Alex Fischman works as Software Development Engineer at Microsoft in the Seattle area.
How did you land your current job?
I started my career at Microsoft as an intern during the summer prior to my senior year at Iowa. I spent the summer working on a project and at its conclusion, I was given an offer to return full time following my graduation. Internships are both an opportunity for a company to evaluate a student’s potential as well as an opportunity for students to decide if the company is a good fit for them. And more often than not, they lead to full time job offers with a happy employer and a happy employee. I would highly recommend them to all students.
What are your responsibilities at your job/ what does a typical work day look like?
As a Software Development Engineer, my primary responsibility at my job is programming. However, a large portion of my job extends beyond just writing code. I’m expected to peer review other’s work, handle customer feedback, assist in product design, fix bugs in the code, and coordinate work with partner teams, just to name a few things. At a higher level my job requires problem solving, communication, teamwork, and creativity.
I find the more structured I keep my work day, the more efficient and productive I can be. I typically spend most mornings catching up on email and investigating/fixing various issues with our product that have been reported by users. I’m most productive in the afternoon, so following lunch is when I’ll do most of the actual software development (code writing). The last thing I do before I leave for the day is spend about half an hour writing a summary of what I accomplished during the day, as well as making a to do list for the following day. This allows me to come in the next morning and get right down to work without taking time to try and remember what it was I was working on or what all I need to do for the day.
How did you choose this career field?
Like most people, I struggled with and stressed over what I wanted to do with my life. I always had a knack for math and science growing up and decided engineering would be a good fit for me entering college. I began my freshman year at Iowa as a mechanical engineer. All engineering disciplines are required to take an introductory programming course in their first year, and I immediately fell in love with that class. I proceeded to switch my major to computer engineering my sophomore year and never looked back. The best way I can explain my passion for programming is it enables me to solve the problems I care about through a combination of logical thinking, applied math, science, and creativity. I owe many thanks to Iowa’s College of Engineering because without them exposing first year students to the various engineering disciplines, I would likely be on a completely different career path today.
What advice do you have for current students?
Step outside your comfort zone. I grew as a person far more in my four years at Iowa than I did in the previous 18 years I was alive, and I largely attribute that to taking the opportunities I did not want to take. The trick I had for going about this was to just take it one step at a time. If you’re reading this and are currently in college, I want you to pat yourself on the back. You’ve already left home, probably for the first time in your life, and that’s not easy. So why not take it a step further? Join that club whose posters you keep reading, even if it means showing up to a meeting not knowing a single person. Or apply for the internship in a city far away from home, even if it means missing out on a summer with friends. Taking opportunities has a funny way of leading to more opportunities, and then even more opportunities. And before you realize it you’ll be somewhere you never could have imagined. So step outside your comfort zone, I promise you won’t regret it.
What advice do you have for current job-seekers?
The hunt for your first job out of college will be one of the most exciting times of your life. You can choose anywhere you want to go and start a career doing something you love. It’s extremely important to keep an open mind through all of this. One thing that’s often overlooked is that this is not your only opportunity to land your dream job. You’re likely about to begin working for the next 40+ years. And I’m saying that as a good thing! You have all the time in the world to mold your career into exactly what you want it to be. So don’t limit your options out of school, apply to as many places as you can. And don’t be afraid to take a job that sounds hard or is not exactly what you want. Nothing is permanent. If you don’t like your job after a year you can take the experience you gained and look for another job that suits you better. Your career is in your control.
How did location factor in to choosing your job?
Location played a large role in accepting my current job at Microsoft. I grew up in a suburb of Chicago and nearly all of my family and friends are in the Midwest. So making the decision to leave all that behind and start anew in the Pacific Northwest was not an easy one. However, in the end I felt focusing too much on the location of my job was only going to end up limiting my opportunities. Having now spent over a year in Seattle, I am really glad I challenged myself and pushed myself to try something new. I’ve gained a lot of great experience both in and out of the workplace. It’s also been surprisingly easy to maintain my relationships with friends and family back home with all the technology available today. So while I intend to eventually make my way back to the Midwest to settle down, being open minded about a job’s location has proven nothing but positive for me.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned since graduating and entering the professional world?
I’ve learned so much in the last year and a half since I graduated college, ranging from new software engineering skills to how to negotiate the purchase of a new car. The most important thing I’ve taken away from all this is that the learning doesn’t end when school does. Although they may be overlooked or unrealized, there are resources available everywhere that I try to take advantage of. A few examples include taking extra training offered at my work, working on programming projects in my free time, or simply reading a book. There’s always room for improvement and continuing to learn after graduation is key to both a successful career and a successful life.