[02O] 2. Mindset

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This is a part of a series of guides called Zero to Offer aimed to help you navigate the internship process. We recommend you start here!

Although the internship process has the potential to lead to great experiences, it can get a bit ugly. Imposter syndrome, comparisons, hyper competition, jealousy, rejection, doubt - these are very normal things that can come about this process.

By keeping a good mindset you can avoid feeding into any toxicity. Below are some tips, misconceptions, and more to help you keep good head space. Feel free to read the parts that resonate with you.

I’m not smart enough

Carol Dweck is a famous psychologist who studied the idea of a “growth mindset.”

In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that's that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don't necessarily think everyone's the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it. - Carol Dweck

Do not limit yourself. Most people tend to underestimate their capabilities. You might not be the next Bill Gates, but you surely are capable of achieving great and amazing things. Stop telling yourself “I am not smart enough to understand X” and start thinking “I need to spend more time studying X to fully grasp it.”

The computer science fundamentals you need to master to attain one of these jobs is going to be challenging. There is a lot of work you need to do. It is not a matter of how intelligent you are, it is a matter of if you are willing to put in the time and work.

Continuing to apply a growth mindset when tackling tough things in life will help you succeed. You are definitely smart enough to do so!

Learn about growth mindset here.

Imposter syndrome is a real thing that everyone feels. Learn more about that here.


Getting a job at a top company like Uber, Google, Facebook, or wherever is great! You learn a lot, get to meet a lot of brilliant people, and more.

But, there are plenty of bad reasons to want to work for a top company. Here are a few.


“I want to work at Google so my parents will be happy and all of my friends and family members can be proud of me.”

Wanting to make your loved ones proud is great. Many parents sacrifice a lot for their children and expect them to succeed. However, their definition of success might be different than your own.

Live your life. Do not blindly and lifelessly go through the motions and work tirelessly just to satisfy others (even if ‘others’ means your loved ones). If you do not want to be a software engineer, you do not have to. It is not too late to switch.

A lot of people might have helped you get you to where you are today and you may feel the need to prove to them that their sacrifices were worth it. However, your happiness and well being is what the people that love you should truly care about. Work hard and be successful because you want to, not because others expect you to.

In a similar vein, if you want to just work at a top company just to make your friends and classmates think you are smart, you will slowly realize the flaws of this mindset and how unfulfilling this mindset will be.


Salary is a very important part of any job search. Tech internships are especially lucrative; the salaries from tech internships can help lift families out of poverty, escape student loan debt, provide capital to explore entrepreneurial endeavors, and much more.

However, do not become obsessed with the number of dollars you will make an hour. There is plenty of research to show that past a certain threshold, additional money does not improve people’s life satisfaction. People who make 100k say they want 300k. People who make 300k say they would want 500k. Hedonic adaptation is real, so do not over-optimize just for salary.

If you find yourself overly obsessed over what other people make, take a step back. Is it worth obsessing for that much more money?

Learn more about money's relation to the Science of Well-Being here!


Related to money, landing a good offer probably won't make you as happy as you think it will. Getting a job offer is not going to fill you with a constant stream of happiness. As mentioned above, hedonic adaptation is real. Free food and lots of money seems great, but your mind will adapt quickly and take them for granted - it’s human nature.

While you are studying and tirelessly preparing, you might think that a job at XXX is all you would ever need to be happy, but it probably won't! You might say, if getting a job offer and making a lot of money is not going to make me really happy what is the point of this? Well, that is a tough question. If you happen to enjoy your job a lot, work with people you like, and do projects that actively engage your passions, then your job will very likely improve your quality of life! It is hard to find the perfect job for you, but landing your first “top” offer will make the future job search much easier.

Well-being is complicated. If you interested, we recommend this free course about the science behind well being.

But, I don't go to an elite college :(

While it might be true that top schools attract more companies to their career fairs, this does not mean that students from other schools cannot get internships. You can get a great job no matter what school you go to.

Applications are online and most internship applicants are hired through these online portals. It would be bad for a company to only have their employees be from one university. The beauty of online coding interviews is that the barrier to entry is fairly low - companies have applications setup so they can interview applicants at a large scale. Take advantage of that!

Do not feel insecure that you do not go to a top school. Your CS curriculum is likely very good, (and if it is not, there are plenty of free educational resources online) and it is unlikely that you are the smartest person at your college so there are people that you can learn from. Even then, you can still learn a lot from others. Make sure you leverage the resources and community around you.

Of course, you will have to work harder if you do not have the elite school on your resume. However, this extra work you put in will serve you well. If you focus on building your skills (as described in the next article, then you will likely be a better software engineer than someone from a top school that has done nothing. This will give you an edge in the long term. Learn how to be scrappy and revel in being an underdog. You should wear the chip on your shoulder with pride and let it fuel you in your journey to self-improvement.

If you do go to a school with a smaller CS community, think about how this could be advantageous for you. For one, is there a better culture? Elite colleges tend to have “rat race” cultures surrounding internships. If there is a small CS community at your college, take advantage of its tight-knit and collaborative environment.

If you want to get a top internship you can. Your school, although important, is just one of many facets of your application.


There is definitely luck involved in the internship process.

However, luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. We think of luck like a lightning strike that strikes dramatically. But, luck is more like the wind blowing constantly. Sometimes it is calm and sometimes it is like a gust, sometimes it comes in directions you would not even imagine. So how can you catch the winds of luck?

Work hard. Follow the steps laid out in the building your case section and seek out opportunities. Go to events, meet people, and be proactive about your career.

Good luck! 😃

Reference - The little risks you can take to increase your luck


You will get rejected (a lot). It is okay and a part of the game. You can get rejected from a “less selective company” like Chik Fil A and still get an offer from Google in the same internship season.

There is a lot more written about rejection here. For now, know that every rejection is one step closer to an offer and keep applying!


Competitiveness is natural when it comes to internship applicants. Your friends and peers might get offers from companies you were rejected from. That is okay and it is natural to feel jealous! However, instead of feeling jealous, be grateful for the fact that you have peers that you can learn from and collaborate with. Perhaps it means you might even have a referral in the future.

Social comparison is a natural feature of the mind. Humans constantly think in terms of relative terms instead of absolute reference points. So it makes sense for you to be upset that you only got one offer from your backup list when your peers got multiple “better” ones. Learn more about this here.

Reddit, Blind, LinkedIn, etc

Subreddits like r/cscareerquestions and r/csmajors and sites like Blind are okay ways to learn more about the tech industry and get more insight into the job process. However, the environment in these places is usually overwhelmingly toxic. Refrain from spending too much times on these sites. Likewise, do not become engrossed in comparing yourself to others. It is easy to see amazing people on LinkedIn and feel jealous and experience imposter syndrome. Realize that most of the time people only show their best foot forward on public websites.

Next: Building your Case

Last updated: Feb 24th 2021