The scarlet letter G(PA)
May 9, 2017 3:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm a student who will be entering the job market next year, as (hopefully) a software engineer, and I'm terrified. The market is hot, but I didn't do great in college. I've found plenty of practical resources, and I have a few months before I start searching in earnest, but I'd still really like advice on cultivating the right mindset as someone who is anxiety-prone. In particular, I'd like tech-specific advice on having reasonable expectations about things like pay or the consequences of my GPA; and general advice about handling job-related anxiety.

The Bad
    Due to depression and anxiety that started my freshman year but only began to get properly treated a couple of months ago, I have a genuinely terrible GPA. Whatever you're thinking, it's lower than that, and no, there is not an upward trend. The only reason I'm graduating on time is because I had a ton of college credit coming out of high school- my transcript is littered with dropped and failed classes. But I'm confident in my ability to do well in my two final semesters; the problem was never the difficulty of my classes but the mental health problems that are finally getting addressed.
The Good
    I do have an internship for the summer, in web development across the full stack at a startup.
    I also have some smaller projects and research experience on my resume, but nothing impressive- mostly more web stuff and some C/C++.
    My school, which isn't quite Berkeley or MIT level, but pretty close, at least in CS.
    I tend to do well on those CTCI-style abstract puzzle questions companies are so fond of, but I don't have much experience doing them in-person or as part of a phone interview.
The ???
    The only concrete evidence I have for how employable I am comes from my experience searching for internships. I started searching very late (as in after most of the major companies had already hired all their interns) due... mainly to lack of self-confidence, and I'd say about 25% of my thirty-something applications received at least an initial interview request. I was never asked about my academic performance at any point, but I also only did two final-round interviews before accepting an offer, so I'm pretty sure I just got lucky. I also assume companies don't care as much in general when hiring for a short term internship than for a full-time job.
What I'd like help with
    Dealing with my academic performance. I'm not applying to any companies that require a GPA as part of the application, of course, but beyond that, I have no idea how worried I should be. (Right now, I'm defaulting to "keeping-myself-up-at-night" levels of worried, which is really not helping the anxiety and depression.) What percent of companies ask? The real nightmare scenario that I can't stop thinking about is that I'll never get asked about it in the interview process, get an offer, take the offer, let any other pending interviewers know, and then have the offer rescinded after I send a transcript. How likely is this scenario? In general, what advice do you have for handling this issue?
    Pay. The negotiation process, in particular, sort of terrifies me. (Especially with all the fraught gender politics around it as a woman in tech.) Googling around I've found various estimates of how much a junior engineer can expect to earn in various cities, but the range of responses is pretty ridiculous (from "don't accept anything lower than $85k at a bare minimum" to "$60k is about what you should be expecting" for SF), and I'm not sure how to adjust those estimates for my low-performing background. The only frame of reference I have is my internship pay, which is the equivalent of about $50k yearly, in a city with SF-level CoL. What can I reasonably try to negotiate for in a high CoL tech-hub like SF or NY, a more mid-range city like Austin, or elsewhere? I also have a Canadian citizenship but haven't done much research about the market there.
    General advice for maintaining sanity when you're a person who is still very prone to counterproductive anxiety spirals when it comes to high-stakes situations like these.

I would also really appreciate any other general advice for approaching the tech job market! And thank you so much.
posted by thefriendshipsockpuppet to Work & Money (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The only reason I'm graduating on time is because I had a ton of college credit coming out of high school- my transcript is littered with dropped and failed classes.

Do you have to use the college credits from high school? Can you stay in college longer instead? It won't work magic on your GPA but it will definitely pick it up (possibly above the hard minimums some large companies use for initial screening) and make an even more impressive upward trend. There is an obvious financial tradeoff to paying for semesters that you don't strictly need to graduate, but if you're at an elite school, you plan to work in tech, and your performance is good it will likely end up paying for itself.
posted by telegraph at 4:01 PM on May 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm not a software engineer, but I have hired dozens of software engineers and support personnel. We never once asked for a GPA. Our tech director had a coding test. Depending on the position, there'd be some whiteboard work.

