Advice from Alumni for Current SJSU Students

In a survey of our BSME graduates (3-7 years after graduation) that was completed in Summer 2020, alumni offered advice to our current students.

About Internships

  • Try to take internships from day 1 and explore to find areas you want to focus in between your major. It is important to have a broad learning on your major but also to be passionate and master specific skills that can be used to leverage your professional advantage. Also, master your communication skills. As engineers we tend to do well on scientific topics but we should also develop communication and interpersonal skills. 
  • You need to be constantly looking for internships. Don't settle for small gigs here and there, but also don't shoot for the moon. Don't let an internship carry on for more than 6 months if you feel that you have gotten the value from it, especially at a small company. Use your internships as stepping stones for the internship or job. Don't be afraid to leave for better things. 
  • Do whatever you can to get internships while in school. Getting that first job is probably the biggest step in career growth and some industries are so competitive that a degree isn't enough. Internships complement your education and often lead to job offers from the same company. 
  • Get internships as much as possible during college. 
  • Get invovled with extra-curricular projects and internships as soon as possible. Don't be discouraged by not hearing back after what feels like endless applications, yes even hundreds of them. The first internship is the hardest to get. 
  • Internships are super important, particularly in a field at least tangentially relevant to what you want to do. Ideally ones where you have a significant project and aren't just a tiny component of a massive organization. 
  • Internships and work experience will help with learning and applying engineering principles. 
  • Theory is only theory, get out there and practice. Extra curriculars and internships are the backbone of your resume when you graduate. 
  • Intern at as many companies that you can. 
  • Take your labs seriously and get as many internships as you can. I've been part of the hiring team for our interns/junior engineers and practical skills with work experience is what makes someone really stand out. 

Finding a job

  • Create a nice portfolio of all your college work and projects. Have it ready to show off professionally. It will come handy one day!!
  • Take advantage of the electives ... select classes that would give you a competitive edge in the market ... and sign up for Handshake because they provide good opportunities for internships. 
  • Be open to non-traditional work opportunities. Engineering can take you many different areas and provide you with many opportunities in different industries. Also work on networking from day one at SJSU, start building a contact list, this will be extremely useful when you are looking for that 1st job. 
  • There are a lot of niche industries. Find yours. 
  • Keep abreast of industry trends and check on job boards from the junior level to determine industry needs. 
  • Take the time to learn new skills in the project based classes, such as Arduino programming, robotics, CAD design, additive manufacturing and SAVE a portfolio of YOUR WORK. These will differentiate you from all the other degreed students in the search for a job. 

Managing your coursework and time while in school.

