For Skype interviews, get a space in the library

Yesterday The Consumerist linked to an article called “10 Tips to Shred the Competition in your Skype interview.” Author Jenny Foss’s 5th tip reminded me of a conundrum I had toward the end of my sophomore year when I was interviewing for summer jobs and internships. Here’s the tip:

Don’t even think about doing it in a coffee shop. Quiet, clean room. Absolutely no environmental hustle and bustle, none.  Oh, and when I say “quiet, clean room?” Assume I mean “quiet, clean room with no weird crap in the background.”

Two years ago I interviewed for a lead instructor position at a kids’ tech summer camp. Continue reading

Four great questions to ask in a technical interview

I’m excited to be able to say that I accepted a great job offer at a dot-com in San Francisco. I get to start right after I graduate in May. Now that my job search is over, I want to share some of the questions I had for interviewers that got the best responses on the spot.

• “If you had to work in a different group or department within your company, what group would you join? Who is working on something you’re interested in?”

Hands down, this question got the most, “Ooh, that’s a good question,” responses. I like it because it tells me what groups have exciting new projects within the company, and whether the employees are excited about their company’s up-and-coming projects. I get excited when engineers are excited about what their coworkers are doing. I think interviewers like this question because it’s a little out-of-the-box and because they get to talk about their own experiences with and opinions of the company.

Continue reading

Perspective for less stress: make cookies!

Very often lately I have felt stuck with lots to do and no way to do it. In three days, the convention I’ve been helping to plan will begin, and even though the rest of the convention chairs and I have done a lot to prepare, it never feels like enough. Despite the fact that I have the same workload as the other convention chairs, I feel much more stress than they do, and it’s affecting my day-to-day life. There is something about my way of thinking then, rather than the actual amount of work that I have to do, that is causing my stress.

I’ve been looking for a new mindset for a little while, but a breakthrough came the other day when my housemate Jackie came home. She put a couple boxes on the counter and talked about her professor bringing cookies to class. Continue reading

I know I belong in CS, but sometimes I wonder

Sometimes my Compilers professor will introduce a topic saying, “Who knows what lexical analysis is? No one? What, don’t you guys do this constantly in your spare time? All right, I’ll show you …” I know he’s just joking, but every time he does this, it reminds me of one of the barriers to women in computer science that I am particularly sensitive about: wondering whether or not I really belong in programming because I don’t program all the time.

If my CS experience were limited to my college, I wouldn’t be very worried – I go to a liberal arts college where no one has only one interest. In the first few weeks of my freshman year when we’d ask what other people wanted to major in, it was always, “Classics and chemistry” or “Neurobiology and art history” or another pair of an art and a science. In my social sphere, everyone has broad interests, so it shouldn’t worry me that I like cognitive science, philosophy, Japanese, and knitting in addition to programming.

However, in the past few years, I’ve met more students who study CS in engineering schools. When they talk about how they live to program and never leave the lab, I feel like I’ve been wasting time by having other hobbies when I should have been keeping up with my competition. I worry that my skills aren’t up to snuff because I’ve been knitting or reading Japanese books instead of programming and reading compiler books. Continue reading

Diversity of perspective and interview breakfasts

I had the pleasure of attending the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Atlanta a couple weeks ago, and I left excited for job-searching for the coming year. I submitted my resume to the conference’s resume database and received quite a few responses, several of which resulted in interviews at the conference. One company in particular invited me not only to interview with them, but also to attend their company breakfast for candidates to learn more about the company. I joined them for breakfast, and as expected I enjoyed myself thoroughly and learned more about the company.

As I left the breakfast with another candidate, I asked her what she thought of the event. She said that she enjoyed the food and conversation, but was worried that the hiring department was biased because all the people we’d spoken to had been “strong women.” When I asked her what she meant by that and why she would worry, she explained that because all the company representatives we met were charismatic, forceful women, it implied that meeker women did not make it through the hiring process, so that due to biased hiring a women had to be “strong” in order to be hired. Continue reading

The difference between college and professional projects

In my summer internship, one of my tasks was designing a customer survey form. My supervisor gave me about two dozen questions that needed to be answered in various ways. A few were fill-in-the-blank, but of the rest half needed to be ranked on a scale of 1 to 10, and the other half had to be ranked on a scale of 1 to 5. This would have been pretty simple if I were able to write the html myself, but I needed to use an existing form assembly tool so that we could import the responses directly into our database. The form tool was not very sophisticated: I had control over the CSS, but not the HTML, so any changes I made were applied to all questions. I tried to find styling that would look good on both scales, which was nearly impossible with the HTML I was stuck with.

So rather than pull back and say, “To design this form well, I need more consistency. All the ranking questions should be 1 to 5,” I kept editing the CSS, trying to find a way to make the two styles look the way I wanted. I was so stuck on how to make different ranking scales look nice that I couldn’t step back and see that using the same scale would be much simpler. It took a review from a coworker in marketing to point this out, and when he did, all I could think was, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Continue reading

Is it sexist for my supervisor to buy me food?

I’m pleased to say that this year I’ve secured a summer internship. I am happy to be working this summer for a local tech company I’ve interned with before, and they seem happy to have me on again. I started work this week, and things are going great.

Well, for the most part.

On my first day, my supervisor invited me to lunch with him. There was good food, but afterwards I didn’t get my cash in quick enough, and he footed the bill. I thought that maybe lunch on the intern’s first day was a company thing, and he would seek reimbursement. No big deal. But yesterday as I was eating lunch at my desk, he came back from a fast food place, said cheerily, “I brought you back something,” and put a cookie on my desk.

To be frank, it made me uncomfortable. Something didn’t feel right about my superior buying food for me. The question I wanted to ask, but obviously couldn’t, was “Would you have bought this for me if I were a guy?”

It probably wouldn’t have bothered me so much if a similar situation hadn’t occurred at my last internship. My supervisor at that time noticed that I preferred not to accompany him and our coworkers to the coffee shop, so one day he said, “Here, you should come with us more often,” and handed me a gift card for the coffee shop. I accepted it, assuming it contained a token amount. I was shocked when after my first purchase after work, the cashier told me I had $47.29 remaining on the card. I wish now that I had gone back to my supervisor, given him back the card, and told him I couldn’t accept it. Instead, I was embarrassed, so I didn’t say anything and kept using the gift card.

I know my supervisors were trying to do me a favor, but their actions felt patronizing. I like cookies as much as the next person, but accepting gifts from my coworkers makes me feel belittled. They’re saying with their actions, “Even though you’re a competent person we’re glad to have on our team, we’d like to help you out with food, and that’s okay because you’re a girl.”

So in response to my supervisor’s generosity yesterday, I grimaced and said, “Oh, I’d prefer if you didn’t buy food for me.” He said, “Oh, okay,” and the day went on. I’m glad I spoke up for myself, and I’m sure it won’t be a problem with him going forward, but I can’t help but wonder if I handled the situation appropriately. I would love to hear what other people have to say on the matter. Does this kind of thing happen to other female interns?