Maroon background with yellow spotlight on the name Carter Belis

CSpotlight: Interning in Big Tech

Why did you choose to pursue a degree in computer science specifically at the University of Minnesota?

When I was in high school, I participated in the Post-Secondary Enrollment Option program at the University of Minnesota. This allowed me to go to the University of Minnesota full time while still being a senior in high school. It really offered a glimpse into what going to college here is like. That experience is what pulled me towards the University of Minnesota. Another event that really sparked my interest was that I attended this hackathon at the University of Minnesota called Minnehack when I was in 10th or 11th grade. I was able to interact with college students and see what they were building which gave me even more motivation and context to what it would be like to go to school here and study computer science.

Outside of those experiences, it was close to where I lived, they offered me a scholarship, and, I was pulled by the strong academics that University of Minnesota is known for. It’s one of the best universities in the Midwest. It felt like the obvious choice. 

How did you become interested in computer science? What are your specific interests within the field?

I got started early on in late middle school, early high school. I was watching some videos on Youtube where they were teaching people how to code websites from scratch. I realized that it didn’t seem as complicated as I previously thought so I began making some of my own very basic websites. Being able to make those websites and add my own creativity or personality to them really sparked my interest. My high school didn't have any computer science classes. I went to Century College, a local community college, to take computer science classes my freshman year of high school. After that class, I was even more sure that this is what I want to do after I graduate high school. I kept on working on personal projects, furthering my interest in computer science.

The reason specifically why I like the field of computer science is it is unique in what it offers. I've always been interested in math, but computer science offers the ability to be more creative when you're solving the problems. The problems do not always have an obvious approach. And computer science is also a field where you can really go from zero to 100. You can start off with nothing and then in a day have a full-fleshed, advanced application. In some other fields, that’s a much longer process.

My specific interest in the field is back-end engineering. But I've done some front-end and full-stack in my personal projects and in my internships. My favorite class I’ve taken is CSCI 5421 Advanced Algorithms and Data Structures. There are three different algorithms classes at the University of Minnesota. Algorithms are something I really enjoy doing. The advanced algorithm class, CSCI 5421, was my favorite class because some of the concepts were a lot more theoretical and niche. They're algorithms that are only applied to very specific scenarios. But if you learn them, the situations where they can be applied become more familiar, and when you find yourself working in the industry, you find applications to them. The course itself really challenged me as well and I thought that Professor Janardan did an excellent job teaching it.

Congratulations on earning the 3M CSE scholarship! How will this scholarship impact your academic and extracurricular work?

The scholarship helped me because I was able to focus more on my studies without so much of a financial burden. 

Tell us more about your internship experiences.

I have had three different internships. Last fall I actually took a semester off to intern at Google. I was working on the Google Cloud retail search team and I was doing back-end work related to the quota system. This is my favorite work I've done in all the internships because I was creating this new algorithm from scratch. The algorithm I designed would allocate or deallocate different quota tokens to customers. This was based on the customer’s usage in the past as well as how many customers are currently using the product. That was really interesting to me because it was a direct application of learning these algorithms at school and using it in industry.

Over the summer, I was working at Instagram on ads. I was a part of the Instagram Ads Rendering Platform Team and I worked on the validation system of ads. The call-to-action link on Instagram ads is whatever the advertiser is trying to make you click on, like a website link, or a link to the app store. I was writing a validation system to make sure that the call to actions were valid (i.e. a website doesn’t bring a 404 page or the app exists and is available in the user’s country).
I worked at Amazon last summer and I was working on the back-end for Shopbop notifications. These are trigger notifications based on, for example, if someone put something in their cart, and then the item is on sale, then the user would get a notification. My work particularly dealt with the delivery process notifications. I enjoyed a lot of the internship experiences, especially the people that I met. My two internships at Google and Amazon were both remote, but the internship that I did this summer at Facebook was in person. I felt it was really valuable to work and collaborate with people in an in-person setting and meet a bunch of the other interns and become friends.

Are you involved in any student groups? What inspired you to get involved?

In terms of computer science student groups, during my freshman year, I was involved in the social coding club. This was during COVID where everything was online and I wanted to join the social coding club because I felt I wasn't really getting the interaction with other students. I wanted to work with some of these students to collaborate and build some cool projects. Being in the club that first year was really valuable because I was able to work with seniors and juniors and learn about their internship experiences and what they went through in order to get to the point that they were at. Every year at the University of Minnesota, I have been a part of the club soccer team. I played soccer from middle school to high school. It was always something I’ve been involved in and wanted to continue throughout college.

What advice do you have for incoming computer science students?

The first classes that you take are really fundamental for the later classes. The more advanced classes build on the concepts that you learn in the first couple of classes. Also, when you start working in industry, you will start to see those same concepts showing up and be familiar with them.  If I was to go back, I would try to spend more time understanding the reasoning behind why they're teaching us certain things. I also think it’s really valuable to try and get involved in projects outside of the classroom. These are what really helped me learn a lot about software engineering and succeed in my internships.

What are your plans after graduation?

I want to work as a full-time software engineer. I haven't chosen where I want to go next yet. I'm still deciding.

 

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