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Advice: Try New Things and Make the Most out of all your Experience
Nicolas Binford graduated in May 2018 with a BS in computer engineering. He was able to turn his experiences while on co-op in Germany into a full-time job with the company.
Throughout my time in college, I often felt less technically inclined than many of my Computer Engineering peers. While many of them saw computer hardware and software as their passion, pouring countless hours into their schoolwork and beyond to hone their technical skills as much as possible, I just saw those skills as part of a bigger picture of what I wanted to do with my life. I have never thought of myself as a passionate person, but I have numerous hobbies and interests that I am proud of, such as teaching, writing, playing music, and learning new languages, and I have always considered these skills as important as my technical skills. Thus, it was important to me that my full-time job allowed me shine in many different areas; not just in the realm of computers.
A key decision that reinforced this belief came when I was applying for my second co-op. I interviewed with many exciting companies in Boston and California, but I ended up accepting an offer from Avira: a software security company in the small town of Tettnang, Germany. Even though I made a lot less money than I would have in the US, the experience of living and working in another country was more than worth it. The work itself was similar to what I did on my first co-op, making it much more relevant and enjoyable than I thought it would be. However, what I most fell in love with was the European company culture. Avira encouraged its employees to pursue their interests and hobbies and to try to be the best people they could be. Vacations were common and encouraged. Health was prioritized above productivity; it was perfectly fine to take a day off if you weren’t feeling well. And there were all kinds of fitness and wellness groups to encourage employees to live a healthy, fun lifestyle. Despite this relaxed attitude, the company was just as productive as any in the US, competing with many of the bigger players in the industry. After this experience, I made it a priority to work for a European company, or at least a company that had a European attitude towards work.
I didn’t expect to ever go back to Avira, since I couldn’t picture myself living in that part of Germany full-time. However, during my full-time job search, I noticed a position on their website based in San Francisco with the title “Solutions Engineer.” It looked like a pretty advanced job, listing many different responsibilities and qualifications. The description said that it was meant for someone with a few years of software development experience, as well as some consulting experience, so I figured that it was above my head. Still, I decided to apply just to see what happened. After a couple of Skype interviews with some members of the team, I got a call from the head of sales in the US telling me I got an offer. It wasn’t much of a decision, since I didn’t even have any other interviews lined up. I was a little unsure about leaving Boston so soon, and I had never been to San Francisco, but life is an adventure, so I accepted the offer.
I couldn’t be happier with my decision. For my training, I was flown out to Europe for the whole month of June. I spent two weeks in Tettnang, Germany, and then another two weeks in Bucharest, Romania, meeting all of the different engineering teams and learning how to use their software. My office in San Francisco is in the heart of the financial district, with a beautiful view of the city and surrounded by delicious restaurants and bars. I get to travel to Europe frequently for meetings with headquarters, as well as around the country (and sometimes outside) to meet with customers. There are only seven team members in the entire Americas region, so I am a valuable asset whose voice gets heard a lot. I experience the company on a high level, interacting directly with the senior management and helping make decisions that influence the direction of the company. Most importantly to me, I wear many different hats on a day-to-day basis. I do a fair amount of programming and debugging, but I also write, make presentations, perform market research, and more, making me more well-rounded than if I had started my career as a pure software engineer. I am only entering my third month of work, but I have already made a difference here.
One of the first things that my manager said to me after hiring me was that normally people don’t get hired for this kind of role right after graduating college. However, the fact that I had almost two years of work experience from my co-ops, as well as part-time experience as a teaching assistant and a computer lab assistant, made me qualified enough to land the position. Thus, I will always be grateful for Northeastern’s co-op program and the other work opportunities they gave me. I learned so much important industry knowledge before I even graduated, allowing me to get an advanced position right out of school. So, my advice to fellow Huskies looking for their next co-op or a full-time job is the following: try new things, make the most out of all your experience (not just what you’ve learned in your major), and knock on doors that you don’t expect to be opened. Because life is an adventure.