Reflections: One year out of school

Today the class of 2021 had a “make up” graduation from the university. I didn’t go. Why? Because after being out of school for one year, I don’t really feel like a ‘student’ anymore. I had a little pandemic graduation with me and my friends meeting up for food and then taking pictures in the valley near university of Toronto Scarborough. And then I got to meet and take pictures with professors who made my gradschool experience the absolute best. All these events happened at different times of the year and honestly it started to feel like a year long graduation ceremony so having an official graduation didn’t seem like a big deal

Also going out on a cold December evening just to walk across a stage didn’t feel too enticing. But as I’m sitting at my desk with Attack on Titan soundtracks flowing through my head while I finish working on my task for the day, I am reminded back to those long nights inside the faculty of information at the university of Toronto where I would be listening to different soundtracks while finishing assignments. It’s nice to reminisce about the good times. But alot has changed since I graduated a little over 1 year and 1 month ago. Because of remote work I got the privilege of being able to work with colleagues from different countries and be able to visit them under the guise of work as well. Things I only dreamed of as a student, I was living it in real life.

I was very sad to leave the comfort of student life because it was so familiar: the routine, the expectations, the low stakes consequences. For most of this year I was in a mental fog; really trying to figure out how to navigate this new territory of being an employee. Suddenly I was expected to be the expert. Suddenly people were looking at me as a ‘main’ person, and not just a support. And if I messed up, I could get fired and/or the company could lose money. And if I don’t perform well, maybe I’ll be replaced. Thoughts like these ate me up everyday.

All this happened despite me being one of the lucky ones: the ones who found jobs even before they graduated. The anxiety of job hunting is awful and I wish everyone on that journey a good ending. The anxiety of leaving all that is familiar is already hard enough to deal with. And then mixing that with the uncertainty of whether you will land a position with not only good compensation but also a good working environment is too much to bear. I’ve seen friends go through that and I don’t wish this on anyone. I don’t know how I would have handled it. The anxiety of leaving student life was paralyzing enough.

I do credit a great support system with helping get through that tough time. It was nice to be able to vent to my friends openly and make fun of the job market. It was reassuring to be on data science slack groups and see the job posting channels being populated every other day. That was actually how I got my first job. One of my prof’s had a slack group for his students and his phd student put a job posting which I then applied to and got. The thing that helped me the most in this student to employee transition was having a mentor. For me, it was my masters supervisor but generally a mentor can be a sibling, an upperclassman, etc; just someone in your life that you trust and lets you be yourself and most importantly gives you their time and attention to help you figure things out. It does help if your mentor is well connected to your field of study then your struggles may be more understandable. Even things like going through the interview process and negotiating salary and benefits become easier when you have a person to talk things over with.

Now, after being 1 year in the workforce, the mystery and magic of the hiring process intimidates me less. All I want to say to new grads is that the chance you’re going to be working on exactly what you were hired for is small. Companies have changing needs so based on my experience, it is normal to do things that have almost nothing to do with the role you were hired for. I think this is common for tech roles. This is to say that apply for all positions that interest you. Even if you don’t meet the years of experience. In my short 1 year experience, job requirements on job postings aren’t very accurate. And the last thing I want to say about this is leverage your network. Let your friends know if you are looking for work. Let them know what you’re looking for. They may not have positions at their organizations but their friends might. It’s not embarrassing, it’s just life.

And if you are a new grad reading this, just know that you’ll be okay. It takes time but eventually things fall into place. If you are experiencing that overwhelming sadness that I did, just know that it’s okay to feel that way and it’s okay to cry. But do seek help. Whether from a friend, a mentor or just therapy, seek help. And be patient with yourself.

Thank you to everyone who was there for me when I needed them.

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