On r/CSCareerQuestions: A Few Biased Thoughts Regarding the Internship Search From a Self-Proclaimed Mediocre Student

November 21, 2018 by Justin Tran

 CSCareerQuestions overview I’ll be the first to admit that I ended up casually browsing this subreddit far too often. It discouraged and encouraged like no other community could

If you’re a university student in the Computer Science field, a new grad searching for an entry-level position in Software Engineering, or any sort of ambitious software engineer hoping to min-max their career, chances are you’ve browsed /r/CSCareerQuestions. For those unaware, the subreddit “discusses careers in Computer Science. Computer Engineering, Software Engineering, and related fields” per the sidebar description. But from a quick glance, it’s obvious that the community contains much more than that.

If you’re looking for discussion on technical interview practice and resume reviews then you’ve gone to the right place. If you’re also looking to gain a one-sided perspective on the software engineering industry from individuals with little experience in it, the subreddit is also a decent primer. Don’t get me wrong, there are incredibly helpful posts made by industry veterans with grounded views on handling career progression and interviewing at top firms in the tech industry.

 Magna Carta Magna Carta

To some, it’s a community plagued by unrealistic expectations set forth by programming savants. To others, the subreddit is a helpful resource for individuals always striving to pushing themselves to the “next level” (however one may define the term is also up for debate). If I wanted to grossly over-generalize the state of the community (I will), I would say that the community’s entire view of the job market is captured by Big 4 companies (Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon) and Unicorns. Landing a job at a startup means fuck all if you can’t nail every dynamic programming problem or LC Hard within 15 minutes. On CSCQ, making slow and steady progression is never held to the same regard as signing a six-figure salary with the Big G and the subreddit too often glorifies the success without the struggle.

 Holy Grail Holy Grail

To many on the subreddit, the individual dreamer’s aspirations are discarded as true success is only thought to lie in the upper eschelon of tech firms gatekept by the Big 4 and various hot unicorn companies such as Uber. Whatever happened to dreaming of working at a video game company or a small medical startup that helps doctors and specialists save lives?

Various stereotypes seem to be upheld by the users, and perhaps there is some truth so some of these stereotypes. Statements such as: “[Palantir is] like E-Corp in Mr. Robot.” to “All you need to do to get a job is grind Leetcode.” are echoed feverishly in Daily Chat threads, comment sections, and rant posts created on a daily basis. That’s tech for ya.

As with any internet community, there is a tipping point in regards to the truth. CSCQ toes the line and begins to set unrealistic expectations for young software engineers eager to enter a competitive, growing field. It is quite easy to get lost in the weekly Big 4 Discussion threads that seem to rank individuals and their life-long success in terms of their company.

Perhaps I’m simply too used to being in an environment where min-maxing career ambitions and education is the norm. I’d be inclined to say that it’s practically second nature to me to shoot for the stars in terms of tech companies. There’s no fault in that, but I would argue that many CSCQ readers get too caught up in amassing offers from unicorns and the struggle of Leetcode practice before thinking about where they’ll find more than interest at their workplace. Maybe, just maybe, passion should come into play more often than salary.

 The upper eschelon It doesn’t get any better than having Mark Zuckerberg point at the seg fault on your monitor. Source: BusinessInsider

Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to love about the community and I’ll be the first to say it: I would not be where I am today in terms of my career if it weren’t for having browsed the subreddit on a weekly (and sometimes daily) basis since mid-July of this year. Users have shared their highest of highs and their lowest of lows for everybody to relate to. Hell, I know I’ll fail an incredible number of times in my career but at least I won’t step on the CEO’s dog.

I’ve got a good idea of how to handle myself when searching for tech positions thanks to the many resources and hours of reading CSCQ. Thanks for the help, but goodbye and good riddance. I submitted nearly a hundred applications and completed over twenty HackerRank screens to land a handful of final round interviews (some of which I failed spectacularly) and an even smaller pool of offers. But I would be lying if I said this process wasn’t draining when I observed many members of the CSCQ community effortlessly receive offers like it was nothing.

I couldn’t make the jump to a Big 4 this year, but I couldn’t be happier with where I’ve landed.

 Big 4 Companies There’s no reason for this image to be here. I just thought this was a funny image. Apple definitely got the short end of the stick. Source: DACGroup

Here are some final thoughts:

  1. Take CSCQ (and similar communities) with a grain of salt.
  2. Min-maxing your resume isn’t the only way to play the game.
  3. Studying for technical interviews is a pain, but at this point it’s necessary so hang on in there.
  4. Working at a Big 4 or Unicorn isn’t for everyone so don’t act like it’s the end-all be-all.
  5. Software engineering is difficult and it’s never as effortless as many make it seem.