Choosing a career path while in college can feel like a huge undertaking. You may still be trying to decide what exactly you want to study, trying to navigate finding an internship, or figuring out what type of job you want to get when you graduate.
Because hindsight is 20/20, we interviewed five members of the Codecademy team who are living their career dreams to find out what advice they'd give to their former selves, when they were in college. We’ve gathered their wisdom here for you on everything from landing an internship to deciding what you want to do after graduation. Read on for their advice!
Meet the team
Before we get into the questions and advice, we thought we'd give a quick introduction to the team — how they got their start and what they're working on now.
Casey, Software Engineer: Casey got started in software engineering by coding as a hobby throughout college and an early job in customer support. Cut to 2020 where he has joined the team at Codecademy as a front-end developer. He loves to work on projects that lie in the intersection of technology and the creative arts.
Kip, Engineering Manager: Kip first started coding at the age of 8 (in order to subvert a household ban on video games) and they've been hooked ever since. Though they started programming primarily for themselves, they realized quickly that their true passions lay in building systems where others could realize their full potential, either as creatives or professionals.
Josh, Frontend Developer: Josh has been programming for a few years at this point, but still feels like everything is new and fresh and exciting. He started off with low-level C++ development but quickly found a true love in interactive web development and improving tools for other frontend developers.
Tracy, Data Scientist: Tracy spent several years gaining exposure to a variety of industries and fields, including psychology, coding, and management. After finding her passion for data science, she invested her time into gaining the skills needed to transition from the Product to Data Science Team at Codecademy.
Catherine, Head of Data Science: Catherine is Head of Data Science at Codecademy, where she has spent the last 3 years building and growing a team of data scientists. She has a background applying data science tools and concepts to understand patterns in consumer behavior. Catherine has her bachelor's degree in the social sciences (Sociology) and was among the first in her family to graduate from college.
Career and internship advice
Now that you've met the team, find out how they answered some of the most frequently asked questions about choosing a career path, finding an internship, and more.
Q: How do I know what I want to do when I graduate?
Kip: Try lots of things, even if they don't seem like they'd be all that relevant. I went into school expecting to be a game developer and realized by the end that what I actually love doing is sharing how exciting coding is.
Josh: You'll find it if you keep applying yourself to the things you love. Computers, programming, all that stuff — if you enjoy it and it can make money, don't worry about whether you're good enough. Keep learning.
Catherine: You don't need to know exactly what you want to do when you graduate. Just figure out what you don't like to do and slowly cross things off that list! Back in college, I took a lot of different courses to help me narrow down what I liked and what I didn't like.
Q: How do I get experience to put on my resume before I get an offer?
Casey: Try to get involved in open-source projects or mentorship programs through your school. Most importantly, build skills by working on projects that are fun for you in your spare time.
Josh: Projects! Projects! Projects! Regular classwork is a great experience source, but it's shared by all your classmates. Do as much as you can to put yourself ahead and get even more experience.
Tracy: If you have previous work experience (e.g., in a summer job), there are still several transferable skills, such as things like teamwork/building, communication, organization, etc. Outside of previous work experience, it's helpful to volunteer/participate in relevant organizations, take online courses, and create a portfolio of projects. These can also be hosted on a personal website.
Catherine: Were you a teaching assistant? Did you have some type of leadership role (paid or unpaid)? Do you have knowledge of specific tools, programming languages, or domains? Any projects, volunteer work, or part-time jobs? Put all of that on your resume! Any experience you have is valuable.
Q: How do I represent what I learned at school or at Codecademy on my resume?
Casey: Pick the two or three achievements you're most proud of and list concisely (think bullet points not paragraphs) what you learned and how you contributed to their successful completion. Generally, project-based work is best to include because it demonstrates your ability to integrate what you've learned. It's important to be concise because oftentimes recruiters are reading a lot of resumes and it makes their job easier when they can quickly find the qualities that make you shine.
