What I wish I knew as a software engineer

June 17, 2021

I knew I wanted to work as a software engineer from my first coding internship eight years ago. Here’s what I wish I knew at the beginning of my software engineering journey.

  1. How to get promoted: be proactive and figure out what to work on. It also helps to mentor newer engineers, write technical documents, and drive high-profile projects. Clarify which projects to deliver with your manager, set a target date, then follow up on the plan every two weeks.
  2. Promotion is partially based on merit, and not all work is promote-able. Do not use promotion as a barometer of your progress. You can develop skills outside of work and interview to get a better offer elsewhere.
  3. There are two ways to view compensation. The half-empty view says engineers are undervalued for building scalable products, while the half-full view says we are being compensated to learn, while the learnings translate to the bottom line. Both are true.
  4. Cultivating a network is just as important as the actual work. It’s heartwarming to hear from my former colleagues mention the monitoring project I worked on is still maintained. Who knows, I might end up back at Salesforce someday.
  5. Open source projects take a ton of community building to get contributors. Building a community is not a side-gig for a single engineer. I know, I tried.
  6. There is no work-life balance, only tradeoffs. Remember technology is the means to an end, both for you as a software engineer, and for the company.
  7. Most engineers do not get wealthy by working for someone else. If the company IPOs and you have a significant stake, you might become a millionaire. It’s like winning the lottery; don’t bank on it.
  8. Women engineers exist but our ranks peaked around 1985. I’ve done my share of interviewing interns; we have an equal number of men and women at that level. Yet women are 45% more likely than men to drop out of engineering. The structural problems causing attrition are too many to list here. The good news? The women engineers’ community is tight and supportive. When I find another female engineer in a sea of men, it’s like finding a unicorn.

Overall it’s been an amazing 8 years: I’ve worked in five different companies, moved from Vancouver to San Francisco, and worked with amazing people across the world.

Here’s to another 8 years of learning.