Really bummed about a not-great semester
December 17, 2015 11:32 AM   Subscribe

I'm a masters student in computer science / electrical engineering. My goal is to work as a software engineer, hopefully somewhere good, but I'm afraid I'm going to blow it. Help me put things in perspective?

I did CS/engineering stuff as an undergrad but graduated with a Psychology major. I did well on the whole; when I was on my game, I'd get A's. However I spent a lot of undergrad with untreated depression, so sometimes I'd get a C in a math class because I simply didn't do my work. I still got into a very decent Masters program with really good recommendations and the better portion of my grades. I went to a good undergrad.

I kind of felt like this Masters degree was a fresh start, but I went into it with too many competing priorities. First, I had classes, then I had a research project (not my thesis), then I had work, where I committed way too many hours per week. I didn't drop any classes for financial aid reasons (would've become much more expensive and out of pocket).

So I did well in most of my courses for the last two semesters, but this fall I got a B+ in a High-Performance/C Programming course. I know how this will look to anyone who looks at my transcript-- like I am not very good at programming, and I should've studied an easier track? But the part that's really bumming me out is that I felt a good sense of accomplishment all semester, like I was comfortable in C and the course material wasn't as hard as I had been afraid it would be. I simply ran out of time on a couple homeworks for time management reasons, and I see it in my score.

I almost wish the problem was that I had grappled more with the subject material; it just feels like such a waste to get a anomalously low grade because I had too many work commitments and got burned out. I feel too immature for grad school. My friends all jumped right in and took out loans so they could focus when they started their Masters programs; I kept working, because I was afraid to let go.

My GPA is like ~3.7 now. I know that's not bad, but I feel like I have no room for error now if I want to get hired at a good company. I think I would feel less bummed if this had happened later on when I start hitting meatier classes, but since it happened in a core class I feel like a fraud and an impostor. (I already felt this way; I'm not demographically similar to most of my cohort, and since I'm a Psych major, I don't have the connections and lingo that a lot of pure CS people do.)

Anyway, how much does this suck? Am I being totally silly for stressing about it? I've heard a lot of conflicting advice about grad school; I'm especially stung by something I read that said if you're getting B/B+ in your classes, you should reconsider grad school, because you should be at a stage of mastery by then. Sighhh.

I ratcheted my work commitments wayyy down for next semester, and I'm going to totally commit myself to Jesus this time around. I'm just so afraid of disappointing myself down the line because I started off on the wrong foot.
posted by anonymous to Education (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
if you're getting B/B+ in your classes, you should reconsider grad school

You're entirely misunderstanding this.

If you are getting B/B+'s in all your classes, you should probably reconsider grad school. If you are getting a single B+ in a single class, you are doing awesome.

To be honest, I would be impressed that someone with a Psych undergrad completed a EE/CS graduate program at a decent program at all. I would view graduating with a 3.7 in such a situation as a success, not as a failure. All things being equal, I would look at the candidate like you preferentially to a more traditional candidate with, say, a 3.9 GPA.

All that said, I (along with most hiring managers I know) don't pay that much attention to GPA provided it is more than 3.2-ish for undergraduate and 3.5-ish for graduate. I am much more interested in your graduate coursework/projects/thesis than I am about your GPA. I am much more interested in ambition and technical learning ability than GPA.

You're selling yourself short here, and even when selling yourself short, you don't seem like someone whose resume I'd throw away.
posted by saeculorum at 11:41 AM on December 17, 2015 [8 favorites]

Definitely overthinking it.

I am a software developer and sometimes review resumes. Assuming you're at a decent school, a single B+ or even a couple here or there don't indicate failure-hood at all. The key things are to have a solid grasp of material and how it fits into the rest of the software paradigm. You're never going to get called on the carpet to "explain" a B+. A string of Cs or C+s in classes that are thematically similar? Maybe. But not a B+ here and there.

Your projects and your ability to talk to your experience will give you more of a jumping-off point to discuss during interviews.
posted by bookdragoness at 11:46 AM on December 17, 2015

Every graduate program grades differently. In my own math Ph.D. program, for example, grades at or above 3.8 in first-year classes were a big deal, but grades of 4.0 in upper-level classes were par for the course, and anything less would've signalled huge problems. If you want to know what a B+ means in your program, you have to ask the professor who gave it to you.

