So now that I finished my undergraduate studies, I decided to take the time to reflect back on my past experiences, namely on my internships. Each year, when spring quarter rolled around, everyone was in search for summer internships. UCSD would host several job fairs where numerous companies visited our campus to recruit. During this time, everyone began to polish their resumes in preparation to meet the recruiters. We would compare resumes and trade advice on what courses to include or projects to list. We would fantasize about working at our favored companies, making mental lists of which ones were attending the job fair.

During these chats, there was one complaint about the hiring system that never failed to arise. It went something like this.

“Recruiters always look for the candidates with the best experience. But I’m trying to get my first internship, meaning I don’t have any experience. Its like the chicken and the egg.“

Everyone would chime in with agreements, including me to some extent. However, I started to realize that this was actually not the case. Yes, getting your first technical internship is indeed difficult, but its not impossible. How so? Through side projects.

Its surprising how much stuff is on the internet. All it takes is some self-motivation to get started. There are so many online tutorials that you can essentially learn anything you want. Want to build a mobile app? Android and iOS tutorials are ubiquitous. Want to build a web app? There are numerous web frameworks to pick and choose from. Want to learn to code in a new language? There is an abundant amount of sites to get you started, and for any specific problems, there’s Stack Overflow. For everything else? Google it. Its all online and all you got to do is spend some time.

For me, I started off doing web design in high school. Throughout my first and second year college, this gradually transitioned into building web apps using javascript and php. All my web development skills were self-taught. Thus, when hiring season rolled around, I realized that my resume stood out from the majority of the applicants. Classes taught mostly theory and rarely instructed on industry skills and tools. They often assigned similar, if not identical, projects to all the students. Therefore, my side projects in web development differentiated my resume from the rest. In addition to Java and C, I had php and javascript under my belt. I also had several fully functional web applications on top of the simple data structures / algorithm class projects. With the help of my side projects, I was not only able to prove my coding skills, but was also able to demo my actual work. I believe this made my resume much more appealing.

Now when I look back, getting that first internship shouldn’t be that hard. With proper preparation, the difficulty of the task will greatly diminish. All it takes is the eagerness to learn and the self-motivation to get started.