Now that you’ve seen what all the different portfolios do, you might be wondering how you can get involved. This is where we have good news for you! Coming up in early Term 1 keep an eye out on CSESoc’s Facebook page for subcommittee recruitment. You’ll be able to apply to join any portfolios that you are interested in, and you’ll be a part of running events, creating content or reaching out to sponsors. Sub-committees are a massive part in ensuring that all the events and content CSESoc produces actually happen. Being in a sub-committee is a great way to get more involved in the CSE community and we hope to see your application soon!
One of the biggest events of the year is CSESoc’s annual First Year Camp. Camp is a great way to meet a bunch of other First Years in the same boat as you. If you want to find out what Camp was like last year, the 2019 Media Directors, Adrian and Mehri, discussed it on Echo! Some quick details about the camp:
When: 6 - 8th March (T1 WK3)
Where: Camp Wombaroo
What: A fun filled weekend with activities such as Scav Hunts, Parties & Trivia
Theme: A Midsummer's Neon Dream
Price: $140 which covers all your accommodation, transport, food & activities
Be sure to keep an eye out on the CSESoc Facebook page to see when tickets are released so you can nab the Early Bird offers!
As well as Camp we have a range of careers & workshop events coming up in T1. These include a Microsoft Tech Talk, Intro to Unix and an Atlassian BBQ all in the first few weeks. Check out the CSESoc Calendar, to keep up to date with all the scheduled events!
Paths After Uni
A CS degree is only the start of your journey, and there are so many paths you can embark on after your degree is over.
One good way to see what is out there is to attend the multitude of careers events that CSESoc runs throughout the year. This involves events such as panels and site visits (to companies such as Amazon & Canva), or even just casual networking at the weekly barbecue. First year is the time to sample a range of different opportunities so that you can suss out what you do and don’t like.
To gain some insight about taking the first step in your CSE career, check out Teresa's article where she documents her own experience getting her first internship at Canva! You might also be interested in a Q & A we had with Hayden Smith, who's a casual UNSW academic and a start-up founder, about post-uni prospects!
Internships? What's that?
At the start of the internship, we were introduced to our mentor, fellow interns and teams. During the on-boarding sessions, we were guided by engineers, team leads and the co-founders to explore the company culture and values, and how it became the company it is today. Each intern was assigned to a project specific to the allocated team. I was surprised to see that all the intern projects were features that were expected to be deployed to production, making an impact on the millions of users using Canva and showing the real value of the projects we worked on. The first two weeks of the internship were filled with ups and downs. Whilst I was extremely excited to be meeting new people, learning all the interesting things about the company, and going on lots of coffee and ice cream walks, I was a bit overwhelmed by the new environment. One of the biggest challenges with working at a company of Canva’s scale was tackling the size of the codebase and understanding all the procedures involved with developing new features. Luckily, with the support of my mentor who happily answered my countless questions and provided me with regular feedback on how to improve, I was able to break down my problems to more manageable chunks and merge changes to the codebase.
You would often hear about the stereotype that software engineers sit at their desks all day and code, but it's actually quite the opposite! In my experience, engineers are encouraged to actively provide feedback and learn from others. Throughout my internship, I had to work with team members of varying skill sets, including designers, backend engineers and product managers to define and redefine the requirements for my project. When I experienced a problem or came across something I didn't understand, I felt comfortable reaching out to anyone in the company and that is something I really appreciated.
One big difference between working at a company and working on a university assignment is the ever-changing requirements. At uni, they often tell you to polish your code until it's perfect before you submit, but this is not necessarily the most effective and efficient way to code. Sometimes, it is better to send working code and then polish it later so you can quickly adapt to any changes in requirements.
A quick TLDR of the main takeaways from my internship;
- Meet people who aren’t on your team - Get to know people from a variety of teams. This will give you an insight into the upcoming changes to the company and allow you to learn from people who come from different backgrounds.
