A Year In: Starting out as a Software Engineer

September 5, 2017

Whether it’s your first job after studying or you’re simply switching companies, taking that first step into somewhere new can be challenging.

4 young software engineers

Whether it’s your first job after studying or you’re simply switching companies, taking that first step into somewhere new can be challenging.

In this blog post, we take a closer look at what life is like for young engineers at the beginning of their careers. Four of our Junior Software Engineers share what the transition was like for them and offer their advice to those about to make the same leap.

The Beginning

“My interest in programming started when I was quite young,” says Paige, who joined us last year as a graduate of computer science at the University of Sussex. “I began writing little games as a kid and my curiosity just never went away. Career-wise, it was always going to be something STEM. If I wasn’t working in software, I’d have entered another engineering role, or something else related to maths or physics.”

“For me, studying computer science at university was almost an accident,” says Alex, another recent graduate who joined us from UWE Bristol. “It sounded interesting and like something I’d be good at so I decided to go for it. Turns out trying something new was a great idea!” For Alex, his studies inspired him to delve into the subject in his free time. “I get to work on exciting things, using lot's of different technologies which helps to keep things fresh. The range of different projects being worked on is what attracted me to Critical in the first place. I formerly considered becoming an astronaut-come-rockstar, so whatever I chose had to be interesting and this fits the bill.”

Carmilla, a gifted illustrator, had a different choice in mind: “I could have chosen to walk in my mum’s artistic footsteps and work as an animator or game designer since I enjoy art. Instead, I ended up following my dad into software engineering.” Carmilla knew she wanted a job that would allow her to flex her creative muscles and has found that being an engineer lets her do this. “This is a surprisingly creative industry. It’s amazing to see things I’ve created on a computer put to use in real life.”

“I’ve been playing with tech and building things for as long as I can remember,” says Oli, who enjoys both maths and physics. “I chose my study subjects based on what I was interested in.” Software engineering was the obvious choice, as was working at a friendly company: “I’m glad I found Critical because if I wasn’t here, I could be working in a faceless company, commuting three hours a day, feeling like a tiny cog in a huge wheel and not looking forward to coming to work. It’s not like that here!”

The Hunt

For people looking for new opportunities at any stage of their careers, the job market can be a frustrating place. It’s important to remember that not all roles come through the traditional recruiter platform and to make sure to check what’s going on locally and online. Here, our recruits share how they found Critical and what the transition into their new role was like.

“I first met Critical at my university careers fair. One CV and two interviews later, I started!” With a year’s work experience at IBM, Alex found the transition an easy one. “I knew roughly what the role would require so I was prepared for the professional expectations. What was refreshing was the friendly, welcoming atmosphere here which really helped me settle in.” Alex was pleased to find a close-knit company and friendly working environment: “I want to work in a smaller, growing company and the culture at Critical suits this.”

Oli was also at university when he discovered Critical: “I saw this role advertised on Glassdoor and after checking out the company’s profile, I applied. This was during my master’s degree and just a few months later, I’d finished my course and was working. “Critical is just different,” Oli says. “Plus, the recruitment process was incredibly easy; the application process was intuitive, every interaction I had felt personal and the responses were fast.”

For Paige, it was quite a change from what she was used to: “Switching from occasional lectures to working nine-to-five, Monday to Friday, was a bit of a shock to the system! I actually much prefer the new schedule though and the working environment is more productive. At university, you’re often working alone, but I’ve found being in an office increases my motivation and makes it easier to ask for help.”

“Because I had already been working as a software engineer at a small marine company, the transition was probably not as great for me as for people fresh from university.”

Carmilla explains. “However, I did have to adjust to the increased size of the company and get to know Critical’s company culture which is something I really value.”

The Role

“Working from home is a perk for sure! Something else I really like is that I can take knowledge from my degree and put it into practice,” Oli says, describing what he most values about his job role. “I can finally see everything I learned come together to create something in the real world. It’s quite astounding that something I’ve helped to make is being used day to day by thousands of people across the globe.”

Like Oli, Paige enjoys putting her years of study into practice too: “It’s great seeing what you’ve made ‘come to life’. The amount you pick up through being ‘on the job’ rather than at school or university is amazing as well. Another real highlight for me was spending a month in Portugal for training at the company HQ. I learnt a lot, made some great friendships and had a blast!”

“The reduced commute is brilliant and I love the flexible working!” Carmilla exclaims. “The biggest thing though is that my co-workers are great people. The personal development opportunities here are really exciting. Although my previous role gave me a nice start, I wanted more guidance. I certainly get that here.”

“The thing I like is the variety. We’re busy but it’s a good kind of busy,” Alex explains. “In my first ten months, I’ve worked on three separate projects, taking on different roles and using different technologies in each. In addition to this, I’ve enjoyed the level of responsibility I’ve been entrusted with. Not every company would invest so much in their junior engineers. After a thorough training period and with on-going guidance from my team, I was directly engaging with several different customers and responsible for deploying software to client servers. Before joining this company, I’d never have guessed I would be involved in so much of the software development lifecycle before the end of my first year.”

The Learning

So what piece of advice would our young engineers offer those considering starting their career in software engineering?

“Don’t be intimidated,” says Paige. “Software is a huge technical area so you can’t be expected to have experience in everything, especially as a junior. There is a steep learning curve at first but find a good company and you’ll get a lot of support. Software engineering is the kind of profession where people at every level are constantly working with new things so you’re not alone.”

“I’d recommend checking the role is one you’d enjoy and the company is a place you’ll be happy working in,” offers Carmilla. “Don't be afraid to ask lots of questions during the interview to see if it's a good fit for you; the interview is as much for you to utilise as it is for the company! It's easy to pick the first offer just to get the job hunt over with but you risk finding yourself unhappy. You’ll spend a big chunk of your life at work, so it's best to spend that time somewhere that makes you happy.”

“One thing I would advise is to decide what sort of role you wish to have in the company as well as the level of responsibility you’re after.” Alex offers. “Working at a large organisation can mean an engineer might deal with one single project for a few years, with limited interaction with other stakeholders or your team. This is fine if you want to concentrate on one specific thing for that long. Since I prefer to have my fingers in multiple projects (and pies), coming to a small company like Critical allowed me to quickly become involved in different things which suits me better.”

“Asking questions is the most important part of learning,” Oli says. “If you don’t 100% understand something, ask! People are on your side, they want you to be the best engineer you can, they’re not going to laugh if you ask something you see as trivial. If you’re working in a team that makes you feel bad for trying to learn more, that’s not a good place to be! My team have told me that one of the greatest rewards for an experienced engineer is helping someone understand something they couldn’t previously comprehend; we’re all keen problem solvers in this industry!”

Enjoying your work and syncing with the people in your team are key aspects of a happy career. Whether you’re just beginning the job hunt or possess many years’ experience, there are always new opportunities and things to discover.

That’s why Critical Software supports its employees both personally and professionally at all stages. It’s important to the company that our people enjoy what they do and feel valued at the same time.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the benefits our engineers mention, take a look inside Critical and discover what it’s like working on our team. To see what roles we are currently recruiting for, visit our vacancies section.

Contributors: Paige Gray, Alex Painter, Oli Denton and Carmilla Westin