For today’s post, my friend Tara will be sharing her experiences as an engineering major and how she landed an internship at Amazon while in college! Tara and I have known each other since the 2nd grade, and she is one of the most hardworking and determined people I’ve ever met. These qualities about her resonate throughout this post as she discusses everything from the challenges of the engineering field, what it’s like to be a woman in this male dominated field, and helpful tips on how YOU can get an engineering internship. If you are interested in engineering or are an engineering major, you will definitely want to keep reading!
Related: 5 Life-Changing Organization Tips for Online Classes (Free September 2020 Calendar Templates!)
Meet my friend Tara!
Here are 27 Questions With Tara, an Engineering Major:
Note: Tara’s interview was done over video, so some of the sentences may not flow the way it would be if it had been written.
1. Where is your hometown?
2. What are your hobbies/interests?
I love to sing. I’ve been doing it since first grade. And I’m currently learning Japanese.
3. What’s a fun fact about yourself?
I am half Chinese, half Iranian, but I can’t speak either languages. I’m currently learning Japanese, took some Spanish during high school, and can read Arabic but can’t understand it. The fun fact is, I can’t put any of it on my resume, haha!
4. What college do you attend?
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5. What year are you?
6. What is your major?
Mechanical engineering with a minor in technology management. I’m minoring in technology management because I’m interested in not only engineering but also the business side as well.
7. What is your future career goal?
My moonshot goal is to start my own company and design products that benefit the less fortunate. I can see myself accomplishing this by going to third world countries to develop those products and see how I can create technology to improve life conditions there or do programs like Engineers Without Borders or Peace Corps.
8. When and why did you pick this major?
I chose it during my sophomore year of high school. I asked myself several guiding questions to help me narrow down my choices:
What do I want to do, and who do I want to be?
And I said,
Okay, I want to help people and I want to be someone who is known for helping others.
Now that’s a very umbrella question and answer, but it still narrows down the path a bit because now I can ask:
How do I want to help people; what are some areas where people need help?
At this point, I took some time to explore myself: what are my interests, what do I like to do.I remember scrolling on Facebook and there was someone who posted a video about a patient who had arthritis and was in her early twenties. There was a woman interviewing the patient, asking her what she needed help with. After further discussions and learning more about the patient’s daily struggles, the woman came back with an engineered bracelet. The moment the patient put the bracelet on, she stopped shaking and wrote her name for the first time in years. Every single time I look back at that video, I think about how powerful that not only was the engineer able to connect with the patient, understand what the problem was, but also she had the confidence and skills to ask, “You have a problem? Let me help you with it.” And she did it. She changed this person’s life forever. How crazy that was! So I was like, I want to help people, and this is how I’m going to do it: Engineering.
And then I asked, and what kind of support and resources do I readily have available?
Much of the feedback that you get from professionals, workshops in high school, and senior employees is: Do something that you’re good at. Pursue something that you’re good at to increase your chances for success. However, you know, looking at myself, how was I supposed to know if I was capable of engineering or not? It’s like, what kind of resources do you have? Other than Google, do you have anything that can help leverage yourself?
I knew that pursuing engineering is not only something that aligns with my interest, it’s something that I can also be potentially successful at because I have the support and resources needed ( my father was an engineer, engineering academy at hs). Now I’m not trying to scare people into thinking, “Oh, my parents are not engineers. I don’t have anybody like me that could help me with my engineering path.” It’d just be up to you to look for those resources even harder. At the very beginning of my career, I did not invest in those resources like I should have been doing. For example, when I went to Davis, I didn’t ask my parents for any support. Instead I pursued mentors, joined a lot of programs and clubs, and developed my own network to really help me pursue engineering in the best way possible that made me successful. Am I successful? I don’t know haha! I’m not classifying myself as successful. But I do believe that I have developed a library of resources for myself, so that if I have any questions or need help, I know who to go to, how to get it and so on. And that thinking proves I’ve done my research, and I’m able to navigate through areas that other people would have trouble navigating because I’ve done my A to Z steps. Everyone’s A to Z steps are different. Mentorship is huge and you should really seek advice from others.