What we were looking for was:
- Can this person do the job?
- Does this person have the potential to be an asset to our team in the long term?
- Is this person a good fit for our team and culture?

One thing that helped bolster any lack of work experience was any sort of personal project or affiliation, something that shows how a software engineer stood apart and honed their craft. We didn't expect people to breathe code 24/7, but demonstrating a personal project would give us insights into the candidate's intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm for this kind of work.
posted by mochapickle at 4:13 PM on May 9, 2017 [9 favorites]

No tech company is ever going to ask for your transcript. No tech company cares about your GPA, except *maybe* for your first job, but even then it's not that important. (Google used to be the one exception—not sure whether that's still true.) If your GPA is bad, leave it off your resume.
posted by anb at 4:17 PM on May 9, 2017 [10 favorites]

I had a bad GPA and still have worked at several of the top name tech companies including ones that care about GPA. I pulled that off via a combination of having a solid work track record (I didn't apply there for my first job out of school) and being excellent at interviews*. You can do both of those things. As long as you have your degree and can pass interviews, GPA isn't going to be a career showstopper. It may slightly limit your options for your first job, but even that impact will be fairly limited.

Regarding pay, it will obviously vary, but as a reference point I can say definitively that the top companies are currently paying people directly out of school a bit above $100K plus bonus and stock. Obviously as you move down from the top, you will make less, but $60k for a software engineer in the Bay Area (or Seattle or New York) strikes me as absurd.

* They did still ask for my GPA, years after graduation. And I had to do some explaining. But because I had a strong resume and outstanding performance in the interview, I got through it.
posted by primethyme at 4:35 PM on May 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Except for some very picky startups/dotcoms or old school investment banks, most places are going to be far more interested in what you can show that you've done and your passion and communication skills than your GPA.

It will depend on the specific job market, but FWIW, I expect a talented junior developer (outside of real estate bubbles like Silicon Valley) to make about 120% of the median household income for the area. Maybe more if they have hot skills.
posted by Candleman at 4:36 PM on May 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What is important is that you rock the shit out of the internship you have this summer. Do great there, meet people, get a network. Even if that place doesn't end up being somewhere you go back and work at post-graduation, the people you meet there (and make a good impression on) will move to other jobs, or will have friends at other companies, and the #1 most important thing for getting hired is someone already knows you'll do a good job. Everything in the application/interview process is just to figure out if you can do the work - if they already know you can do the work (because they've seen it or someone they trust has), you'll be much more employable.
posted by brainmouse at 4:40 PM on May 9, 2017 [7 favorites]

It's not what you know, it's who you know. I got my first job in industry because I encouraged a friend to tough it out and stay in our major. Years later that friend introduced me to his friend in industry, and I got my first job.
posted by Rob Rockets at 5:40 PM on May 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I work at a startup, but not as a programmer.

i would encourage you to reframe how you think about all of this. Do you need to be successful at all jobs by having a good gpa? No. You just need one, good-fit-for-you job. Chances are if they care that much about the gpa of people fresh out of school, it is not a good fit for you. So as much as you have to make them happy, they have to make you happy.

My company is notorious for hiring people from the ivies and being super picky. Yet they simply can do that for programmers- the demand is too high.

I used to work at Disneyland serving ice cream. Many afternoons, the line would be out the building. It was very stressful serving guests that were shelling out a lot of money for an ice cream cone. They also encouraged cast members to engage with the guest. I would stress myself out and try to rush and it wasn't fun.

Then one afternoon I decided to ignore the line in front of me. For me, only the guest in front of me mattered. I focused on that guest, then the next one, and so on. Soon the line was gone and I still had energy.

Focus on what is front of you now. Yes, you will want to know pay negotiations strategies, but that's not in front of you right now. The internship is in front of you right now. If it gives you anxiety to push these items off, then schedule time for when you complete them. Then when you start getting anxious about something, tell yourself that you will concentrate on X on May 27th. That you will research Y on June 2nd.

