I was a Computer Science major graduating in 2005 from San Jose State University, which is located right in the middle of Silicon Valley. Computer Science is a hot major now, but after the crash of 2000, Computer Science was a very depressing major with half of the students looking for jobs in “business” rather than technology because the prospects of landing a software engineering job were very slim. Plus all the employers wanted developers who already had at least a few years of experience.
So when I looked for internships in the Fall of my last year of college, I really didn’t know what to expect. I went to a few mostly unpromising internship interviews in anything remotely close to my field of education, but I had no luck. The closest I was getting was weird places or struggling companies that were looking for free labor.
Normally, I would not want to work at places like that, but since experience was proving that this was the best option at the moment, I gave one company a shot. It was a technology company called Ipro (long ago out of business) which was in the advertising space. They were hiring many interns to do manual search for potential leads that their sales team would then call. They paid a “stipend” which I will explain a bit later in the article. The place felt strange and none of the interns talked to one another. I took the “internship” just to see what would come of it. By my second week half of the intern staff had quit and the company hired new interns. That was a weekly occurrence because as soon as people were realizing that they were just getting taken advantage of, they quit.
There was so much intern turnover that even the manager of interns was an intern who had stuck it out. No one wanted to manually search the web for leads without learning anything, nor being mentored, nor being paid well. I didn’t want to do that either. So I didn’t. Instead, since the managers at the company were just happy that I had not quit, I stopped looking for leads, and started writing a software program that would crawl the web and look for potential leads. It was a common web crawler. It took me some time to build this software because, again, I was getting absolutely no mentoring, and at that time, sites like StackOverflow.com were not around.
It took me a few months of part-time work, but I finished the crawler that could do the job of many interns, effectively replacing the need of the intern farm. As I was working on it, I wasn’t sure why I was building this crawler other than it was actually an interesting project for me. It was a project that I owned inside the company and it had potential to make a big difference for the company. So mostly, throughout the process, I found something to do that satisfied my own curiosity. By the time the crawler was ready, it was early Spring and my university studies were almost over. Plus, since by sheer miracle, I had not already quit as all the interns had done before me, some of the few regular employees there were, were becoming more friendly with me.
Then I started to hear rumblings within the company that they were planning a software project and needed to hire a developer. They wanted to hire someone with experience, but since I was around, and had proven myself as someone that could be depended upon, and was twice cheaper to hire than an experienced developer, they offered me the job. I was thrilled. Out of my graduating Computer Science class, I was one of the very few people who had a job in my field right after graduating. I stayed at that job about 6 months before gaining enough experience to go to a more stable company that was actually doing well. And that was the beginning of my career. And if you are wondering how much that internship originally paid, through some complex calculation that I do not understand to this day, it averaged to $3 per hour. But through sticking with it and being proactive in what projects I took on, I got my start.
Alex Genadinik is a mobile developer and the founder of Problemio business apps which is the company behind a number of mobile apps for planning and starting a business. The goal of the apps is to help guide first-time entrepreneurs from the idea stage to having an operational business. Alex also blogs at http://www.glowingstart.com on various topics having to do with starting a business and creating products. Alex holds a B.S in Computer Science from San Jose State University. Please say hello on Twitter @genadinik
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