Why I joined Benchling as a software engineer new grad

A year ago, I started my final year as a Computer Science major at Dartmouth. After spending four years learning and developing new skills through coursework and internships, it was finally time to find a full-time job. But finding the right job felt like a monumental decision and daunting process. One that could alter the […]

A year ago, I started my final year as a Computer Science major at Dartmouth. After spending four years learning and developing new skills through coursework and internships, it was finally time to find a full-time job. But finding the right job felt like a monumental decision and daunting process. One that could alter the course my life!

Now that I’ve started my career, I wanted to take some time to reflect and share how I made that decision. I’m currently a Software Engineer on the Platform and Infrastructure team here at Benchling, working on software for the life sciences industry. In this post, I’ll explore the criteria I chose, and dive into them from two lenses: 1) how I evaluated them as a candidate making the decision, and 2) how Benchling exceeded them after I joined.

(See Tips for your decision below for the summary)

Benchlings before the JPMorgan Corporate Challenge 5K run
Benchlings before the JPMorgan Corporate Challenge 5K run

Defining my criteria

I started my process by thinking about what I needed out of my first job. This was challenging, though the easy answer (and, admittedly, the one that would’ve pleased my parents) was money and prestige. Ultimately, I wanted to find a job where I’d enjoy going to work every day. After self-reflection of past internships and my college experience, I discovered that I am fulfilled most by three areas of my life: 1) my learning and growth, 2) my impact on the world around me, and 3) my relationships with the people around me.

From these areas, I defined three key criteria to optimize during my job search:

  1. Learning and growth
  2. Purpose and impact
  3. Work culture

My theory was that optimizing these criteria would bring me one step closer to a fulfilling career, and so I applied them to every step of the process — before and after joining Benchling. Let’s dive into how I evaluated each one.

1. Learning and growth

Evaluated before joining: As a new engineer, I was looking to join a company with a high-caliber engineering team and a strong culture of mentorship.

Before the on-site interview day, I researched the backgrounds of the interviewers on LinkedIn. At Benchling, I met engineers and managers coming from senior positions at companies like Google, Palantir, and Dropbox. Given Benchling’s small team size, I knew that joining meant that I could work alongside them.

I asked my interviewers about what mentorship looks like at Benchling. Besides learning about their onboarding program, I was excited to hear all engineers take a crash course in basic Biology. Excited, first, because of the opportunity to learn more about a field different from my own. And, second, because it showed that the company invests in its engineers enough to share end-to-end product context and make them true owners of the product they build.

Evaluated after joining: On my first day at Benchling, I met Rachel, my mentor for the next six weeks. Rachel guided me in navigating the codebase, helped me understand the company’s and team’s processes, and arranged one-on-one meetings for me with “Benchlings” across the company. These included the CTO, VP of Engineering, and founders.

Through Benchling’s internal curriculum, I learned about the company’s history and culture, the many use cases of our product, and the latest scientific trends in our industry (the life sciences). Of course, I also took the crash course in Biology I was excited about! (Spoiler alert: the mitochondria is still the powerhouse of the cell.)

Though, I did find certain parts of my onboarding process to be challenging. For example, the Engineering Knowledge Base is still very much a work in progress. And parts of the product, especially ones that model the complex workflows of life science research, can be difficult to ramp up on.

I officially graduated from the program after six weeks, but I still pair with Rachel on complex tasks. I also discuss the future of my career with my manager, Matt, and dive deeply into new technologies with senior engineers on my team. I came in with a back-end background in Python, but I’ve since learned how to better develop, inspect, and test production code within a large codebase. Through my starter tasks I’ve become more fluent in front-end — TypeScript, React, and GraphQL — and become more full-stack as a result.

I’ve had ample opportunity to take initiative in areas outside my day-to-day responsibilities. Having recently gone through the onboarding process myself, I’ve been helping shape and develop it for future Benchlings! For example, I’ve contributed articles to the Knowledge Base and participated in focus groups around creating Benchling’s Engineering Career Matrix. Working in a flexible environment like this, combined with mentorship, has helped me own my work and grow into a more well-rounded engineer.

