In a world where nearly every part of our lives is slowly becoming digitized, it should come as no surprise that technology-related jobs are expected to increase in demand by over 20% over the next ten years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This increased demand comes with its own set of challenges and increased competition within the field, a path that takes great diligence, skill, and persistence to navigate successfully. This is a path many of us will find ourselves traversing throughout our college years, whether it be for internships, co-ops, part-time jobs, etc. — the opportunities are endless, but it takes considerable effort to secure them. I’m a second-year Computer Science student at Rutgers at the moment, and I spent a lot of my freshman year making use of the resources the CS community made available to me, such as my mentor, different tutoring programs, workshops, etc. These resources left me with critical pieces of advice on how to persist through the stressful and often confusing application/interview processes that come with the recruitment season. Many of us have attended a variety of resume workshops or mock interview sessions in the hopes that we will be better prepared for the opportunities that are bound to come up. Perhaps the most urgent question at the forefront of our minds when we make these preparations is: how do I stand out? With hundreds and thousands of applicants vying for the same positions, how do I make an impression?
My answer is based on prior personal experience in getting an internship, and speaking to many others in the field about their backgrounds and how they got to be where they are. Talented, ambitious computer science majors are a dime a dozen nowadays, so it takes more than remarkable technical skills to impress a recruiter who may have interviewed dozens of other gifted individuals. Much rarer is finding a computer science major that has other interests outside of their field and makes it a point to actively pursue them. In other words, presenting yourself as a candidate with range goes a long way in leaving a lasting impression. More importantly, being well-rounded has long-term benefits that are often overlooked, but contribute significantly to advancing one’s career.
Along with being a Computer Science major, I am also double minoring in English and Philosophy. Writing has remained a passion of mine since elementary school and is a hobby I’ve maintained through journaling, writing poetry, etc. Minoring in English is a way for me to pursue another part of my passions and tailor my education to my personal interests. Pursuing this combination of interests has elicited questions about why and how English is relevant to my field, and how it would ever help me get a job. This brings to light an overarching issue I’ve seen within the Computer Science community time and again: only investing time in activities that will seemingly further your career. This mentality often causes us to abandon hobbies that we deem “useless” in the grand scheme of things and takes away a part of our individuality in the process. What we don’t realize is how critical these other parts of our lives are in shaping us as people, and eventually as employees. When we invest our time into these other activities, what we’re really doing is diversifying our personal toolkit, and making ourselves more well-rounded individuals.
Why is being well-rounded important in the first place? Aside from it being healthy to pursue other interests, there are major long-term career benefits, as I mentioned previously. Being well-rounded leaves you with a set of unique skills that sets you apart from others in your field. There’s a reason it’s important to include extracurricular activities and leadership roles on your resume — we are, again, showing ourselves to be multifaceted individuals. In my past interviews, aside from being asked about my technical knowledge and experience, I have always been asked to explain what I do outside of school, such as my volunteer work, organizations I’m a part of, etc. The reason these questions are asked in the first place is that companies recognize that our answers are critical in shaping us as future employees and gives them a better idea of what we bring to the table. In my case, my pursuance of English and Philosophy illustrates me as a strong writer and an analytical thinker; these skills are paired with the technical skills many of us computer science majors build but are more unique to me personally. Similarly, any other hobbies/interests that you choose to actively pursue will give you a distinctive edge to add to your arsenal.
Within a specific career role, the skills these outside interests equip us with contributes greatly to acquiring managerial roles. Making sure your creativity is intact, and that you have high emotional intelligence is fundamental to being a strong leader, and being in touch with your personal hobbies allows you to build that originality and self-awareness these traits require. Yes, technical skills are, and always will be, extremely important — however, at the rate the field of tech is evolving, we are at a stage where we constantly need to be learning new technologies on the job. These skills can always be refined as we continue to grow throughout our careers, and the more we practice exercising them, the stronger they will become. Moving up in our careers, however, demands that we improve our humanity-based professional and interpersonal skills. Hobbies such as learning a new language, having a side business, public speaking, etc. make us more flexible people, and steers us away from a more robotic personal/work life — this in turn advances our EQ and makes us more effective leaders.
At Rutgers, the Computer Science major belongs to the School of Arts and Sciences, which forces us all to take the SAS core — as long and tedious as it is, it provides us all with the opportunity to take classes outside of our field of study. Rather than taking these classes grudgingly and signing up for whatever looks easiest, I urge you all to take advantage of these requirements and explore your interests. You may end up fascinated by a field you never considered before and add it on as a minor, or even a major. Even if not, I hope that being forced to receive a more well-rounded education shows its usefulness in the long run. Computer science can be an extremely stressful field, and the classes we take for it is undeniably exhausting, especially when we have a grade to worry about as well. As difficult as it is, I hope that no one ever abandons a hobby they were genuinely passionate about because of it. Make time for the things you care about and know that you will reap the rewards of it in the long run. Now that recruiting season is coming up, please remember that your technical skills alone do not define you — you’re being considered holistically, so be sure to emphasize the things that contribute to you as a person. Good luck!!
Written by: Aisha Humaira
Aisha is a Sophomore at Rutgers University majoring in Computer Science and double minoring in English and Philosophy. She’s extremely passionate about writing and loves to journal, read, code, and do origami in her free time. Fun fact: she has had her poetry published within the last year!