Sam Shadwell’s Lessons on Leadership

CS alumnus Sam Shadwell

Sam Shadwell, former president of the CS Club and Rice Crew, looks forward to his role as an individual contributor at Airbnb.

CS alumnus Sam Shadwell is moving to Seattle to work as a software engineer for Airbnb, and he’s looking forward to his role as an individual contributor.

The former president of the CS Club and Rice Crew said, “The most challenging thing for me as a leader was delegating responsibility.

“When I served as the president of Rice Crew [the rowing club], I had a misconception that leaders were people who killed themselves overseeing all the tasks of the organization. I thought that the president was the person most fit to do everything, so they naturally ended up doing most things. It was not effective because I didn’t communicate well with the other officers and I didn’t delegate as much as I should have.”

An injury knocked Shadwell out of the last part of the rowing season his junior year, but he completed his term as president before transferring his attention to the CS Club. Shadwell had been active in CS Speaks, a CS club initiative to bring the concerns of CS majors to the attention of the university’s administration, and then successfully ran for one of the club’s vice president positions.

After serving only a few months as external vice president, Shadwell slid into the vacant President’s role in September of his senior year.

“This time, when I became president of the CS Club, I re-focused. Having been one of the other officers, I realized everyone was qualified and really wanted to do their positions. I also recognized that I was more effective as a leader if I set them up to succeed in their positions and enabled them to do their work rather than trying to do everything myself.”

Shadwell also learned from his mistakes when he applied for internships. He said, “Compared with other people in CS, I think I had mixed success initially. In my freshman year, I applied to a bunch of places, and no one accepted me. Luckily, I had a chance to return and do research at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory where I had interned as a high school senior.”

He then spent a lot of time practicing for technical interviews before the next recruiting season. “I got together with other CS students who planned to apply for internships, and we’d take turns giving each other technical questions we’d heard in other interviews. The person being ‘interviewed’ would go to the whiteboard and start working through the problem, practicing how to respond. I did a fair number of those practice interviews with other students and that helped me get my next internship. Then that experience helped me get my final internship with Google.”

While he interned at Google, Shadwell connected with group of interns who hoped to be invited back as new hires. Those interns met together through the summer to continue practicing their interview questions. “We did a ton of mock interviews to help us all prepare for the ‘return interviews,’ and it also helped me do well in other job interviews at Rice when I returned as a senior.”

Regardless of where CS students intern, Shadwell advises them to be cognizant of the work culture. “Don’t just interact with the other interns, but talk to other people throughout the company. Ask about their jobs and experiences. One of the things I discovered is that I really like working in small offices and organizations.

“There are many companies where you can do interesting work, but you want to find that match of company culture and other factors that make you happy in the workplace. ”