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How to make impact as a new grad
Starting at your first ever full time role is super exciting! Read this post to see how you can make impact as a new grad!
Starting at your first ever full time role is super exciting! You're meeting a bunch of other new grads, learning about your company's products, and likely getting some cool swag too!
The first couple weeks are gonna be incredibly hectic as you juggle learning new information, while setting up your 401(k) contributions, submitting tax withholding forms, and selecting healthcare, vision, and dental plans. You're also going to start seeing your calendar fill up with team meetings and onboarding events you should be attending. It's gonna be madness, but it will be truly invigorating, trust me!
After the first couple weeks, you will still be getting your bearings, but you'll start to create a development flow and work schedule for yourself. This will include when you respond to emails and chat messages, how you search for information, how you code up new features, who you reach out to on your team for help, how you unblock yourself, and more. Once you've got a flow, you've got the foundations for scaling up. "Scaling up to what?", you ask. Well, that's the subject of this post!
Setting the Stage
All tech companies have a ladder of levels for a given role, like "Software Engineer". Each of the levels have guidelines for how to perform well in that level. If this is already starting to give you anxiety, not to worry, I will elucidate the details of this oft misunderstood system.
At most software companies, you will come in at Level 3 as a new grad and you will be primarily evaluated based on code contributions you're making. Higher levels of engineers will also have code contributions as part of their performance review, but there will be other axes of larger scope that they need to address too, like technical leadership, cross-org execution, and maybe even team sourcing. Your "other factors" beyond code contributions will include things like how well you work with your team, your ability to execute on individual tasks, and what your peers are saying about you in peer reviews. But it's hard to evaluate you based on softer skills, especially as a new grad, so tech companies tend to place more emphasis on, well, technical skills.
"Great, I will just be a coding master and then I will be invincible," you say. Not so fast 🤣. That may work initially, but it's not the way you will really truly make impact in your role. I'll explain what I mean by that.
What does impact look like?
Impact goes beyond how much code you write. It's multi-layered with more visible external results, as well as less visible internal results. External results are things like "I built a system to do <blah>, which sped up <some task/process> by 40%." That is a very concrete externally visible statement. However, an area that most new grads do not consider, but can still make a massive impact in, are those internal results I mentioned above. That brings me to an important point regarding impact:
You win together with your team.
Software development is a highly collaborative process and cannot be done effectively by just 1 individual. Some other facets of software development, beyond just the coding, are doc writing, presentations, and alignment with other teams. It's usually in the "human interactions" kinds of processes where you have the ability to make an impact that will help you grow, as well as your team.
Maybe there isn't much documentation on an important team process. Maybe the team has a pain point that has not been resolved yet. Maybe the team's meetings are not that productive. These are all areas where you could step in. Your first thought should be "how can I help my team?". If you're able to help your team, you will not only be growing, but you will also be uplifting your team. And remember what the heading said: you win together with your team.
So be curious and ask a lot of questions to get to the root of topics and then share your findings. Be open to exploring beyond your current area of operation to learn about and rectify your team's pain points. Be courageous in suggesting your own ideas for how to improve team-level processes (like software release cycles and meeting structures). In essence, be the force for improvement of your team and I guarantee you that you will gain visibility, serve as an inspiration to others, and make impact that will stretch far beyond your individual contributions.
And you'll tend to find that as you mature and become more senior, the impact you make will naturally start shifting away from you and toward your larger team, org, and maybe even company at large. One of the most common ways this shift happens is through mentorship. In fact, most of what I learned in my first full time role came directly from senior engineers and from people who started their careers only a year or two before me. And the stuff I learned from them was not just technical. There was a lot of interpersonal guidance too. Armed with stronger technical and interpersonal skills, I was able to uplift my team even more. In this way, more senior engineers make team-wide impact by elevating the skills of younger engineers.
This whole process is a virtuous cycle, and with a little effort every day, as well as a mindset of "how can I help my team?", you will find that the impact you can make will continue to grow.