2. Purpose and impact

Evaluated before joining: I wanted to work somewhere where I felt I’d make a positive contribution to society. This meant working at a company building a meaningful product. During my job search, I noticed that while many companies declare virtuous missions, it was difficult to find ones that also build products and make business decisions that matched their words.

Since I’ve long been interested in healthcare, I was fascinated by Benchling’s product — a cloud-based platform for researchers working on biological therapies — and mission — to accelerate life science R&D for the benefit of humanity. I also appreciated that its product is free for academics (students, postdocs, lab staff) and nonprofit research institutions.

Evaluated after joining: Beyond Benchling’s impactful product and mission, I was drawn to the relatively small size of the company. Once I started, I found that I had the opportunity to build and impact the core product functionality to a large degree.

My starter project was to work cross-functionally with the Marketing team to create, manage, and award promo codes for academic events. It was rewarding to help that team reach their goals and develop a relationship with the academic community. After that, I shifted over to our enterprise clients and developed an admin console to manage their data security and Benchling configuration. Being able to make these core changes and work across our teams has been a fulfilling experience.

3. Work culture

Evaluated before joining: During my job search, I placed a high emphasis on finding a company with a strong culture of communication and collaboration. I had interned at companies where the Engineering team was siloed off from the rest of the company. As a result, I wanted to work at a company where I could collaborate with coworkers in other departments on a daily basis. During my interviews at Benchling, I learned that the Engineering team works closely with its other functions like Customer Success and Marketing.

One observation that pleasantly surprised me was seeing how interested the founders were in my values as well. When they asked questions like “What do you care most about in your next job?”, I realized that they were interested in maintaining a strong work culture (instead of simply asking tactical or technical questions).

Finally, as a new grad moving to a new city, I wanted to meet coworkers whom I’d enjoy spending time with both inside and outside of work. Everyone I met was exceptionally smart and talented, yet also personable and eager to discuss their passions with me!

Evaluated after joining: Since my first day, I’ve travelled to customer locations to see how our clients use the product, participated in a corporate 5K with our running group, and planned a mixology class event for team bonding. I’ve also met fascinating people who have introduced me to new hobbies! Christian and Will have taught me how to fish in the bay, Isaac helped guide me in my expensive mattress shopping (I got a Leesa if you’re wondering, but that’s another topic!), and Stephen encouraged me to sign up for a half marathon.

As the company grows in size, it’s becoming harder and harder to build close relationships with all of the new people joining each week. It’s sad to think that, at some point, Benchling will inevitably reach a size where not everyone will know each other. Still, I look forward to becoming more involved with the company and influencing the culture here as it grows.

Platform and Infrastructure’s team mixology class event
Platform and Infrastructure’s team mixology class event

Tips for your decision

The biggest takeaways from my process were to define the key criteria (what am I looking for in my first job) and evaluate them during the on-site interview day (does this company fulfill those criteria). In that sense, the interview day was as much to evaluate the company as they evaluated me.

Here are some of the questions I asked my interviewers:

  • Learning and growth: Who have you learned from? How does the company approach mentorship, learning, and growth? What is the onboarding process?
  • Purpose and impact: What are the company’s product and mission? What’s on the roadmap? How does the company give back to society? What are you passionate about? What will my impact be?
  • Work culture: What is the company’s culture? How does it approach cross-functional collaboration and communication? What values does it care about in their employees? How do employees connect within and outside of their day-to-day responsibilities?

I’m glad I got concrete answers from my panel to use for my decision. Besides the on-site, I also spent time researching the company online, the backgrounds of the interviewers’ on LinkedIn, and chatted with a Dartmouth alum who knew their investors.

This was my personal experience navigating the difficult process of choosing a job as a new graduate. There were many possible criteria, but narrowing down to learning and growth, purpose and impact, and work culture helped me focus my job search. Benchling met my criteria by having a meaningful product and a culture of learning, growth, and collaboration. My hope is that no matter what company you choose, these tips will help make your decision a little smoother.

Of course, if you’re interested in working with me at Benchling, we’re hiring!

Thanks to Chanel, Rachel, Stephen, and Somak for reading drafts of this.

Why I joined Benchling as a software engineer new grad was originally published in Benchling Engineering on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Source: Benchling