But seriously, you're going to graduate with a master's degree in computer science, real-world work experience, and a research project you can talk about in interviews. You'll be fine.
posted by yarntheory at 11:47 AM on December 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

I hate this: " I didn't drop any classes for financial aid reasons (would've become much more expensive and out of pocket)." This happened to me all through undergraduate school and wrecked my GPA--not enough money from grants/loans to work less and devote sufficient time to school (also I was a mere child on my own for the first time so I had of course major time commitments for the required activities of this time of life namely spending entire weekends having crosswordpuzzle races with my roommates, eating pound bags of M&Ms and passing out for hours, and of course drinking and running around town acting like an asshole). Schools should cut this out across the board, but it for def shouldn't be happening in graduate school, where they need to fund you so that you can relax and do well and be a credit to them. They need to not cheap out in this shortsighted manner and wreck your life and their stats. But moron administrators gonna moronadministrate.
posted by Don Pepino at 11:56 AM on December 17, 2015

You're definitely over thinking it. I went to undergrad and had a 3.78 in major GPA and a 3.2 or 3.5 general GPA. I managed to get into one of the best companies straight out of school.

It's much, much more important that you have actual work experience. So get those internships. And it's also much more important that you have actual familiarity with programming, when you are asked questions during your interview.

I also interview candidates for said company, mostly new grads, and do interview prep/training. I would be happy to chat more over MeMail.
posted by ethidda at 11:56 AM on December 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

Dude - breath.

First, one of the best engineers I ever worked with graduated with a 2.7 from a school you've never heard of.

Second, it's one class, and you have a Psych major.

Third, after your first job no one will ever care what your GPA was and they barely care even when you're straight out of school.

What will matter is how well you interview and the connections you make in grad school that will land you personal recommendations from classmates that land at great places and professors with connections.

Finally, even if you can't land a job at a "good" company straight out of school, you can still work your way up there. Go do a start-up, or work at a "pretty-good" company and build your reputation and skills there. A career takes a long time. You aren't going to truly limit it with one class in C programming.
posted by lucasks at 12:00 PM on December 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

If you are worried about getting a job, relax.
Lots of employers would rather see an excellent project than high grades.
I actually know several really skilled programmers that have only a high school diploma. Their employers only care if the software works.
Make some great prototypes and figure out how to present them to employers.
posted by littlewater at 12:00 PM on December 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

The job market for software engineers is super, super strong. You could probably drop out and do just fine (assuming you actually understand a little CS theory and know how to write code).
posted by the_blizz at 12:02 PM on December 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Single datapoint: I'm a software engineer at Google (though this is my personal opinion/advice, I am not speaking in an official capacity as a Googler, etc etc). I do a lot of interviews, and I know lots of people who serve on hiring committees (though I don't myself). I can't begin to describe to you how little an impact a single B+ is gonna have on your chances of getting a high-profile software engineering job. Literally, none at all. Honestly, a single bad grade wouldn't have too much of an impact, and in this case by 'bad grade' I mean like a C; I'd consider a B+ to be a perfectly respectable grade. The distinctions between any GPA above like a 3.5ish are literally meaningless.

Slightly orthogonal to the question, but a piece of advice: if your goal is to get a job at Google or a Google-type company, I've found the single most important thing you can have is a portfolio. Demonstrating a track record of being able to actually build and ship something is worth so, so much more than anything academic. A 3.5 vs a 3.7 vs a 3.9 will make no difference to the companies you want a job at, but having no shipped software versus having shipped software will make a big difference. I know it's tough to find time to do this between your day job and your classwork, but I'd strongly recommend building some stuff, putting it out on github, and putting it on your resume (maybe during the summer, if you aren't taking summer classes).
posted by Itaxpica at 12:19 PM on December 17, 2015 [6 favorites]

I've been a software engineer at a very, very top tech company (actually more than one) with only a bachelors degree in an unrelated field and a gpa significantly lower than yours. It hasn't been a real issue.
posted by primethyme at 12:31 PM on December 17, 2015

The advice that I always give to students who are worried about their job prospects is: get your code out there. Take the source code associated with your research and upload it to Github. If you did interesting projects for your coursework, put them up there too. Write your all documentation in Markdown. Convert existing research reports to Markdown and add them to a public repository. Write a tutorial or a blog post on a topic of interest to you and add it. Any work that you've done in the field of computing can go there.