9. What do you love about your major? What are some things you don’t like about it?
One thing that I love about my major is that my engineering degree opens the door to many opportunities post-college. They aren’t lying when they say go pursue an engineering degree because it helps you land a job easier. In my opinion, engineering gives you a lot of options and opportunities to really understand, okay, this is how I’m going to help others and this is what I’m going to build. The majority of companies out there, to my knowledge, actually have an engineering role available.
I’m not too fond of deep diving into the theories of heat transfer nor sitting in classes for hours working on the proof behind Kirchhoff’s Laws. What I love most is the hands-on portion. It’s so powerful when you’re making things with a certain intention, and then it works. For example, for my senior design project a couple of friends and I are planning on submitting a project proposal that would be beneficial to the people of Yemen- the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world. (All engineers, or at least at UC Davis, will take classes during their final year working on a designated project to showcase it to hundreds of people at the end of the year. The final deliverable is a finished design and manufactured product. It feels so nice that we can help contribute and that our engineering degrees give us the knowledge and confidence and the power to do so. So that’s why I love my major so much.
10. What classes do you normally have to take each term?
It depends on the person, and especially if that person is minoring. So, I’m minoring in technology management. I’m taking business classes in addition to engineering classes.
I just took general GEs for the first two years. Last year (third year), I was learning fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, heat transfer, and mechanical design. This year, we’re going to be learning more about the design portion- so mechatronics. That’s combining robotics, electronics, computers, telecommunication, and product engineering all into one, which is amazing and something I’m really looking forward to.
11. What is the most challenging thing about being in your major?
I think it’s the density of work that you need to do in class, in addition to all of your extracurriculars, which is also a high load of work. It’s kind of similar to college apps. You should have a relatively good GPA and have worked on major related activities. No, you don’t need one that’s as high as like 4.2, but you’re expected to have years of experience working in teams- engineering experience. You’re expected to know all of the technical programs in your school and are supposed to be good at it… like 3D CAD, Solid Works, AutoCAD.
If you finish school without any of that kind of experience, you’ll be so behind. There’s so many people that want to be an engineer. It’s a fierce competition. So you’re constantly learning all these dense classes and then you’re spending maybe 12 plus hours, like a part time job, for your other clubs. Social clubs in terms of engineering is fine, but as an engineer, companies are looking for actual hands on experience. It does hurt a bit if you’re attending a college that doesn’t have a hands-on club that gives you the experience that companies are looking for, especially if you’re looking more for things like hardware engineering or product development engineering. One of the things that I’ve experienced at Amazon is that I was expected to output industry work, as if I’ve been doing this for many, many, many years. So the quality of work expected on you is extremely high. That’s why you should have that prior experience and be pursuing those extracurriculars to not only get your resume above everyone else’s, but also to make sure that you actually do a good job during the internship so you get a good return offer.
That’s probably one of the most challenging things is just being able to get that experience and the time you need to study for your classes, and balancing both. In my personal opinion, the experience is more valued than the GPA. The high GPA gets you through the door through many companies, but what makes you stand out is your experience.
12. What is the hardest class in your major?
For the lower division classes, it’s Engineering 17, which is on circuits and is a weeder class. I think the most challenging one is the senior design class because you’re taking everything that you’ve learned for the past four years to build and design something.
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13. What is your favorite class that you’ve taken in your major?
My favorite class lower division was Engineering Communications because in that class you had to design and build something and then present it to a 200+ audience, showcase style. You’re graded on how you’re able to communicate your product and your work to the judge, but you’re also able to make it and have something physical to show them. It was a great balance of both.
My favorite class upper division was Machine Shop, which also helped me get a job at UC Davis at the machine shop. We worked with 3D printers, laser cutters, lathes and all these big machines. It’s a lot of fun.