- Ask for feedback - Regular feedback from your mentor and other engineers who work with you can help you improve your work. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback on a specific area e.g. “How could I have done this better?”
- Keep a log - I find it helpful to write down what I learnt, especially feedback from my mentor so I can refer back to it later. It also serves as a tracker for how far you’ve come since the start of the internship!
Taking on an internship can seem intimidating but it was one of the best out-of-uni experiences I've had so far. It taught me how to take and give feedback effectively, work in a fast and dynamic environment, and a better understanding of the tech industry. My best advice for anyone looking for internships is to give everything a shot regardless of how daunting it may appear to be initially!
With Hayden Smith
CSESoc Media, Hayden Smith
Hi! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Hayden Smith, I’m a 26 year old who grew up in the north coast and has lived in Sydney for 8 years now! I studied a Bachelor of Computer Science (Honours). I was a student for 5 years at UNSW from 2012-2016. Although, I originally started off doing Mechatronic Engineering & Computer Science as a dual degree, but discovered pretty quickly that my early passion for robotics was met with textbooks on thermodynamics that I didn’t care for
There is a view among students that the path after uni mainly consists of getting an internship at a reputable company and then working in a graduate role in the said company. What was your experience?
I mean, that’s one way to do it. I think there are a number of amazing ways forward for computer science students.. I think that our private big-tech industry has become a huge player in this, and honestly largely just because of the amount of money they can spend recruiting, envengalising and building a brand. Even now I’ve noticed a whole range of graduates that would feel dissatisfied working a well paid, fun job if it was at a no-name company. There is a lot of status working for Google, Facebook, Dropbox, Canva, Atlassian, and so many more. The problem is for many students, most of the opportunities presented to them are the ones that people spend time and money making clear. There are thousands of companies across even just Sydney looking for talented engineers, but don’t have the same budgets to invest.
What did you do immediately after uni?
Moved into an apartment in the city and tried to start a food information aggregation company with some old friends. We tried that out for about a year and a half until we were building too fast and growing our customer base too fast, and couldn’t adequately resource ourselves. When your growth outweighs your ability to maintain it you get fatigued. After we wrapped that up I moved onto starting a fintech with another group of people, called Pearler.
Since then I’ve also done a range of contracting jobs on the side (i.e. freelancer stuff) as well as some random side projects like tried to manage an Airbnb, crypto trading. I’ve generally just steered towards finding diversified and flexible work because I have the attention span of a goldfish.
What was the biggest difference from studying at uni to after graduation?
The biggest difference about actual occupational work is that when you fall behind, usually 1 of two things happens:
Your boss, manager, board, allocate extra resources (e.g. staff, $$) to you to get things done by the deadline
Deadlines are reevaluated and pushed back to adjust to the new status quo
At uni this doesn’t really happen. If you fall behind, or screw something up, you’re just left alone and told to deal with it! The real world is just as imperfect as a university assignment, it’s just grounded a lot more to more productive paths forward. And in that sense I think things feel somewhat similar, yet easier.
How hard was the transition from studying to working full-time?
Pretty easy. Great, in fact. I definitely have enjoyed time after uni more than time at uni. Maybe that’s because I actually get paid for work I do now, or maybe that’s because I never really tried very hard at uni.
Were you able to leverage the skills you learned in your studies in your other ventures?
On and off. It really depends what you did. I always took a lot away from COMP2511 (an older version of it) where there was a lot of focus on design thinking (you see this a lot more now in COMP1531). I’ve never written C or C++ outside of university related classes or projects, so all of those courses didn’t always help a lot. But then occasionally you’ll do a course like COMP4128 (Programming Challenges) which I’ve never literally used, but it made me think and apply time and space complexity to trivial problems so extensively that its always in the back of my mind. I don’t think there is any point hoping to learn skills at university that carry forward - the field’s skillbase and its rate of movement is just far too vast and rapid respectively. You should just be challenged. In hindsight uni was mainly helpful just as the world’s best “brain training” app.