I would barely glance at the transcript of a student with 2 years worth of solid repo activity, yet it's unbelievable how few students do this.
posted by rlk at 12:50 PM on December 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

Nobody is going to look at your transcript when interviewing you. Just write a lot of code and get feedback from people on how to write better code. You'll be fine.
posted by jeffamaphone at 1:03 PM on December 17, 2015

I know how this will look to anyone who looks at my transcript-- like I am not very good at programming, and I should've studied an easier track?

Well, maybe, but nobody is ever going to look at your transcript or care what your grades were once you get your degree. All we care about in the industry are what you know how to do, how quickly you can learn the next thing, and how well you can communicate about what you're working on. We figure that out by looking at your work experience and by talking to you in an interview, not by asking for details of your academic career.

I was going to say more but I'll just suggest that you re-read Itaxpica's comment instead, because that's great advice. Write code, post it, don't worry too much about getting it perfect because nobody's ever going to take the time to read it in depth, we just want to see that you have practice at coding and that your code isn't blatantly terrible. Get involved with an open-source project if you can, but don't stress it if you can't, just find something you're curious about and write some code related to it.

If someone ever looked at my transcript they'd see three semesters of community college, with grades that started well but went downhill, and zero credits of anything related to programming. This has never once been an obstacle to my career. Microsoft didn't care. Google didn't even care, despite their notorious interest in academic credentials. Nobody else has even asked. I have a track record that shows I know what I'm doing, and that's what matters.
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:29 PM on December 17, 2015

I feel like I have no room for error now if I want to get hired at a good company.

In addition to what has already been said, you're not going to stay at the company that hires you (because you'll either move on or be laid off because that's how the economy works these days), so your career will most likely take you to a lot of different companies and you will have a lot of opportunities to get hired by a good company.

Sometimes you'll be working for good companies and sometimes you won't be, and hopefully the general arc will be towards better and better, but wherever you are you'll have room for error and ways to build what you can offer.
posted by anonymisc at 2:25 PM on December 17, 2015

You want to work at Google, huh?

99.99% of prospective employers don't care about your GPA. The others...well a perfect GPA doesn't guarantee a job there anyway, it's just one of many variables.

Relax, you're doing fine.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:25 PM on December 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

If it makes you feel any better, my ex when were dating was working on a Ph.D. in CS at Stanford. He was struggling with the workload, the politics, the logistics, and depression (but no, not the work itself). At some point he began trying to negotiate for a conciliatory Master's, but I think they wouldn't give it to him and he eventually dropped out anyway and entered the workforce with... a Bachelor's.

I haven't heard from him in years, but I just googled him and it looks like he spoke at a conference on cyber security recently.

I really think you'll be okay!
posted by jrobin276 at 3:07 PM on December 17, 2015

Let me be blunt: You are going to fail in your chosen field!

No, not because you got a B+ in one class, because you are freaking out and beating yourself up over something that is a) in the past b) not that big a deal c) If you are doing it now, you've probably done it before and you'll probably do it again, unless you made an ongoing effort to keep perspective.

On the upside, you have already sought the perspective of others. Now you just have to follow-through on that impulse and take the feedback seriously.

Just keep looking and moving forward and you'll be fine. As others have suggested, focus on things that help you get comfortable with the industry and its lingo. Seek out and take networking opportunities. Seek out and take (paid) internships. Demonstrate that you are competent and comfortable with programming by doing it.

As for your undergrad background putting you at a disadvantage: Perhaps, in some ways, but in other ways, it could/should be a huge advantage. By my rough estimation, most of the challenge in technology/engineering projects isn't the hard tech, it's people. It's things like understanding the context of the end-users, their motivations, needs, values, the way they conceptualize their problems, the language and idioms they use to think about it. Then, its about translating that for the engineering team. Not just giving them a checklist of requirements, but understanding their perspective, and using that understanding to help them appreciate the context of the end users, helping them understand what they don't know, or what they might be, mistakenly, taking for granted, so they know to get clarification before forging ahead.

