From Zero to Software Engineering Intern, and All the Steps in Between

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Interview with Maggie Lou

Half the battle of getting what you want in life is believing you can. As humans, we tend to make vast over/under estimations on our own worth and capabilities. For some things, we aim high. Others, especially career related things, we tend to aim low.

As Maggie demonstrates in this really interesting interview, an optimistic mindset and belief in yourself can really go along way. More than that, investing in “softer skills,” even when you are working in very technical spaces like Data Science or Software Engineering, are far more important than you think.

At the end of the day, we are all human. Building strong bonds with those closest to you can greatly accelerate career as you learn more not only about how to interact and work with others but also about yourself — as understanding and becoming self aware is immensely valuable.

This interview will make you think! Be sure to comment, share and subscribe — and big shoutout to Maggie for this one.

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Hey Maggie! Thanks for taking the time to share on Student Hustle.

Introduce yourself! Tell us about where you go to school, what you have done over the past few summers, and what you are up to nowadays.

My name is Maggie Lou and I’m about to be a junior at Northwestern, where I’m studying computer science in the engineering school. This summer I’m working as a software engineering/devops intern for the Cloud Infrastructure team at Braintree Payments.

What are you studying in school? Have any classes been helpful in the real world? If not, where did you learn what has been most helpful at work?

I wouldn’t say that any of my classes have been directly helpful in a professional setting (I.e. In helping me get an internship or for what I’m working on at the internship), but I still really love school and learning.

Especially in a fast paced environment like tech, its most important that you’re excited and eager to learn new things. I think that `excitement to learn` is a learned skill. If you complain all the time in school and only do things because you feel like you should, that attitude will inevitable carry over into your personal and professional life. On the other hand, if you’re passionate enough to pay attention to detail, focus deeply for long periods, and ask good questions in school, that will also carry over. So I try to take classes that interest me. My favorite class I’ve ever taken was on Buddhist psychology. This even helped in an interview! A 30 minute interview prompt was ‘teach me something’. I spent the entire time teaching my two interviewers about Buddhism.

What are the biggest advantages of going to Northwestern?

The prestige. For example, I went to a recruiting event and I was the only student at our table that the recruiter would focus on, because he saw the school on my resume. Shitty but true.

What made you decide to apply and go on iXperience and what was the application process like?

My best friend was going and I thought I wasn’t going to be able to study abroad during the school year if I wanted to graduate on time, so I signed up. I had no other summer plans and I’m lucky enough my family could afford to pay for it.

The application process is online questions and a video interview. It wasn’t extremely strenuous and I wouldn’t recommend spending too much time on it.

Can you share about the experience? What you did during the time, where you worked, and what you learned?

I took a data science course and learned a lot, but realized I hated data science and machine learning. I interned at Over, a photo editing iOS app. It lets you put words ‘over’ images. Think of a phone friendly photoshop — it’s a really cool product! I made an automated metrics dashboard that they display at their weekly town hall, that displays weekly updated numbers like revenue, number of paying customers, retention etc. I also worked on an iOS feature with other interns. Based on the photo you want to use, it suggests a caption to overlay, using image recognition and natural language processing.

The most important lessons I learned were about valuing patience, positivity and kindness

Those qualities aren’t valued in our society, and especially not in tech. Humor, confidence, intelligence etc. Seem much sexier, but none of those have to come at a tradeoff of being a good person. Most people agree that teamwork and communication are critical to success, but don’t give enough weight to how powerful patience can be. Not even from a purely moral perspective, patience is really pragmatic. It helps set clear expectations and keep morale high for tedious, hard work. Personally, I’ve found it helpful in really paying attention to what’s going on around me. I feel like I’ve made stronger relationships and it helps me learn quicker, because I’m less distracted and can absorb complex concepts more easily.

The book version of this kindness and patience philosophy is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Highly recommend a read.

How did you get your summer job at Braintree and what did you do to prepare for the interviews?

I dropped my resume at a career fair. I did a coding challenge, two phone interviews, and 4 more interviews during an onsite.

My tech prep schedule:

Starting Out: Become familiar with a language of your choice (I chose Java)

– I started from Ground 0 with this ’30 days of code’ module on hackerrank.com. There’s one challenge every day for 30 days. There are tutorial videos with each question and the beginning ones are really easy. They start with the complete basics, like how to print a variable

Problem Solving: Do problems and you’ll begin to see patterns

– I did problems from Cracking the Coding interview (you can download the pdf free online). People are always like ‘do the whole book cover to cover’. That’s probably overkill. I probably did like 10% of the problems, only focusing on strings, binary trees, stacks, queues, and linked lists

– For harder questions, go to leetcode.com

Become Familiar with Interviewing: Do mock interviews so you don’t feel awkward

– I asked random friends to call me and ask me a question that they randomly selected from Cracking the Coding interview, even friends that aren’t technical. It’s just freaky talking out loud while you program so it’s good practice

Getting started is the hardest because it’s like ‘where the fuck do I begin I can’t do this shit.’ You can do this!

