CSpotlight: Learning to Become a Stronger Software Engineer

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

The summer before my senior year of high school, I enrolled in Girls Who Code’s summer immersion program, where I spent three weeks building simple HTML, CSS, and Javascript websites. After GWC, I was hooked. I thought that programming was fun, and a really good outlet for exercising my problem-solving abilities and creativity, so I decided to study it in college, and the rest is history!

In terms of why the University of Minnesota, it was important to me that I graduate as debt-free as possible, and the U of M gave me the most generous amount of scholarships. I also liked that it was close to home. Throughout high school, I had originally planned on getting out of the Midwest but I’m realizing that when you move out of your parent's house for the first time to college, the amount of time you spend with them thereafter drops exponentially.. You go from seeing them every day to just over the holidays or the breaks. So, going to a school closer to home has bought me more time with them. That's something that I value, because I’m very close to my family, and love and cherish time with them.

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

Through the Girls Who Code summer immersion program. After that, I took AP Computer Science A in high school and I also had a wonderful teacher who made me fall in love with programming even more. For my interest in the field, I would say I’m still exploring the breadth right now. Most of my experience so far is in web/software engineering, but I’m interested in learning more about data science and machine learning through a program called Break Through Tech AI.

Congratulations on earning the Lynn Johnston Brothers Scholarship and Entrepreneurship, Cargill Thrive Scholarship, Ecolab Scholars scholarship, and Presidential scholarship! How will this scholarship impact your academic and extracurricular work?

I am very fortunate to be able to receive so many scholarships from the U of M early on in my college career. I’m extremely grateful for these scholarships because they’ve awarded me the opportunity to focus on school work or getting involved on campus without having to worry about carving out time to try to make money or extra income. Because of the generosity of these scholarships, I get my time and attention back, which are my most valuable assets.

There is also an amazing piece of mind that I won't be graduating into a mountain of student loan debt because compound interest is scary when it’s working against you.

Tell us more about your internship experiences.

For the past year, I’ve been working as a software engineering intern at Infinite Campus, which is a company that makes software for school districts. Within Infinite Campus, I work on the online payments team and I work directly on one of our consumer-facing payment products. I think this internship was a game changer in terms of helping further my skills as a software engineer. I think getting a degree in computer science gives you those theoretical fundamentals, but very little software engineering skills. Before this internship, I pretty much had no idea how software was developed in the “real world” or at scale.

I would encourage any CS student who wants to become a software engineer to get as much internship experience under their belt as possible. I’ve noticed that sometimes the programming we do in school can feel boilerplate-heavy with a lot of cut & paste. For the most part, professors will never assign something that they haven't taught a solution to. When you're working as a software engineer, the problems are rarely neatly packaged or well-defined. That really forces you to exercise more creativity, problem-solving skills, and autonomy to come up with your own solution. All around internships are a great learning experience.

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

I’m more of a casual member of a lot of clubs. I would say that the main way that I feel connected to campus is through my work as a community advisor (CA). As a CA, my job is to help freshmen navigate the sometimes bumpy transition to college life. This job has brought me a lot of joy, because I've become good friends with the other CAs and a couple of my residents. It’s also taught me a larger lesson about the value of community -- I’ve noticed that the students who have the smoothest transition to college or begin to thrive are people who can find community on campus. Because we go to school with so many people, it’s important to find ways to make campus feel smaller for you. I think the community-building aspect of the job is what I find the most fulfilling. I like connecting people and making people feel like there's a home here on campus.

Beyond being a CA, some friends and I started a coworking group this semester. Our main goal with this group is to provide a weekly recurring community and space for kind, nerdy, curious, passionate people to create things they are excited about because truly great work is done when people across different backgrounds and disciplines put their heads together. Our group is heavily inspired by our friends over at socratica.info at the University of Waterloo.

Outside of school, I also work on Living Room Tutors, a student-led nonprofit organization that provides free online tutoring to K-12 students. I serve as the executive director for the program. The work is both challenging and rewarding and has contributed significantly to my personal and professional growth.

What advice do you have for incoming computer science students?

I’m going to split these into school and non-school-related work. School advice would be don't allow your learning to be bounded by the classroom. Get involved with research, do internships, go to hackathons, and work on personal projects that pique your interest. Some of the best learning I’ve done in college has been through work I’ve taken on outside of class. Also make an effort to surround yourself with curious people who light up your brain and who like to tinker and think deeply, because it will also inspire you to do the same. Another coursework-related advice I have is if you are enrolled in an especially challenging class, struggling with other people is better than struggling alone. If you can make the effort to make a friend in class, it makes a difference in your morale for the semester.

My last school-related tip would be to focus more on big-picture ideas. When I think about what I’m learning in all my classes, I realize that it’s more important to prioritize understanding concepts and frameworks for problem-solving or picking up patterns, over trying to memorize random syntax or trivia that you could just Google.

My non-coursework-related tips would be to get involved on campus, whatever that means to you. Whether that's through clubs or whatever you find energizing, exciting, or joyful.

What are your plans after graduation?

I have somewhat of an itch to travel and get out of the Midwest because I’ve been here my whole life. After I graduate, I will do a couple of months of aimless backpacking through Europe or Asia, and after that, I want to end up in a bigger city, hopefully New York or San Francisco. I am hoping that I will be able to find a company to work for that seems to be solving interesting problems and where I can work with people who value growth. If these aspirations sound a bit broad, that is on purpose. I am someone who is a bit weary of overly-rigid life planning. There are just so many things that you can’t plan for.

Are there any additional experiences you did that you would like to highlight in the article?

College is a really special time in your life. You’ll never be surrounded by so many people your age studying the same thing as you and by brilliant professors who have spent their whole lives studying and researching their chosen niche. I would say as a student, it’s worth taking advantage of that fact. This could look very different for each person, but it mainly means putting yourself out there and cold emailing a professor saying you want to do research or keeping your eyes and ears open for other interesting opportunities.