You may not feel like your background is going to help with any of that, but it should at least give you a head start over a lot of people who you end up working with who don't have your background. It may be that you end up being one of the people who deals more with the messy, human end of projects, but it matters even if you spend most of your career deeper in projects, because it will help you ask good questions when your peers might charge forward into an expensive mistake.

Finally, on the subject of debts/loans. I'm generally in favor of minimizing student debt in order to make it easier to take risks early in your career. That's most important for undergrads, but it still applies to people pursuing a masters or doctorate. Still, the calculus is a little different. By the time one gets to grad school, you should have narrowed your career direction quite a bit, and you should be either indulging in an expensive hobby that you already know you can pay for another way, or you should have a good sense of how your grad school will help start or further your career.

You are pursuing your MS in CS/EE with the intent of making it a career, so you seem to fit nicely in the latter category. Moreover, you've chosen a career path with great short-term prospects and strong long-term prospects. Play your cards right, and you should be able to secure a job with great starting pay and good prospects for development/advancement. Play your cards right, and you shouldn't have any trouble paying down your debt pretty quickly.

I've spent two paragraphs on this already to set up my next point: Don't let a reasonable aversion to debt lead you to unreasonably sacrifice some of the opportunities you have now to learn and lay the foundations for getting a great first job and building a good career. I don't know what the numbers look like, but if taking a lighter class load or committing fewer hours to a job means, say $20K more debt, but leaves you with, say, 15 more hours a week to invest in classes, school projects, or independent programming projects, I'd suggest that the extra debt might be worth it.

This is probably a good time to remind you not to beat yourself up for things you could/should have done. Just take stock of what you've done, reflect on it, and then use that perspective as you plan your next steps.
posted by Good Brain at 3:08 PM on December 17, 2015

Nthing the above that grades aren't as big a deal as you think they are. I definitely had a few classes with Cs under my belt after graduation and I still got hired by a major software company.

Seconding the above advice that looking for internships is a *great* way to get your foot in the door. I was hired primarily based on my internship experience.
posted by Aleyn at 5:29 PM on December 17, 2015

My husband is an academic (in physics). He had no trouble getting into grad school, or getting postdocs and then research positions at good universities. His transcript for undergrad read something like as follows:
Semester 1, year 1: A+ A+ A+ A+ A+
Semester 2, year 1: A+ A+ A+ A+ A+
Semester 1, year 2: A+ A+ A+ A+ A+
Semester 2, year 2: A+ A+ A+ A+ A+
Semester 1, year 3: C- B+ C+ C- B
Semester 2, year 3: A+ A+ A+ A+ A+

(In Semester 1 of his third year he discovered girls.)

A single B+ is no big deal. Even a single shitty semester with all bad grades is easy enough to explain.
posted by lollusc at 7:26 PM on December 17, 2015

I've never been asked my GPA for a software job. Admittedly, at this point it's probably because I graduated almost 20 years ago. But my GPA was a 2.7 (in-major 2.8 or so) and I've worked at at least 2 of the top 5 software companies (by some vague metric of "top companies") and several startups.

It _might_ affect your ability to get hired straight out of college into a handful of companies, but it shouldn't do so too much, and is very unlikely to have a lifetime effect. Even the ones who care for new grads don't really care when its an industry hire.

Heck, one reason I went into this field was my GPA was bad and I knew grad school might be tough, but was told (accurately at least in my case) that companies rarely care about GPA the way colleges do.

(While it may have changed some, the reality is there is still strong demand for good developers, so your GPA isn't going to matter if you can do well in an interview and maybe do some side project stuff. "Doing well in an interview" is probably the most important skill I've worried about, which comes down to knowing a lot of data structures and algorithms and being able to explain yourself on a whiteboard under time pressure. A very different skill than getting good grades.)
posted by thefoxgod at 8:05 PM on December 17, 2015

« Older Paper notebook recommendations (for a gift)?   |   Seeking a spiral-bound wall calendar for 2016 Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.