Julie Eisenberg, computer science alumna and Google software engineer, chose Rice University for its happiest student ranking. “I was perfectly comfortable that no one in Damascus, Maryland had heard of Rice,” she said, “and I knew it was a perfect fit when I visited the campus.”
She toured campus during Martel College’s fall college night and said everyone she saw was walking around with Mario carts strapped to their bodies and character hats on their heads.
“I already knew that Rice had a strong academic reputation and I saw the students also had fun, how happy they really were. That was important to me, and I ended up in Martel by coincidence.”
When she arrived at Rice, her plan was to major in Cognitive Sciences and she signed up for all the introductory courses in psychology and philosophy, plus computer science. “My freshman fall, I found I was procrastinating my homework in all my other classes because I really enjoyed COMP 140 more than anything.”
She shifted her major to CS and made good grades but felt like an imposter. She said she was really resistant to her professors’ praise despite repeated good performances and she did not apply for a Google internship until her sophomore year.
“In spite of my grades, it took a professor specifically pointing out to me that I was doing really well for me to believe it,” she said. “When I got the Google internship, I was surprised. I had three interview questions. I knew I had answered them well, but instead of giving myself credit I decided the interviewers had given me easy questions.”
“It was the one internship offer I got, and I took it. The funny thing is, I went to Google because it was the only opportunity presented to me, but when I arrived I discovered it really aligned with the same values that had drawn me to Rice.”
Her co-workers seemed very happy to be working at Google, and more importantly to Eisenberg, they were still excited about their work after five, ten, or fifteen years. She said, “They really loved their jobs, and that made a major impression on me during my internship. I returned for a second internship the next summer and came back full-time after I graduated.”
Even in the midst of a prestigious Google internship, Eisenberg doubted her contributions. “I focused on the fact that I was in a program created to offer inexperienced freshmen and sophomores more support rather than accept I’d gotten into an elite program and was doing well.
“My team and supervisors gave me really positive feedback, but what was more important to me was how much I was learning. I wanted to accomplish so much and had such a short amount of time that summer. I never really thought I was rocking it, even if I was.”
Eisenberg’s focus on her own growth rather than making a good impression actually worked in her favor. To be considered for a follow-up internship, her group would have to reapply. “They made us interview again,” she said, “and I was sure I was going to bomb the return interview. I had a practice session with other interns beforehand, and everyone else seemed to know so much more than me. I was really intimidated.” Instead, her inquisitive way of approaching problems and thoughtful description of her solutions led to a return offer.
Now confident in her role as a Googler, Eisenberg wishes she could give her college self some advice. “I’d tell myself to slow down, and just pick a goal for the next two years instead of worrying about my whole life plan. My parents kept the same jobs their entire lives after graduating from college, so I was putting pressure on myself to prepare for and pick the perfect plan to last a lifetime.”
Only at the end of her time at Rice did she begin to think in shorter terms, which allowed her to set realistic goals. In fact, her first two-year plan is what led her back to Google.
“My goal was to learn as much as I could from experts in the industry who are really good at what they’re doing and happy doing it,” she said. “Google was a really great place for me to do that my first two years out of college.
“My next two-year plan is to grow my skills as a leader and mentor and acquire expertise so I can be involved in a team helping others thrive as well, and Google is still a great fit for those goals. If I didn’t have my current two-year plan, I would probably be worrying about staying too long with one company.”
Her favorite part of the day is meetings. “That is not a popular opinion in the office,” she said with a laugh. “But I’m actually happiest at work when I’m talking to people. I don’t like holing up in a corner and doing my own thing. I like talking about the future of what we’re doing and making design decisions.”
Eisenberg said these tasks are frequently mistaken for what product managers do, but at Google, the product managers determine what the user needs, not how to build it.
“What I do is think about design, from architecture and requirements to differences between systems and how to reconcile those differences. I love that design process, going through the design process with other people on the team, and incorporating their expertise as well.”
She said most people think of software engineers as code writers, but writing code is only the final step of the process. “There is a lot of design that has to happen long before any code is written,” said Eisenberg.
“What system does the change belong in? What are the interfaces between systems? How to roll to out to production and make it reliable, as well as scaling to a large number of users? Design is the process that happens along the way, to link all these components together.”
Not surprisingly, COMP 182 Algorithmic Thinking, was her favorite class at Rice. “My favorite part of software engineering is designing what will happen, and the equivalent of that in college was designing the algorithms. And it is still the most exciting part for me, designing the solution long before the code is written.”