Congrats on your internship. That is an accomplishment!
posted by Monday at 6:21 PM on May 9, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Some companies ask for GPA. The vast majority don't. Smaller tech companies not at all.

I graduated with a 2.1 GPA because I didn't really care for school or going to class. I'm good at what I do though, and have had an excellent career (as a software developer, mostly in startups), 10 years and running. Never been asked for my GPA, even fresh out of school at giant companies. I would laugh in the face of anyone who asked for college transcripts.

Another thing to keep in mind when you're job hunting that may ease your anxiety: you will get rejected a bunch, and that's good, because you don't want to work somewhere that doesn't want to hire you. Really! Lots of jobs are bad. You don't want a bad job! Jobs that don't see your value, or only see you as your GPA, or only see you as a job candidate that failed that one interview puzzle question are bad jobs! "We've decided not to proceed blah blah" think: "yeah, I have too".
posted by so fucking future at 6:47 PM on May 9, 2017 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Ok. Deep breath. You can do this! I'm a fellow woman in tech, just a couple decades ahead of you (sigh..) I've hired tons of software engineers, including many still in school or just finished. Also those who are self taught. I don't give a flying poop about GPA. What I care about is (a) can you do the job (b) will you or will you not piss off the team you will be working with (politely, this is fit), and (c) are you passionate about programming, learning & improving your skills.

You can help me see (a) and (c) with a github profile, side projects, etc. Be able to talk about them, enthusiastically! I will probably go and look at them beforehand, and I'll ask you questions - its your work, you'll need to be able to speak to it, explain why you made the choices you did (ie technology choices, for example). For (b), just be yourself in the interview, don't try and be someone you're not. Don't try and bullshit me, I can tell. I'd much rather you tell me you don't know the answer than try and pretend you do. Or better yet - if you dont know, tell me that then try and work out the answer, explaining your logic as you go.

Also - the interview process sucks. Do not let rejection get to you, because although the 3 things above are important to me, people dont get job offers for so many other reasons that are completely our of your (and even my!) control. Depending on the company, bureaucracy can be kinda ridiculous.

For the salary question - know what you're worth. Head over to Glassdoor and research the area and the company if possible. Ask for what you're worth. If you're getting a job offer, you really can't blow it at that point by asking for fair market value if you do it respectfully and all that.
posted by cgg at 7:46 PM on May 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

CS prof here - as you are probably aware, you are way overthinking this. I don't know how to help you stop that other than to say I have seen lots of students with shitty records get good jobs. In fact, I have never seen a student with a poor record not get a job.

As everyone says, and as you yourself experienced looking for internships, almost no one cares about your grades. They care about what you can do and how you fit into a team. I'd suggest that your internship hiring record was pretty decent (you found one quickly) and you likely won't have difficulty getting employment when you graduate.
posted by procrastination at 7:53 PM on May 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

Whenever I hire software people I look for two things:
  • Is this person smart? Do they actively seek out and solve problems for the sheer joy of it?
  • Do they get things done? I'm looking to see things actually completed.
That's it. I don't give a toss what they did at university. I'll be a bit careful about hiring someone with a completely unrelated degree, but one of my best hackers had a degree in classics. Many others had no degree.

Nobody you want to work for cares about your GPA. They care that you're smart, and you get things done.

Built some cool things - they don't have to be big, just fun and useful.

Learn stuff on your own.

Be smart. Get things done.
posted by Combat Wombat at 8:44 PM on May 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: At this point, there's not much you can do about your GPA beyond staying in your bachelor's longer or getting into a Masters program of some kind and improving your grades there. But since it might be hard to find the right fit Masters program, it will most likely cost money, and it will take another year or two of your life, not sure it's totally worth it unless you find yourself searching hard for a job. If that's the case, you could always get hired somewhere maybe less than satisfactory for a couple of years and go back to school if you want to shoot for a higher salary. None of that is necessary, it's just an option if you find your GPA is truly holding you back.

