From Zero Programming Experience to Three Internships

I’ve always had a passion for tinkering with things and seeing how they work. When I was in fifth grade, my partner and I won the science fair by creating a makeshift hovercraft with some wood, plastic, and a leaf blower. That moment sparked my interest into possibly pursuing engineering as a career. Throughout high school, I was exposed to the rapid increase in technology-integrated classrooms and also developed a passion for computers. However, I still wasn’t certain about where my future would take me. Before starting college, I juggled a couple different degree options: Graphic Design (I worked for a t-shirt design company for a bit), Computer Engineering, or Mechanical Engineering (I also loved cars). Due to my extreme loyalty for Iowa State with sports and their highly renowned Engineering and Design programs, I only went on one college visit.

Now, I’d heard daunting stories about how many hours the Design program required and how difficult Engineering could be and I’ll be honest I was very nervous. I ended up choosing Computer Engineering because I felt that it gave me the best chance at a job after college and that the field had a strong future. When I arrived on campus, I felt confident I had made the right choice. My first class was Intro to Programming. Our professor asked the class:

“How many of you have had prior programming experience?”

I was shocked to see more than half the class raise their hands. I immediately felt unprepared and behind my peers.

Fast-forward two months into the semester. It’s 8:00 PM on a Friday after our first big exam in my Intro to Programming class. I’m feeling defeated as I received my exam score: my first failure. Any confidence I once had no longer remained as I solemnly called my mom. I explained the situation to her and told her I was thinking about giving up; just driving back home this weekend and calling it quits. She encouraged me to continue working hard and ensured me I’d eventually see results (thanks mom). With that spark of positive motivation, I got back to it and continued studying. After the conclusion of my first semester, I was left with a lack-luster GPA and an enormous amount of anxiety heading into the spring semester. Still struggling, I managed to pull through with a better GPA by a hair. I wasn’t satisfied by any means and definitely didn’t have confidence in myself yet. However, things finally started to turn around.

At the start of the fall semester we had our bi-annual career fair. This is an event where prospective employers set up booths and allow students to talk with them and potentially receive interviews. I put on my brand new suit, masked on a veil of confidence, and walked into Hilton Coliseum like I was a 4.0 student. Amazingly enough, I ended up receiving an interview with Emerson Process Management out of Marshalltown, IA for a Software Test Engineer Co-Op (internship + semester). Now at this point the company didn’t really matter, I was just fortunate to have an interview. I once again mustered up enough confidence to succeed in the interview and receive the opportunity for an on-site interview. Long story short, I was offered the job. My morale was at an all-time-high. It finally seemed like things were going my way, and that this crazy dream of mine just might be a reality. This surge of confidence showed itself in other areas as well. My performance in the classroom improved and my GPA reflected that. I made the Dean’s List twice in a row during my co-op period! I was finally achieving in and out of the classroom and feeling more comfortable with school.

During the last stretch of my time at Emerson, I started to apply for other positions for next summer. My vision was that this prior industry experience would help me land a position with more ease. With my newly found positive outlook on Engineering and my grades to reflect that, I was offered another position as an intern at Rockwell Collins. I’d heard great things from my peers at ISU about Rockwell and the aerospace industry had always intrigued me. Regardless, before even starting this position I began looking for part-time work for the fall. With my increased industry experience and my improved interview skills I was able to land a third internship for the fall at Workiva in Ames, IA.

Here I sit typing this message with three internships under my belt and on the fast track to graduating on the Dean’s List. I hope you understand this isn’t to brag, but hopefully encourage some other students out there feeling overwhelmed and defeated. I’m sure you’ve heard it a thousand times, but hard work does eventually pay off. Keep studying and keep applying for jobs and you never know where you might end up.


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