. After graduating from the University of Virginia in 2019, Alvin joined Capital One and has worked on anti-money laundering and credit card application technologies.
  • Moderator, Tru Narla: Tru is a software engineer at Discord on the new member experience team. Her goal is to inspire and educate others about the world of tech.

How did you know you wanted to become a software engineer?

Laylah: I actually started programming in high school. I took a computer science class and really liked it, and so I knew I wanted to pursue it. In college, I talked to a lot of upperclassmen, asking them about their internship and work experience, and based on what I heard, software engineering felt like the right position for me.

Alvin: I really liked the problem-solving and building aspect of it. There’s not many jobs where you can take a problem, design a solution, and build it up sometimes within a couple days. I didn’t take CS classes until college, but it felt like a fit.

What does a typical day and week look like for you?

Alvin: My week starts with a standup meeting with my team. Twice a week, we have tech scrums where all the engineers from the org come together, present their work and get feedback from each other. 1-2 times a week, our group and the product side come together to plan our work for the next two weeks.

Laylah: We also have a once a week team meeting, where we do project updates and solve issues together. I work 9 to 5 typically. Throughout my week, 20% is meetings and the rest of the time I’m coding or reading documentation.

What programming languages do you use most often?

Laylah: The main languages I use are Java and Kotlin, some XML, as well as any build code languages.

Alvin: My first team used Python and Scala, as well as Akka. Currently, I use Python and Postgres.

What was your job search process like, and what advice would you give?

Laylah: In school, I was part of a ton of student organizations, like the Association of Black Computer Scientists, Women in Computer Science, and others. A lot of tech companies would come and talk to us, and the CS department also hosted employer events with recruiters coming to campus. I would go to those events even when I was tired, and didn’t want to, but I’d go and talk to at least one person. Eventually, recruiters started reaching out to me! I didn’t get picked for a Google internship, but in my senior year they reached out and sent me a coding assessment, which is the first part of the interview process.

My advice is, definitely network and go to as many events as you can! And if you know anyone who worked or interned for any of these companies, ask them for a referral.

Alvin: I joined Capital One through the Technology Development Program, a 2 year program where you rotate to a second team halfway through to get breadth of experience. They have multiple programs for new grads, including tech, analyst or management tracks. You can apply to two programs and hiring starts in the fall.

My advice is to tailor your resume based on what job you’re applying to. And be sure to look at the job requirements carefully so you’re not immediately screened out. I’d also say that as an undergrad, I’d recommend expanding beyond classroom experience: internships, TA positions, hackathons, side projects can all show you’re genuinely interested in the field outside the classroom.

What are your best tips to prepare for interviews?

Laylah: Practicing LeetCode and Hacker Rank problems. I hated it but it definitely helped me prepare! I tried to do problems once a day and actually talked out loud throughout the process, as if I were in a technical interview.

Alvin: It really helped me to read through behavioral interview questions and prepare my answers, with details and examples, ahead of time.

What about your undergrad experience prepared you the most?

Laylah: I interned at Lockheed Martin my sophomore year and then at Meta the following year. So I had some experience with big code bases. The group work that I did in school was definitely helpful prep for the work that I’m doing at Google. Also, at UT we did a lot of Java coding, so that foundation definitely helped.

Other than your tech skills, what soft skills have been most valuable?

Alvin: Knowing how you learn, because you have to pick up a lot of skills on the job. I hadn’t even heard of Scala and Akka when I first started at Capital One. Also, being able to communicate technical topics to non-technical people. If I’m doing a demo, product and business people are in the room, and they need to be able to understand my work.

How do you continue to build your skills?

Alvin: I’m actively encouraged to go to tech conferences. Internally at Capital One, we are also offered classes in tech skills and life skills like personal finance.

Laylah: Google also has a lot of internal tutorials and classes I participate in.

Let’s talk about career growth. Can you talk about what opportunities you’ve had so far?

Alvin: I’ve grown my technical skills on the job as needed for various projects. Other than that, having a mentor or a great manager that gives you constructive feedback is really helpful for growth. It also helps to surround yourself with people in a similar situation. 700 of us started in the Technology Development Program, so we had each other and additional program support to grow in our careers.

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