In this session of Gydable Talks, we connected with Noah Hunt-Isaak to discuss his career path, and job search/interview experience as a college graduate. Noah finished his Bachelor’s Degree with a major Computer Science from Dickinson College in 2020. He started his journey as a Software Engineer at Epic Systems in June, 2020 in the midst of COVID-19.
Let’s start off by learning a little about you and your career so far.
I am working as a software developer at Epic Systems in Madison, Wisconsin. I graduated this year amidst COVID-19 and I moved up here for work. I was reached out by a recruiter around September 2019 of my senior year through my school’s Handshake.
I got their offer around December 2019 which I accepted, and am now here at Epic.
How was your application and interview process at Epic Systems like? Did you apply to different places besides Epic?
With Epic, it all started when they reached out to me – although I think it was an automated system and not a personal one. I then took the step of actually replying to that message and signing up for a phone interview.
I got a first round phone interview and it happened pretty quickly back in October of 2019. After the phone interview, there was a skills assessment coding interview which I received a few weeks later. Following that, the final round was an on site interview which I did in November or December of that year. I was fortunate enough to hear back with an offer only a few weeks later.
I actually did not apply to many companies because Epic was one of the first places that I applied to and heard back from them fairly quickly. I only actually ended up applying and going through the interview process with 2 or 3 companies in total. I went through an onsite interview with another company but I decided to go with Epic.
So what does a day look like right now at Epic, especially with the Covid-19 situation? What did joining the company during this whole pandemic feel like?
It is definitely a unique experience because it has pretty much been remote work for the most part, and I have only met two other people who work at my company in person. So it has been a lot of virtual training and virtual meetings which can feel a little isolating at times, but overall, I think Epic has done a good job of having a large number of virtual resources and a fair amount of outreach to try and keep us all connected during this situation.
I just recently finished my training two weeks ago. Since then I have been assigned to the “Fix Squad”. So basically there is a rotational group where people are assigned to random issues and we investigate those problems and develop solutions. I think in a few weeks, I will be rotated off the Fix Squad and on to a project team where I will work on developing new features.
Quickly circling back to what you mentioned before, I know you said you did a lot of research work before. Lots of students don’t know if they want to go to industry or more research or academia. Do you have any advice that you want to give or share from your personal experience?
Yes of course. I was pretty unsure initially too. If anything, I was leaning towards academia for most of my college years until the end of my junior and senior year. There are a couple of factors but probably the biggest one is that I wanted to experience the other side – industry work. I knew a lot about research and academia but I did not know as much about having experience in the industry, so I was really curious to see what it would be like. I wanted to try it out and give it a go knowing that if I decided that I did not like it as much, I could always go back and choose a different path. Another reason was that with research, it feels like even though you can have a really big impact on the world, it takes a really long time before any of the work that you are doing actually reaches other people. And that sometimes feels frustrating to me and I felt like in the industry maybe I could be more directly impactful on people’s lives with the things that I build. Also, the compensation is definitely higher in the industry compared to other routes. In the end, I think there are a lot of pros and cons to both so I would really recommend trying both if you can. So trying to get different exposure through internships during the summer seasons is a great choice to see what you like.
Working on research/academia and working in industry have their own pros and cons. As a college student, it is a good idea to explore both fronts so that you can see what you like.
When you applied for jobs, did you have any kind of previous experiences? How did you prepare for the applications during your college?
I think I have had a bit of an unusual path in that I did not actually have any internships at tech companies during college. I spent my summers doing more academia type research. For instance I did an REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) during the summer of my junior year. I was worried whether my lack of experience might hurt me in the interview process or even once I had a full time job. But ultimately, I think it was not that big of a deal. I think those experiences were still helpful even though they were not directly relevant to software engineering.
And in terms of preparing for the interview process, I think one of the most important things that you can do and that I had done is to have some projects – it could be just one or two – that you worked on and really feel passionate about. It has to be something that you worked really hard on because during both of my onsite interviews, that was a really big focus point for the interviewers. I also think it contributed to me getting the offers that I received. And I will say that one of them actually started as a school project so it is fine to talk about school projects as long as you can demonstrate that you went above and beyond the minimum requirements laid out for you.
Have some projects in your resume – it could be just one or two – that you worked on and really feel passionate about. It has to be something that you worked really hard on because during both of my onsite interviews, that was a really big focus point for the interviewers.
When you said you talked about personal projects during your interview, you realize that the whole application process in tech is a little different than most other fields. How did you prepare for your interviews and do you have any suggestions for people who are readying themselves for interviews?
For the technical part, I had spent a fair amount of time during college doing Hackerrank problems and Leetcode type problems. I did a lot of competitive programming in general. Having said that, it was maybe a bit unusual for me but for the interviews that I had, there was not a big focus on algorithm questions. There might have been some of that during the initial stages with the skills and problem solving but not much after that. I would say practicing these kinds of problems is very helpful but depending where you interview, they might or might not come up directly. But I do think regardless of whether you come across them or not, it will give you the skills that can help you be a software developer. It gives you a good understanding of algorithms, data structures, and efficiency. So I think it is definitely good but not necessary to practice depending on where you choose to apply. You could probably go by without this practice but I once again strongly recommend doing algorithm type of problems.
About technical interview
Depending on where you are interviewing, Leetcode/Hackerrank style problems might or might not come up directly. However, practicing these problems is very helpful as it gives you a good understanding of algorithms, data structures, and efficiency.
Do you have any sort of advice to college students on finding jobs, internships or anything in general?
I would say to not be afraid of rejection and failure. I know that for a while I was scared to even apply to things if I saw that it had requirements that I didn’t think I fully knew or understood. One thing that I have learned is that you should just apply anyway. Basically, even if you just meet half of the skills listed for the position, you should feel confident to apply. Most of the companies are not really expecting everyone to know everything coming in and they just want to hire people who they think are eager to learn and grasp new technologies. With that said, always prepare yourself for rejections and redirections. You are going to get rejected from a lot of places no matter how great you are or how qualified you are. That is just the nature of the process so you definitely need to be resilient and apply to a lot of places and stay confident in yourself and your abilities. That’s key.
Apart from that, I think just being proactive and reaching out to try different opportunities is important. Do different things because you never know what experience you might have that you might really enjoy or as it may lead to opportunities you never knew existed. In college, reach out to your peers and especially upperclassmen because they are going to know more than you and have more experience. For the most part, they are going to be really happy to talk about their experiences if you reach out to them. I think generally people are more happy to share and open to teaching others so you have to be proactive and reach out when you need it.
Career Tips for Students
- Don’t be afraid of rejection and failure. You should feel confident to apply to any job openings, even if you just meet half of the skills listed for the position.
- Be resilient! Apply to a lot of places and stay confident in yourself and your abilities.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this post are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.
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