14. How do you study for your classes? Is there a lot of homework or mostly studying for tests?
I would recommend visiting How to Get a 4.0 GPA on P31beauty. Honestly, I think it’s a great list. You don’t even need to listen to me for that. Alter your study habits after reading that since everybody has a different study style.
I have a 3.0 GPA. For the 3.0 GPA, if you’re asking what do I need to do bare minimum to get a 3.0 GPA, try to study a week prior to classes. I think the reason why I have a 3.0 GPA was because during my sophomore year, I was primarily concerned and spent all of my time on extracurriculars. For some reason, I felt very confident that I knew my experience was going to land me an internship, not so much my GPA. And hey, it ended up working. You know how you’re supposed to be spending, in addition to your class time, about four to six hours studying in addition to attending classes everyday? I did four to six hours every single day doing extracurriculars. And then I would spend maybe one hour a day studying. Don’t follow my study habits, form your own, and again check out Blaze Ann’s 4.0 GPA advice, not mine lol.
15. Would you say people in your major and classes are competitive or supportive? What is the community like?
Instead of saying people in my major and classes, I would say UC Davis as a whole has a huge, very supportive community. I’ve never really experienced a class that had a cutthroat nature where everyone’s just studying by themselves. Everybody’s the exact opposite. They’re like, “Have you studied for this? Let’s study together and share the notes and study guides!” UC Davis just has that kind of nature that you’d want to help this person, no matter what. It’s kind of weird. People are sending you messages like, “Hey, look at this interview opportunity, I’m applying to it too!”. And others would think : “why are you sending it to me” because the chances are lower the more people that apply. I think that’s just how my entire experience at UC Davis has been.
It’s how I was able to land an internship during the summer after my freshman year to work at an orphanage center. My Japanese was not up to standard by the time I learned about the internship opportunity because you’re supposed to have a certain level of Japanese. In order to make sure that I was better prepared, an intern from last year took time out of her day to grab some coffee and gave me her Japanese textbooks and notes. She told me more about the internship and interview prep. She kept constant communication with me in order to get the internship, and then ultimately I got it.
That’s just the kind of environment UC Davis houses. If there’s anybody that’s having a negative experience, I would say you’re probably hanging out with the wrong crowd. You can go ahead and come find me, and we can work together and we’ll find the support that you need.
16. Are your department/professors supportive? What are they like?
It depends on the professor. Some are great. Some suck. However, I think if you just take that one step forward, attend one of their office hours and be engaged in class, it doesn’t take much to get on their good side. Trust me. They will go the extra mile for you, and you barely need to do any work for it. For example, there’s this one professor that supported me in almost everything that I did. I wanted to create a company during my sophomore year, and she said, “Oh, I’ll be your advisor for that.” I needed a referral for this internship opportunity that I was interested in applying for. She was like, “I can write you a recommendation.” I wanted to get this job at the machine shops, and she said, “Here let me look into that for you/ see if I have any connections there.”
If you just take a genuine interest in terms of what a person is passionate about and seem to care for what they’re doing, they will also care for you. I think it’s the very same way with the professors at UC Davis, even for the ones that suck. If you take a genuine interest in terms of what they’re doing, they will give you the support that you need, in my opinion.
17. What is the most defining thing you’ve learned as an engineering major?
If you have specific questions regarding a deeper definition about engineering/my experiences, feel free to shoot me a message on LinkedIn.
18. Have you ever felt like switching your major or just giving up? If so, what made you stay? What keeps you motivated?
All the time. Engineering is so hard. When people say what’s your major? And I’m like, “Oh, mechanical engineering.” They go, “Oh my God!” They always have this reaction. It is extremely hard and you’re always questioning your capabilities. I think that goes across the board for everybody through college. What made me stay is my end goal. Never lose focus of your vision for where you will be, where you want to be.
