Working at a Startup as a New College Grad

June 28, 2018
I’d be lying to you if I said my first day at NerdWallet could not have gone any smoother. In fact, it could have gone so much smoother that by the end of the day, it seemed like more things had gone wrong, than had gone right. I decided to join NerdWallet as a full stack software engineer working on the Wealth team after four years of studying Computer Science and Economics at UC Berkeley. I started in August of 2017 and have been here for about nine months.

When I got to the office on my first day, I was both nervous and excited. Nervous I would know nothing, but excited to start my first full time job as a new grad. The morning portion started off just as I had expected; I attended orientation to learn about the company mission, I had my photo taken for my badge, and I received my “first day swag” consisting of a laptop, a backpack, and hoodie.

Later that afternoon, my team immediately welcomed me with smiles and I quickly learned how incredibly talented and humble each one of them is. I would soon be working with them to help consumers understand the ins and outs of investing and banking. I was given a mentor named Sam to guide me and help me ramp up successfully (all new engineers at NerdWallet are given a mentor). After getting situated at my desk, I was told to set up my computer and then was given a ticket to ship a simple bug fix by the end of the week. I was eager to start working on my ticket because I knew it would take some time to get used to a new codebase and I wanted to impress my team. Surprisingly, the challenges came not when it was time for me to code, but rather when I had to setup my environment so I could actually start doing some work.

I was pointed to various docs on our internal wiki about setting up my VM, getting started with Node, and what full stack development at NerdWallet looks like. I started installing software on my laptop, per the recommendation of the docs, only to find out that when I tried to launch my VM, everything was failing with obscure error messages. I contacted our DevOps team for help and after three consecutive days of us troubleshooting the errors together, we ironed out every kink with my environment and got everything up and running. It became apparent that there was a communication mishap prior to my first day that led to me missing necessary software and proper versions pre-installed on my laptop that usually come for new engineering hires.

At this point, I was extremely stressed I wouldn’t be able to finish my ticket because I now only had a day to fix this bug. Sam answered every question I had and made sure to review my code as quickly as possible. I managed to figure out the validation issue and to get code into production by Friday afternoon, leaving the office having felt like that was the longest week ever.

To this day, my coworkers and I joke about how I had the most difficult onboarding process at NerdWallet out of anyone we knew. I was the only engineer that started that day, so I was alone in my environment setup struggles.

Working at a startup means sometimes we drop the ball. We don’t have everything figured out and getting to the answer is not always obvious or easy. More often than not, there are more responsibilities than there are people handling them so making mistakes is inevitable. But at the same time, working at a startup means you play a significant part in the big picture of the company because you get the opportunity to step up and take on some of those responsibilities. During the past nine months, I’ve implemented a number of features that have had high monetary value. I’ve worked on a five month long project to refactor the entire backend system for our banking vertical. I’ve partnered with two other engineers to take on the responsibility of running a bi-monthly meeting for all frontend engineers. I’ve spoken about my work at various company all hands. I’ve joined an intimate group of about 15 women engineers that have become a source of mentorship and friendship. Because we are a smaller company and we have fewer engineers, I have had the ability to form strong cross team relationships. People across different teams and in different parts of the org have visibility into the work I am doing, an aspect that is often unique to startups.

The past nine months working at NerdWallet haven’t been that different from my first week there. Granted I have grown a significant amount as an engineer since then, but the cycle of facing challenges, persevering to get things done, and learning from my peers around me hasn’t changed. The large projects I have taken on have posed many obstacles, but these obstacles are opportunities to diversify my skills and dive into different parts of our stack. Your first job as a software engineer out of college should be one with lots of challenges and lots of opportunities to learn. NerdWallet has provided me with an experience that is nothing short of this.

Want the opportunity to step up and take on some more responsibility? Check out the engineering team here at NerdWallet.