CSpotlight: A logical path into computer science

As a teenager, B.S. student Lynh Tran enjoyed the challenge of creating complex spreadsheet formulas. After a friend made her realize that this was very similar to coding logic, she took her first computer science class and never looked back. Now as a University student, she has put her skills to the test in her courses, at a software engineering internship, and by building web apps in her spare time.

Why did you choose to study computer science at the University of Minnesota?

I actually took some classes at the University as a PSEO student and had a great experience, so it wasn’t a hard decision to make! The professors I had were great, I saw plenty of opportunities for internships and research, there are a ton of computer science electives to choose from, and I absolutely loved the campus.

How did you become interested in computer science?

I actually was influenced by a friend who was studying computer science! In high school, I used to be really into creating formulas for Excel spreadsheets, and one day when I was showing my friend, he pointed out how similar coding logic was to my spreadsheet formulas.

When I had the opportunity to take some classes at the University of Minnesota as a PSEO student, I remembered what my friend said, and out of curiosity, I signed up for an intro computer science course with Daniel Kluver. I’m so glad I did, because I had the most fun I’ve ever had taking a class! The projects engaged my mind in a way that no other class had ever done. Forget spreadsheet formulas! With code, the possibilities are practically endless—I knew I had to explore the field further!

We hear you've build some apps in your spare time. Tell us more about that!

I was a part of a really wonderful mentorship program called Taste of SASE through the Society of Asian Scientists & Engineers (SASE), where students (typically freshman) are paired with a board member. My mentor, Nathaniel Budijono, was one of the SASE Lab Coordinators and he encouraged me to join the lab team, where we ended up creating a web app called Gopher A Bite! I came in with very little experience in app development and thought it’d be a great opportunity to get exposure, and I couldn’t have been more right! I started on the front end development team learning React, JavaScript, HTML, and CSS, then moved to the back end team helping to create the login API with Flask and Python. This was a great program that any beginning programmers interested in app development should get involved with!

Gopher A Bite gave me the confidence to compete in Minnehack 2021 (a 24 hour hackathon) where I worked with fellow computer science students Nathaniel Budijono, Evan Tredal, and William Chan on a web app called Watered Down. The app allowed users to meter their water usage by creating QR stickers to place on their water consuming facilities that would be scanned every time they were used. A visual representation by gallon would then be displayed on their personal dashboard with the hope that, by visualizing their water consumption, users would be more mindful of how much water they used. It was a really fun (but tiring) experience!

How did you get involved with the Business Association of Multicultural Students (BAM)? What have you done as the group's Director of Technology?

I attended quite a few BAM events my freshman year, mostly due to how clueless I was when it came to professionalism and how to approach interviews. However, what made me keep coming to events was the amazing community that BAM provides—they did a great job helping me deal with a lot of my initial imposter syndrome through Q&A panels and mentorship with board members. BAM’s Professional Development Day was even how I got my first internship.

Knowing how influential BAM was for me, I wanted other students to have that same experience. Although I am not a business major, I thought I could bring my perspective and experience as a computer science major to improve the ways that the group used technology. I’ve applied my HTML, CSS, and Javascript knowledge to improve Bam4Biz.com, developed a portal that allows our sponsors to view resumes digitally as they are sent in (rather than having to wait each semester for a packet), and helped to create an alumni database in the hope of building a strong network for our members to connect with! We also have plenty of non-business students come to us for interview prep, resume review, and mentorship and it has been really wonderful to be the point person for those students!

Tell us more about your internship at Securian.

Sure! For some background, Securian is a financial services company located in Saint Paul. Over the course of my internship, I developed, maintained, deployed, and tested software for the Retirement and Actuarial Analytics team and its supporting applications, using Java, Spring Boot, and Git/GitHub. The team used Agile and gave me the freedom to pick up whatever stories I felt comfortable taking on. I had really great mentors and team members to reach out to and the internship gave me a lot of great insight into what software development looks like in a corporate setting.

What advice do you have for incoming computer science students?

Face your fears head on, build a strong support network, and don’t be afraid to fail! Computer science can be intimidating when it feels like there are an infinite amount of technologies to learn and the people around you seem light years ahead of you, but rather than taking that as a reason to run away, think of it as an exciting challenge to tackle!

Join some clubs, find some people to build an app with, enter into a hackathon, apply for an internship (even if you don’t think you’ll get it), or become a part of a mentorship program like Taste of SASE or BAM Coffee Mentors—I’d love to mentor you! Once you do the things that scare you, they become a lot less intimidating. When you do have doubts or are struggling, it’s important to have people around you to get you back on track!

What are your plans after graduation?

Oh gosh, graduation feels so far away and honestly I don’t have a for sure answer yet! A lot can change in these next two years, but for right now, the plan is to hopefully get a job in software engineering. I also want to adopt a cat... but I’m guessing that’s not the answer you’re looking for :)