If you ever think, “Maybe my major doesn’t help me at all for the purposes of work that I want to do in the future,” then that’s when you get your ass to the counselor and you talk about it. The moment that you think that way, there’s probably something better out for you. You’re spending all this money to get an education. If you leave college without using any of it, that honestly hurts you financially. For me, at least, I view college as not only an academic opportunity, but also a way to build a network and a community. And I think that’s very, very important in terms of what your next steps will be in life and who is around to be a part of it.
If the work that you’re doing is not related to what you want to do, then definitely make sure that you talk to a counselor about it.
19. Do you feel like there is a certain stigma being in your major or career path?
There’s not a stigma. In fact, with stigma there’s a negative connotation, right? When I say I’m a mechanical engineering, people go, “Wow!” Something that I would say comes close to a stigma, maybe not even stigma, is probably the lower representation of women in that major. When you’re looking at me and my personality, I’m a very bubbly, talkative person. And when you think of engineering, I don’t really fit that mold of being antisocial. Also, I’m female and hella short too. I was talking to this six foot guy, and he asked, “what’s your major?” and I’m like “mechanical engineer!” and he paused for a moment and was like, “ wait, really?” I guess that engineering has a stereotypical type of person. I want to say that not everyone is like that.
20. Has being a female affected your experience in this major?
Yes and no. We all know that women are a minority in engineering. But this is actually very dependent on the school you go to. I think I’ve heard that there’s actually a good 50/50 at MIT for mechanical engineering for women. Don’t quote me on that! For chemical engineering and biosystems engineering at UC Davis, I think there might be like 50/50 or actually more women than men. It’s very dependent on the school and the major.
My major, mechanical engineering, is predominantly men. However, I didn’t feel like that has affected my experience so much. Always, always, always, if you’re a female in engineering, one thing that you’re going to be reminded constantly during high school or maybe your first year of college is that, “you’re the minority.” You’re probably going to have a class where you’re the one out of 3 girls in a 50 person classroom, and stand out more than a little beyond your comfort zone.
How do I navigate through this kind of environment? I’m involved in just so many organizations and communities that support women in engineering like the Society of Women Engineers and Built By Girls. I also co-founded a club this year called Women Machinists Club. I also have a good network in terms of study groups with an equal split of like males and females. I also like sitting in front row for class, so I don’t really feel like I’m the one out of six girls in the classroom, you know what I mean? But you’re right. The only thing that has maybe affected me is when I was doing the formula club where I was probably one out of five girls out of our 40 active members; the only female in my subteam. Being one of the only women on the team, there are a lot of mini weird moments. Just how girls have our own conversations, guys have their own conversations, too- like when guys start talking about their girlfriends. I think I’ve had multiple conversations that made me blink my eyes twice.
For example, one dude was talking to one of the guys and was like, “Oh my gosh, like, you know, girlfriends. Oh, they’re so demanding.” It was kinda weird, you know, being the only girl in the room. I looked up and saw all these guys staring at me. I’m like- am I supposed to make a comment? The dude was so close in proximity to me, and I’m like am I entitled to say something here? Haha!
There are definitely negative experiences as a woman in engineering. I’ve known women who have experienced borderline or just straight sexual harassment. For better or worse, if you’re the minority in the room, then of course people will give you extra attention. In my personal experiences, the extra attention has been an overall positive experience. Because I was the only girl on the team and really short (5’), people were more mindful of me and helped fill in the knowledge and vertically challenged gaps that I lacked.
21. Is there any advice you wish you had when you started college?
My freshman year was a very successful year, in my opinion (#shameless #humblebragging). I ended that year with a 3.8 GPA. So, academically it was great. I also ended it with getting an opportunity at an internship and was able to go abroad [to Japan] as a freshmen. Advice in terms of that… When people tell you, “You’re just a freshman. It’s okay. You have time.” That’s true because if you don’t do anything for one year, that won’t negatively impact your life significantly, just think of it as a lost opportunity to be one year ahead of others. In addition, I call BS on all those who say “You won’t know the majority of resources the university has until you’re a 3rd or 4th year.” I would say you can know a good 80% of the resources that your university offers in the first two weeks that you spend at college. I spent the first two weeks during my freshman year running through the campus departments and fairs and attending all of these speeches, presentations, and opportunities. Those first couple of weeks are literally the only time in the school year when everyone comes out and says, “Hey, this is what I have for you. These are our services.” From the first day, you should have the intention to get done with as many things as you want in that first month and know all the resources ahead of time. That’s exactly what I did, I learned about the Japan internship opportunity in the first month of school, and I took the steps to pursue it.
