All work and no play makes for a dull life and possibly an uninspired career, but sometimes, you have to sacrifice the occasional pool party in order to score a career-defining internship. Sasha Pasulka, Director, Audience Product Marketing at Tableau Software, spoke with PayScale for a special feature on forging a path from college to career, and shared that advice, plus a few other valuable tips. Among them: listen to your aunt, especially if she’s a recruiter, and pay attention to what you loved when you were 12 years old. You never know when you’ll discover the perfect career path.
(Photo Courtesy of Sasha Pasulka)
PayScale: How did you choose your major?
Sasha Pasulka: Allow me to date myself a bit. When I was in 7th grade, the whole class was issued TI-82 calculators. You could write programs in them using a modified version of Basic. With help from a couple of the “computer nerds” in my class (who are now founders of successful tech firms), I learned how to write code for the TI-82. I wrote mostly magazine-style quiz games. (For those folks who are too young to remember doing quizzes in magazines, just imagine an early version of the BuzzFeed “Which Disney Princess Are You?” quiz. On a calculator.)
You could easily share these programs (not wirelessly, of course, but with a connector), and my magazine-style quiz games made me an overnight star in the 7th grade. I was practically a popular kid. I was hooked on coding, and I quickly learned to write Basic code in MS-DOS, and by 8th grade I’d learned C.
In my pre-frosh weekend at [Arizona State University], they asked people to form groups based on their selected major. I hadn’t known prior to that moment what I would major in. I figured I’d think about it for a couple years. But my feet walked me over to the computer science group, and it turned out that was where I belonged.
PayScale: Does it relate to what you wound up doing?
Sasha Pasulka: I spent the first seven years of my career as a software engineer; so yes, definitely. Once I moved away from that path, I found the computer science degree better equipped me for entrepreneurship; I could create my own website, write my own code — and, when I did need to hire a software engineering vendor, I had a very clear sense of how much time it should take them to accomplish a given task. Today, in product marketing for a software company, my computer science experience is essential. I can learn complex software quickly, I can think analytically, and I can grasp what happens on the back end to make Tableau’s product shine. Frankly, any engineering degree prepares you well to think analytically and systematically — to quickly dissect a problem and then piece together a solution — which is key to success in many types of jobs.
PayScale: What’s the best thing you did during college, in terms of preparing for your eventual career?
Sasha Pasulka: Getting an internship. I did NOT want to get an internship. I was a B student. I wanted to spend the summer hanging out with my friends. My aunt, who has spent her career in recruiting, felt strongly that I should have an internship on my resume. She wanted me to go to the recruiting fair on campus. It was on a Saturday, and my sorority was having a pool party that day. I had no intention of missing the pool party. But my aunt showed up early to my tiny, messy apartment, instructed me to put on a nice outfit, took me to Kinko’s to print out copies of my resume, and drove me to the recruiting fair. From that event, I wound up getting an amazing internship with Lockheed Martin, and they paid me — gasp! — $19/hr. It was more money than I’d ever dreamed I could make. I went back to school with renewed drive, and, except for one tough physics class, I never got a grade below an A after that. The internship experience set me up for incredible opportunities — I was later hired by Honeywell and Northrop Grumman.
In this case, it wasn’t the best thing I did; it was the wonderful thing my aunt did for me. I guess the lesson here is to build a support system of people who are more experienced than you and who have your best interest in mind — and then listen to them. Because, at a typical college age, you’re probably kind of a moron.
PayScale: What’s the biggest mistake you made, or what would you do differently?
Sasha Pasulka: This is a tough question. I want to say that I would have partied less and spent less time with my boyfriend. I missed out on a lot of opportunities because I wanted to be partying, or because I wanted to be with my boyfriend. But the truth of it is that those experiences made me who I am today. I’m smarter and I’m funnier and I’m more compassionate because of that boyfriend, and in my current (happy!) marriage (to someone else), I’m more aware of where I may be sacrificing opportunities just because I don’t want to spend time away from him. I can remind myself that I’m not 19 anymore, and I can be away from my husband for a week when an amazing opportunity arises. He’ll be there when I get back, and he won’t love me any less. And the partying? Well, let’s just say it was a lot of fun, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s a lot easier to settle down into a stable life, a healthy marriage, and kids when you feel like you got your partying done in college.
I will add this: Go to class. Like, go to class every day, even if the teacher says you don’t have to. If you go to class every day, college gets exponentially easier.
Somewhere around junior year I realized this, and I remember calling my mother and saying “Mom, it’s so weird! If you go to the class, they just teach you the information that’s going to be on the test, and then you don’t have to panic!”
PayScale: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
Sasha Pasulka: Finish college. I’ll repeat: finish college. With a diploma. Not only will you get a strong foundational education that will benefit you for the rest of your life — but you become a much more compelling job candidate. You may think your awesome work experience will make up for it, but you are not Mark Zuckerberg. If you don’t finish college, you’ll carry that into every job interview you do for the rest of your life, and you’ll be judged on it. Start college. Finish college.
Want more? Check out PayScale’s College Salary Report for rankings of the degree programs, majors, and schools that pave the way for high-paying careers after graduation.
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