Kip: You can include specific courses within the education section of your resume, or call them out in accomplishments / projects.
Catherine: Try to tie what you learned to real-world applications. When I first graduated, I focused on demonstrating my knowledge of building the fanciest models and data science applications. The reality is most entry level jobs (and even mid-level and senior jobs) want to know that you have the foundational un-sexy skills too: data cleaning, communication, time management, pragmatism. Focus on core skills and understanding real-world applications of the work you've done. Try to apply what you learned at school or at Codecademy to real-world problems through hands-on projects.
Q: How do I find internships to apply to?
Casey: Start by finding companies you're especially interested in and applying directly. Feel free to message hiring teams through their contact channels (forms, social media, etc) and ask what makes a strong internship application. It rarely hurts to apply. Even if you don't meet the criteria for one hiring cycle, it puts you on a company's radar and gives you a chance to demonstrate your growth in the next hiring cycle. Also check out resources at your school or sites like Glassdoor.
Kip: I recommend applying to companies that you'd be excited to work for, even if they don't have official internship offerings. There's a lot of rejection, but there's also a lot of opportunities to connect with people who otherwise wouldn't get a chance to meet you.
Tracy: In addition to searching online at Job Boards, some ways to find internships include reaching out to your network on LinkedIn or within the Community for referrals, participating in online or in-person meetups and speaking with company representatives about your experience or interests. If you have specific places in mind you'd like to work, try reaching out directly to individuals within the company expressing your interest, background, and skillset, and seeing if there are opportunities now or in the future.
Q: How do I ace an internship interview?
Casey: Learn about the company and be prepared to talk about why you'd be excited to intern there. Polish up any projects you'd like to show off and be ready to discuss them.
Kip: Definitely study up on algorithms and data structures; most companies will run a pretty standard engineering interview for their internship programs. Have a set of projects to talk about, especially ones in group settings.
Josh: Practice interviewing the way the companies you're applying to will interview you. Hopefully that'll be real-world projects, collaborating with others, and general personal skills... but for many that's nitpicky data structures and algorithms questions.
Tracy: In addition to the standard measures of writing and reviewing your resume, cleaning up LinkedIn, and preparing technically, it's helpful to prepare for interviews for internships by (1) having your "story" (i.e., a 30-second "pitch" about yourself – your background, interests, motivations, goals), (2) researching typical questions that come up in an interview and preparing answers, (3) researching the company itself to showcase your interest, and (4) being confident – remind yourself along the way that you have the skillset and will land an internship.
Catherine: Learn practical skills. Make sure you can demonstrate that knowledge in interviews. For data jobs, this means learning SQL or about data cleaning concepts. It also means practicing effective communication and time management.
Q: What Codecademy courses would be most useful to take?
Kip: We have a new set of interview prep courses that can help you study the types of problems that come up in interviews. Other than that, explore what you're interested in and be willing to take a chance on switching gears.
Josh: Depends on your area of interest!
Q: Any other advice that you would give to yourself in college, knowing what you know now?
Casey: Don't measure your success against others, don't stress too much, and ask for help when you need it.
Kip: It's not only okay to make mistakes, but encouraged; you learn so much from the mistakes you make and become better for it.
Josh: Don't forget to save time for yourself. Burnout is real.
Tracy: It always works out how it should, and it's OK to view the next several years as an exploratory time to figure out what interests and motivates you.
Catherine: It gets easier! It took me over 200+ applications to find my first full-time job after college. My second job took 100+ applications. My third job took 5 applications. Know that there will be ups and downs, but also that work and school do not define your life. You are more than just your grades and your job title.
Just like Catherine says, while thinking about the future may feel a little overwhelming, "it gets easier." And one of the things that helps a lot is connecting with and learning from other people — whether it's the Codecademy team or your fellow Codecademy learners.
If you have more questions or are just interested in hearing about the experiences of others learning to code, join our community. Ask questions, get support, teach, and learn something new. We hope to see you there!