Also, one thing that not many people tell you is that your freshmen title gives you so much power. Anytime I told somebody I’m a freshman, immediately they loved me. Everyone loves you because in their eyes you probably don’t know anything here. For example, for research, from the professor’s lens, the freshman is more valuable than the sophomore, even though the sophomore may have one more year of experience in college. No matter what, you’re going to have the same onboarding experience, so they’d rather invest on the freshmen because they have an extra year with them in that position. Understand how much power that your freshmen title holds and really fly with it. That’s what I did during my freshman year, so that during my sophomore year, I knew all the clubs and I decided to be involved in X, Y, and Z. Then, I did so much during my sophomore year that I had a really bomb resume that I was done with internship hunting fall quarter of junior year. One thing that I kind of regret is because I got Amazon fall quarter, I took a break for the rest of the year. Now, I’m picking it back up to involve myself in these clubs just to end my year peacefully doing things I love doing.
If you’re looking for the cheat sheet to get an internship, do something during your freshman year summer in which you’re involved with some kind of organization. Once you have that experience, that should boost your resume, you should get an internship at a startup or mid-tier company for the summer of sophomore year. Now you have key experiences on your resume in addition to all the clubs that you’ve been doing throughout the year, which makes your resume eligible for big name companies. If you get an internship from a big name company junior year, along with the internship from the startup and also that something that you did during freshman year, what do your opportunities look like when you’re looking for jobs that fall quarter of senior year? That’s the kind of mindset that I want people in engineering majors to take on. If you have your own idea of doing things, go ahead and pursue that. But if you’re asking, “How do I get to a big name company?” That’s the way I would probably stage it. In my opinion, that’s the safest way possible.
22. Are you involved in any extracurriculars or student organizations?
Society of Women Engineers (Current)
Engineers Without Borders(Current)
Woman Machinist’s Club (Current)
Built By Girls (Current)
Muslim Student Asssociation (Current)
Formula Society of Automotive Engineers
Japanese Children’s Home Internship Program
Hard Tech Fund at UC Davis
23. Do you currently have a job or internship? What do you do?
In terms of a job, I do have an on-campus job at the machine shop where I work as a student technician. I help people who come into the shop and need help with the machines. I make sure that they are safety compliant and am there if they need any help with their designs or making sure that it’s manufacturable.
The internship that I’m currently doing this summer is Amazon Robotics Advanced Technology as a hardware development engineer. My internship, I would say, is a little bit different than all the other internships at Advanced Technology. The other interns who are also hardware development engineers got a machine and a sub component of the machine, and they worked to develop it. Instead of getting a machine, I got a building. My experiences are different from everyone else’s because I’m looking at the A to Z process of how that building works, and then I’m saying, what can I do to change these processes? What processes add value, what don’t add value, and how do I rearrange it so that you can get the best maximum output?
One of the reasons why they [Amazon] love hiring interns is because intern give a new perspective to a stand process that the team never considered. They hope that interns come in and ask, “Why are you doing it this way? Can’t you do it this way?” That was something that was extremely pushed on my part. What I did was I took this building. I was like, “Okay, we could reduce its footprint this way. We can add these people here for better improvements on this. I noticed that you can get rid of all of this if you just replace it with just this one thing.” Then you would have to design the technology to kind of showcase that.
