Chuying “Jessica” Yu is reaping the results of hard work and planning ahead. The Rice University junior’s determination to improve her performance – from the way she spoke to acing a technical interview – led to internship offers as well as selection for the Chevron Award by Computer Science faculty members in recognition of her academic achievement. She may even meet the graduation requirements for a dual major (CS and Mathematics) within seven semesters.
Yu said as a freshman, she noticed many opportunities for career preparation. “The CS Club, CSters, and the Center for Career Development were all offering events where we could practice and learn more about the recruiting process. By the time I got my interview with Google in the fall of my sophomore year, I was already prepared. I had done mock interviews, talked to a lot of people older than me, and knew what to expect.”
She said in addition to the preparation students complete on their own, the recruiters often make their own recommendations such as working through a book like “Cracking the Coding Interview,” by Gayle Laakman McDowell.
Yu specifically researched internships in which she would be a strong candidate and that would provide her with opportunities to pursue her interests. “Two of the internships I applied for – the Microsoft Explorer program and the Google Engineering Practicum – are designed for freshmen and sophomores. COMP 182 prepares you perfectly for the interviews for these types of programs if you mastered the algorithm concepts in that course.”
She took COMP 182 as a freshman and began interviewing the next semester. “At that point, I found the internship interview questions both manageable and easier than I’d expected,” she said.
At Google, Yu worked in an Engineering Productivity team focused on developing internal infrastructure and tools for ads. She said, “I created an Android app that retrieves various types of mobile ads from Google’s serving stack, embeds them in user selectable layouts, allows developers to view and interact with them, and provides a template that allows developers to add new activities in order to test new ad. This app was a template for ad testing, so it had to be extensible and well-tested.
“Since internal tools are used by other engineers, I was able to talk directly to people who would use my code. I enjoyed the opportunity to work on something that I knew would be helpful to other people. This experience allowed me to identify my future interests. ”
Although most of her summer was spent in New York City, Yu spent three days in the Bay Area during a Google conference for their interns. “I went to work happy every day,” she said. “Google is super open and my hosts were super friendly – my team went to lunch together every day. Google’s code base is totally open, so I could learn their style and see if there were functions I could use in my own work. And the presentation opportunities allowed you to hear what other people were working on – partially so you wouldn’t duplicate their efforts, but also so you could build on their project.”
Her Google experience also contributed to her academic performance. Yu said, “Because everyone’s code has to be reviewed by two engineers before being pushed out, I got a lot of feedback that helped improve my own code. And in the junior year of CS courses, there are a lot of group projects. I was more prepared for group work thanks to my Google internship. I had learned the importance of merging code and collaborating with other people for a successful outcome.”
Her first internship was an unforgettable experience, but she also took time that summer to explore other technical companies, both in New York and in San Francisco. “I visited a Rice student interning at Two Sigma in New York and talked to other people working there,” she said. “I also visited Square, Facebook and some other companies when I was in California. It made me realize how different each company can be. As much as I loved Google, I decided to spend my second internship trying out a smaller company.”
Yu is interning with Two Sigma this summer. “I don’t think there was even a record of my New York visit,” she said with a laugh. “And it definitely wasn’t part of my interviews.”
During one of her phone interviews with Two Sigma, Yu said she stumbled over a word but recovered because she was honest about it. “When I first came here, my English was ‘super broke’ but I had the courage to talk and to ask a lot of questions.
“I still struggle, but if you are honest and sincere about it, it won’t hold you back. In that interview, I was answering a question and my mind went blank. I could see the word, but it just wouldn’t come out of my mouth. So I said, ‘I’m not sure how to say this term – factorial’ and even though I didn’t get the term right, I was able to convey what I wanted. Not knowing the right English word didn’t adversely affect my interview with them.”
Now Yu encourages other non-native English speakers to jump into local conversations as soon as they arrive at Rice, and she admits the process is hard. “We’re expected to perform the same as native speakers,” she said. “But if you try hard enough, the process gets easier. Rice’s residential college system helps you. You grow really close to people who are around you for all four years, and they help you with that process.”