What I'm Looking for in a New Grad Role

Berkeley, USA
9 minutes

As I write this in the October of 2022, I’m roughly half an year away from graduating. I’m applying to grad school, and I’m actively recruiting. This has made me think pretty deeply about what I want to do as my first full-time job out of college.

In part, this post is me trying to figure myself out. In another, it’s an artifact for me to look back on fondly, some 10 years later. In yet another, it’s a means to get feedback from others, and evolve how I search for what’s next.

Alright, enough dilly-dallying. Let’s get started. Here’s a quick summary. In my new grad job, I want to:

  1. Build things that accelerate others in achieving their goals
  2. Build something peoples use (and hopefully love)
  3. Work on nascent industries with an immense space of possibilities
  4. Work at companies that are fundamentally changing and shaping their industries
  5. Work on a small team with lots of ownership and the chance to wear many hats
  6. Work in-person as much as possible
  7. Improve myself and make a meaningful difference in the lives of others

That’s it! Read on, if you’d like to hear the thought-processes. As an aside, I hope that penning this down helps some of my fellow seniors shape what feels like one of the toughest decisions of our lives :)

High-Level Mission#

My overarching mission is to build things that help other people achieve their goals faster. This is why I started teaching at Berkeley, why I ran fellowships and startup accelerators on campus. It’s why I research program synthesis — trying to give everyone the power of automation and digital creation. I want to be able to continue this mission in my work as well.

Make Something People Want#

As an expression of my personal mission statement, it’s important to me to work on things that people use. I also really enjoy working in a feedback loop with passionate users. While working on a complex technical problems for years is fun, I’m looking for a place where what I build is actively used to hopefully make the users’ lives a bit better.

Working on Magic#

In freshman year of college, I wrote my first function that felt like magic — it was a recursive fibonacci. This feeling of the magic of building is what I want to keep persuing. I want to work at companies that are working on “magic” — that is, nascent industries with immense possibilities.

These days, I most often feel this magic when I work in AI/ML technologies. The possibilities seem endless, and I firmly believe we’re at an inflection point in AI tech and its adoption. As such, I want to work at a company working on AI/ML technologies as a new grad.

Building Engines, not Bells and Whistles#

Within AI/ML, I believe there are two kinds of companies — those that develop the “engine” of modern AI/ML applications, and those that use that engine to make other technologies.

A classical example of an engine company is OpenAI. Conversely, there’s a million companies that fine-tune OpenAI models for their use case. This is not a diss on these companies — I believe that many of them will be absolutely, absurdly successful. However, their product isn’t AI/ML — it’s simply a means to their end. Their main contribution is the infrastructure, the UI, and the product around it.

If I want to learn how to be an amazing AI/ML engineer, if I want to unlock the “magic”, I cannot work on companies that apply themselves (often very well) to 1 use case. I want to work at a company that builds to unlock many, many use cases for others.

Wearer of Hats#

I deeply value cross-stack ownership in my work. I believe that the best of engineers are made in situations where they have to take up a lot of jobs — product engineering, helping design, building infrastructure, writing CI/CD, evaluations, and test benches, setting up analytics, and so much more. I love wearing many hats, getting a holistic perspective, instead of being delegated a corner of an immense codebase.

I also worry that, as a new grad, I’d be boxed into doing work that is tangentially valuable but not critical to the mission of the company or team. I don’t mind doing “menial” work as long as it’s well-balanced by the chance to work on high-impact projects as well.

This diversity of experience in a single job is, in my opinion, only possible at a startup, or an independent sub-division of a bigger firm, which is what I’m primarly looking for.

In-Person »#

I believe that, especially as a new grad, the amount of mentorship, exposure, and help that one gets in an in-person environment can simply not be matched by a remote position. The chance to bond with my co-workers doesn’t hurt either! I want to work in a position where I get to co-exist with my colleagues.

Conclusion: A Builder of Note#

As you read through this, you might perhaps notice the lack of filters based on standard success metrics — funding, stocks, compensation, promotion speed, so on and so forth. While these are not unimportant, these are not what I’m attempting to increase in the next five years.

Instead, I’m looking to increase my knowledge, my skill, and my contribution to improving the lives of others. This is perhaps my only hard requirement.

My ideal place to work would be one where I experience a lot of personal growth, while making technologies that, in some small way, improve the world at large.