That’s exactly what I presented yesterday at my final presentation. I delivered my building layout and my piece of technology that I thought would be a great addition to the Amazon fulfillment network. I didn’t go so deep into testing, development, and analysis. From the feedback of my team members, interns usually don’t get these types of projects, so I’m sure that if you were to intern at Amazon Robotics as a HDE, you would have a very, very different experience. I’m very grateful for this opportunity, especially considering the hard times we are living in.
24. What is the work environment like?
Engineering entails teamwork and communication between others, and also it requires you to be cross-functional with other teams. It’s a huge collaborative network. That’s why I could probably guarantee you that in any type of engineering interview, they’re going to ask you a question related to teams because you have to have team experience or know how to work in groups in order to be an engineer.
For Amazon culture, Amazon is humongous. I think the culture is highly dependent on the leader of the team. For example, if Amazon says it’s one way, but a leader acts totally differently, then that team is probably going to mock the manager’s leadership. Amazon is so huge that you’ll find people with great leadership and charisma, and you’ll find some people who are like ehhh…
I think that kind of applies for all companies.
One thing about Amazon is that they have these 14 leadership principles that they live by. It’s like their mini Bible. Most of the decisions that they make are with the pretense that you’re applying some kind of leadership principle. They mention leadership principles in probably every single conversation that they have. So if you’re wanting to look for an internship at Amazon, look into the 14 leadership principles and find if you have an experience related to each of those 14. If you do that kind of preparation beforehand, you’ll nail the behavioral interviews at Amazon.
25. What advice do you have for those looking for a job or internship in the engineering field?
I think me and probably everyone else agrees on doing your own research. As much as people want to help you figure out whether this is something that you want to do or not, I think it is a good, common courtesy to do the research by yourself first. And then you can ask for help after doing that research. If you think about it this way, you’ll look a lot better to the person that you’re talking to. For example, there’s a mentorship program called Built by Girls where you get to connect with people from industry who have your dream job. For that program, they tell you what kind of company your mentor is from, and for that first session, you’re highly encouraged to do your research before then. If your mentor is from Amazon, you better make sure that you’ve done your research on Amazon before your first session. Then, you can boost your image in front of this person by saying something like, “Hey, I know that Amazon does this, this, and this.” You’d look a lot better.
For example, for my Built by Girls mentor from Amazon, I had a one hour session with her and I did my research. Instead of asking basic questions, I asked more focused questions and more engaging questions to really take advantage of the time that we had together. Not only does that show that I have done my research, but I asked really good questions rather than the surface leveled ones. The end result was a referral after that first conversation. Then from there, I completed the interviews, and got the internship. Really make sure you know your stuff, otherwise you can lose out on a lot of opportunities.
26. Are there other career path opportunities for people in your major?
Engineering has so many options that you could probably do, like pre-med or biomedical engineering. I’m a mechanical engineer, however, if I did some software experience on my own, like learning Python, I could probably get a Software Development Engineering job to be honest. Another thing in terms of my own experience… because I have a technology management minor in my toolbox, I don’t need to be a hardware development engineer. I could be a technical program manager. There’s also like management positions available for engineers, and I think that’s true for other majors as well. Engineering opens the door for a lot of different career paths.
27. Are you planning on attending graduate school? If so, what should people keep in mind to do to prepare for applying?
I’m undecided, but I know that one day I do want to get an MBA. For an MBA, it is recommended that you have about two to three years plus of industry experience, and then you should go get your masters. So I think that’s the route that I’m going to be as of now.
Conclusion on 27 Questions With An Engineering Major
Wasn’t Tara’s interview so informative and helpful? I remember in high school, Tara would talk about her goals of getting into college as an engineering major, and now she is so close to becoming a full on engineer! I guarantee you that if you follow all of the advice that she gave in this post, you will get there too! Even if you’re not an engineering major, Tara’s advice on taking advantage of opportunities your freshman year is so applicable to all majors. If you have any questions for Tara, please feel free to reach out to her on Linkedin. As you can tell from her interview, she has so much wisdom to share on engineering and college in general that you can really benefit from! Thank you for reading, and I hope this post helped you on your college journey.