People seem to believe that I came out of the womb as a tech wizard. No.

I took one computer science class in high school and almost didn’t take it because I wanted to take yearbook. Honestly, I’ve taken like 5 CS classes total.

You don’t have to be born as a certain type of person to get good at programming. You don’t even have to study computer science. It’s all about practice and googling things you don’t know (I’ve Googled ‘browser’ and ‘server’ like 30 times each because I keep forgetting what they do and how they work).

I started with 7 minutes a day with 30 days of code

Last October, I was incredibly overwhelmed and had no idea what I was doing. I started with 7 minutes a day with 30 days of code. Like I literally set a 7 minute timer and only worked until the timer went off to not overwhelm myself, and to make myself confront the fact that I ALWAYS have at least a free 7 minutes.

How has the experience at Braintree been similar and different to your expectations going into this summer?

All engineers at Braintree pair program, which means that there are always two people working on the same code at the same time, but on separate computers (think of a Google doc). It’s been a really interesting learning experience.

This is really good for productivity, because you can’t zone out or procrastinate on email or slack during the day, or your pair will judge you. It allows for great work life balance because we spend 8 hours productively working every day. This is very tiring, especially because I’m not used to this level of concentrated, extended work. I hope I can extend this productivity into the rest of my life.

How is it being one of the youngest people on the team? Do people treat you differently?

Braintree’s internship program is really good in that we don’t have special intern projects. We just go into the regular pairing rotation with the rest of the full time engineers. I obviously know less than other developers, but they listen to my suggestions, encourage me to contribute to the code and team meetings, and I don’t feel like I’m treated differently from a fulltime engineer.

What have been your biggest takeaways through your first half of the internship at Braintree and during your first summer in SF?

It doesn’t matter if I ‘deserve’ it. It’s too late to worry about that

I’m trying to get over the concept of ‘deserving’ things. I still get overwhelmed and feel insecure about my technical abilities and how much Braintree is investing in me. My mentor at work gave me really good advice that it doesn’t matter if I ‘deserve’ it. It’s too late to worry about that. the only thing I can do is work as hard as I can to learn and take advantage of the opportunity.

What is the worst advice someone has ever told you?

This isn’t advice, but it is a horrible thing that people should be wary about. It is infuriating when people tell me that men get hired over women because they are better engineers. Sure, sometimes men are more technically qualified than women during performance reviews. this argument ignores a lot of structural problems that make it invalid. We can even ignore the blatant cases where equally qualified women are explicitly discriminated against because they are women

The reason that men are better engineers is because they spend more time being engineers. Not because they care more, but because they have the luxury to do so.

Boys are encouraged to pursue STEM starting from elementary school, in robotics clubs and STEM classes. Girls are taught that this is very nerdy and social suicide (:re me almost taking yearbook over computer science senior year, even though tech is now like my life’s passion)

Then, during hiring, women are traditionally under-valued because they don’t have as many years of experience on their resume. They are mis-placed in lower roles. During an unrelated conversation with female devs at work, it randomly came out that 50% were mis-placed during hiring. They were promoted within a couple months to their proper role, but while they were negotiating this raise, their male counterparts had the luxury to just focus on development and become better programmers.

Also, women are traditionally much more involved in attending and planning diversity and inclusion initiatives. This is not a choice. It is unfair for men to claim that women do this because it interests them. As a woman I feel like I have to care about diverstiy, or I’m going to get fucked professionally when I can’t get promoted ever. This also takes away hours where we could be getting better technically.

Men are not better developers than women because they are men. They are better because they are spending physically more hours programming, because women have to sink hours into fighting structural problems.

I already struggle with this a lot at school. I spend A LOT of my time on Women in Computing at Northwestern. I quit literally all of my other extracurricular including my sorority, largely to focus on tech. But a lot of that time is not even going to becoming a better developer. It’s going to diversity and inclusion. But I don’t really feel like I have a choice.

You’re working on a bike sharing platform at Northwestern, can you share a little bit about what motivated you to work on it and how it has been going?

Bikes spend a lot of time chained to bike racks or resting unused in garages. Passionate bikers that travel a lot (like me, because I live in Colorado, go to school in Chicago, and work in SF), spend a lot of time and money acquiring bikes in every location.

I’m making a bike sharing marketplace called Cyclical to connect these two parties. Think Airbnb or Getaround, but with bikes. I’m launching in Northwestern this fall. A lot of students are studying abroad, and their bikes are sitting unused for an entire quarter. I hope to connect these bikes with students who don’t want to spend $350 on a new bike that they’ll use for 4 years and then sell for $30 on Craigslist.

Where can people find you and what opportunities are you looking for? (Twitter, linkedin, personal site, medium, etc).

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/maggie-lou-4a3bb110a/

Github: https://maggie-lou.github.io

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Originally published at studenthustle.co


From Zero to Software Engineering Intern, and All the Steps in Between was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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