  • If you struggle with time management and stress (getting HW done on time, getting enough sleep, getting enough social time, and having sufficient relax time) then I will share what a former student shared with me during my time in college. At one point I was so stressed and I was cutting time from sleep because that seemed like the most efficient way to get everything I wanted. But sacrificing your sleep only works once in a while. Its not sustainable and you ultimately end up sacrificing your health. So lets start. What is the most important number? Take a guess or two. Still not sure? I'll tell you. Its 168. Why? 168 hours in a week. If you are short on time or overly stressed, take 30 minutes to plan out a spreadsheet (trust me, its worth it). Lay it out with Sunday through Saturday in the columns. Put a clock in the rows starting with the time you wake up. Fill it out with what you typically do currently. Wake up, 5 minutes to throw on some clothes and fix your hair, 5 minutes to brush your teeth, put in your contacts. Whatever. Then 20 minutes to cook some eggs and eat them. 25 minutes to leave your house and arrive at your first class door to door. Then 50 minutes for that class. Ect. It may be tedious, but if you make a serious attempt at this, it will help you balance your priorities and spend time more wisely. Be sure to include exactly how much time you intend to sleep. How much time you spend watching TV. How much time you spend talking with friends in the hallways. How much time you spend studying the books. How much for doing HW. How much for getting groceries. How much time you spend half-listening to your club meeting. Be as detailed as you can. This will give you a good picture of how you spend your time and what areas need less time and what areas need more time. You can sleep 30 minutes less per night so you can finally watch breaking bad. Or you can spend an additional 2 hours per week playing video games because you don't commute thanks to COVID. Use this to decide what's important to you. And I'll say it again. Decide what's important to YOU. Not to your teachers, not to your roommates, not to your parents. To you. Then sum it all up. To mitigate stress, I personally recommend 10-20 hours per week of wind-down time. You can do whatever makes you happy. Be it playing games, hanging out with a significant other, going mountain biking, whatever.
  • As a mechanical engineer, taking machining and manufacturing methods classes is a great way to understand the most practical way to create something, as well as the limitations associated with a certain type of fabrication.
  • Pick your teachers whenever possible.
  • It takes 10 000 hours to be considered good at what you do. That equates to roughly 5 years working 40 hours a week. Be engaged in what you do and commit 120% while evaluating priorities periodically. If it's not going to matter 5 minutes from now, it won't 5 years later. 
  • Do at least 3 to 4 project which involve designing and using Arduino process, and document these project in your resume. Get your hand dirty by building new project or working in new ideas.
  • Do you best and apply the mechanical engineering concepts to real life problems.
  • Join a club or project program
  • Take advantage of societies, extra-curricular projects, and learn a bit a code.
  • Constantly learn.
  • Football, Baseball, and Basketball players don't go straight to the playoffs. They condition all year long and practice. Design engineering should be the same way. Take the time to model something, make a drawing, use the engineering tool of choice every night to become a pro in the engineering skill you want to master.
  • Don't be afraid to fail.
  • Invest in personal management skills, and always pad your timing expectations.
  • Don’t worry about your grade. Learn the process of solving the problem. 90% of the time  they are all the same thing. At the end of the day, the piece of paper at the end of the tunnel is all that matters, not the GPA or advanced degrees.
  • College gives you a good understanding of conceptual ideas that are applicable to companies. Every company is different but application of these concepts is important so truly understanding them is what matters more than anything, even if you keep making mathematical mistakes. If the equations make sense conceptually, then you can do anything.
  • If you want to be a mechanical design engineer, spend time in the machine shop making things. Those who have significant hands on experience making things are almost always better engineers than those that don't. Study hard now because you will want to remember that information when you least expect it.
  • Try to understand concepts and not just pass tests
  • Taking the time to join an engineering club helps you prepare for issues you will see in the
    workplace from manufacturing, to personnel, to troubleshooting real issues.
  • My advice to current students is to have a side project (individual or group) related to engineering if you have some free time. That will open up your insights, and it will help you think on your own instead of just completing the assignments in school. By doing this, you will get a first-hand experience of applying engineering theory into real life. This is what you would do in a job, and this is what employers want to see in you.
  • Establish a strong foundation on engineering basics so that you have adequate mechanical and physical intuition. 2. Go to as many events to build as many connections as you can, no matter how big or small. You will meet a lot of really great individuals this way. 3. Take some risks. Not everyone can work at Microsoft, Amazon, FB, Google, or Apple. There is a lot to be learned in a start-up environment where you will wear many hats.
  • Do not procrastinate. Read ahead for the chapters you will be covering in the next lecture. Do your homework ASAP while the material is still fresh in your mind.
  • Have fun. Make friends. Make connections. And try everything you’re interested in when it comes to engineering as it is the perfect time to do so.
  • Torrent all your books, learn how to teach yourself, meet good friends that can help you with the first 2.
  • Do not procrastinate if you would like to avoid late nights and get good grades.
  • You are responsible for your education. Not understanding the teacher or the way a teacher teaches is not an excuse. Learn to adapt now because it'll make you a stronger employee and/or boss later down the line.
  • Don’t be afraid to be picky about which professors to take classes from.
  • Learn how to communicate effectively with your group mates.
  • Life isn't fair, and for some, no one is going to hold your hand through the journey of your
    undergraduate career. Take advantage of the opportunities you have at SJSU and the ME
    Department. If you don't know what either has to offer you, ask. If a professor turns you away from office hours because you'd like to ask a genuine question about what the department has to offer, ask someone else. Don't let one professor or individual ruin your personal and professional development and growth. Don't be afraid to be the squeaky wheel, just make sure you're a humble, prepare-your-question(s) squeaky wheel.
  • Take advantage of the resources as much as you can, learn what they are, and if you don't know ASK! Ask a professor or faculty advisor, classmate, TA, etc. There is a plethora of knowledge just waiting to be tapped into that students can easily gloss over. Be engaged and enjoy college!
  • Focus as much on how you learn as what you learn. If you learn how to take information in -effectively, you can get what you need throughout your career.
  • Know how to sit behind a desk and work in the field.