But you're lucky, because in CS it's very possible to get a job offer based on the strength of your passion, interview skills, and possibly personal projects. So in other words, in the short term you can practice practice practice interviewing. Once you get past the initial phone interview, it's by far the most important factor at many companies. To get the initial phone interview, you might need a better GPA, but it's very likely that your good school will somewhat compensate for that and if you can add any projects to your resume, it will stand out. It's great if you're good at CTCI style problems.

Try to get a fellowship or a ticket for the Grace Hopper Conference. The job fair portion has gotten much larger and a little more cynical and I think companies at the booths there don't care about your resume quite so much anymore, but you can submit your resume before the conference and companies will proactively reach out to you. And if you show passion in a conversation with booth staff, they might schedule onsite interviews for you. It's a good way to put yourself in a smaller pool of applicants where they might look at your resume more closely than if you're just in a sea of online applications.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:43 PM on May 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I don't think it's normal for companies to ask to see a transcript suddenly after the fact. Your nightmare scenario is not realistic. Transcripts often take weeks to get, so springing it on people as a surprise would just cause problems for everyone. When applying for academic positions I've had them tell me up front they require official transcripts. Industry has not asked, although some did ask for GPA.

the campus recruiting pipeline, unsurprisingly, is a little heavier on GPA and coursework. look outside of it if you can -- I'd say campus career fairs probably won't be very fruitful.

If you're comfortable being a little bit of a stalker, look for blog posts/comments on hacker news/etc. where people are like "I did terrible in school but now my colleagues all think I'm a great programmer and I have a wonderful career!". Then figure out where those people worked.

it sucks that the companies with a 3.0 cutoff probably wouldn't take your application. but also the places (especially banks I think) that really take pride in their GPA filter seem to be looking for like 3.8+. It's kind of silly. So don't forget that for the more prestigious GPA-obsessed employers you fall into the exact same "reject" bucket as basically all of your peers.

your actual resume as you describe it is good, far better than most. some cynical advice: play up the C++ if you worry about not being taken seriously, it still has an aura of mystique and crusty hacker intimidation around it. make sure there are lots of dark green squares on your github, even if it means pushing only 2-3 line commits some days.

getting treatment for mental health is good as hell in my experience, and i'm rooting for you and i think you'll be shocked how much easier things are to deal with even if they're objectively more difficult. good luck!
posted by vogon_poet at 1:43 AM on May 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Just a couple of thoughts on salary. Definitely try to get a feel for your market value, but bear in mind that in a first job, you are somewhat on the back foot in that negotiation. So (a) don't beat yourself up if you don't get 100% of what you wanted, particularly if the process makes you anxious. It doesn't make you a bad negotiator if you can't screw the last dollar of your value out of the first employer you have and it's more important that you think you're going to learn from the company and enjoy working there.

And (b) first jobs are not forever, or even for very long necessarily. Even if you go in a bit underpaid, with a year's experience at a decent firm, you will be much more marketable and either your employer will recognise that in your salary in which case great, or they won't, in which case you now have solid industry experience and a much stronger platform from which to negotiate salary at your next job.
posted by crocomancer at 4:10 AM on May 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Use or similar to find a reasonable salary. I pay interns ~$85k at Amzn. SF is expensive, $85k is not a lot there.

I would hang out with the ACM ICPC team and attend their Saturday mock contests for the next year. That will teach you the whiteboarding and coding skills that you will need for your interviews.
posted by pdoege at 6:05 AM on May 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

Also, if you have friends at desirable companies, see if they have a referral program. It is very likely to get your resume looked at and very likely they will at least schedule a phone interview. If you do well, they might not care at all about your transcript.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:01 AM on May 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am a software engineer and I interview software engineer candidates. Assuming you are technically competent, the best way to impress me is by speaking intelligently about a previous internship or project. This summer, make sure you understand what you are working on. Your specific tasks, how your piece fits in with the larger product. Keep track of technical challenges you encountered and how you solved them, these are your best opportunities to show that you are smart and can clearly communicate complex ideas.
posted by Horselover Fat at 12:37 PM on May 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

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