Most of the more transferable skills I learned came out of my time being part of and leading Sunswift / Robocup.
You tutor and lecture some Computing courses at UNSW, like COMP1531, COMP1911 and COMP6771. How did you begin?
It all happened pretty naturally, actually. After I graduated I spent 2 years away from doing any work or study relating to UNSW.
In late 2018, the company that I am co-founding, Pearler Investments Pty Ltd, became a UNSW incubated startup. This meant that we essentially had office space on campus in UNSW’s startup community (there are like 100 startups or something floating around). Our company is funded by ourselves, i.e. I do not make money yet from the company, and I go so far as to actually put my own savings into it to make things happen. So at the end of 2018 I had no income, and was losing money on both rent and putting towards the company. I just needed a job to pay the bills, and hopefully one that is close to work and one that is VERY flexible (since I essentially have a full time job already). I originally seeked out just some casual tutoring work on the side, but between staff shortages and CSE’s massive enrollment spikes ended up finding work running courses.
What were any alternate paths that you considered before settling on the one you chose?Oh for a long time I thought I wanted to go into big tech. In my Co-op scholarship application I think I literally wrote my dream would be to work on Google Maps @ Google. I was very lucky to be offered continuing work at Microsoft at the end of my third year and I think that was a pivotal moment in realising that I had this goal I’d been chasing.
I think what changed was that during my time with Sunswift I spent a lot of it networking, managing business relationships, and just doing a lot of stuff with companies all around Sydney and broader. That was probably where I started to understand just how much diversity there is in terms of work, and how many different fulfilling careers and fields there are out there. I guess the struggle is that when you come to uni, do your study and assignments, go to a careers expo or get other newsletters, you end up living in a world (I’ve been there) where it’s like there are only 20-30 companies that will employ you.
Once that bubble popped I ended up chasing startups / small business. I wouldn’t say it’s my natural inclination, but it can often (not always) be better to do riskier things when you’re younger, because you’re got nothing to lose. I don’t think I’d be in a pre-revenue startup if I had a mortgage or children!
(Since you completed your honours thesis) Have you considered pursuing higher education? i.e. PhD, Masters, etc. Do you think it’s a viable and valuable path to go down?
Not really. I’m sure there are some interesting paths forward there, but our entire private industry is so cutting edge and lucrative ($) that the incentives for further study are particularly low in our field. There were some paths like that I definitely looked at, but I didn’t trust my understanding of myself enough to commit to a 3-4 year PhD when quitting after 2 largely yields not too much to walk away with.
What advice do you want to give to first years and uni students in general?
University is this magical 3-5 year period here you will (for god knows what reason) feel accomplished simply because you managed to wake up, put clothes on, go sit in a lecture for 3 hours and absorb none of it. You’ll grab lunch, go to a tutorial that your friend will help you limp through, and then you’ll go home feeling (very deep in your head) that you’re “moving forward” somehow.
As you move toward the end of uni, or after uni, you’ll progressively start caring a lot more about how much you have or haven’t learned, how smart you are/aren’t, what’s happening with your career, and what’s happening with your bank balance. When this happens, you will take less risks and you will start making conservative decisions.
Take advantage of the early years in uni when you literally have nothing to lose. When for many of you, you’re often not really accomplishing anything anyway, so you might as well take some big risks. Start your own sole trader business, go join a startup, go start a startup, go work on a side project, go lose yourself in a student group, go spend 3 weeks in San Francisco walking the streets and enjoying the insanity. It often only gets harder to take risks as you get older.
Introduction: Welcome to CSESoc’s 2020 First Year Guide
Essential Tips: Covering the basics you need to get started at UNSW
Settling In: Helping you navigate uni inside and outside the classroom
About CSESoc: Get to know the CSESoc Team and what we do
What's Next?: Things to look forward to in 2020 and beyond