Friday, November 14, 2014

ThoughtWorks Interview in Chicago

Over the past 2 days, I got the chance to travel to Chicago to meet with ThoughtWorks for my first ever interview! Not having any experience with past jobs (applying to be a TA didn't require an interview), I had no idea what to expect. I had first heard about ThoughtWorks at the Grace Hopper Celebration where I had an informal pairing interview. Then I spoke to a recruiter a few weeks ago for a phone interview, who then told me I could come in for 2 days to their Chicago office for more interviews and to learn more about what they do. I was excited! I had never done a legit technical interview before and they were going to send me to Chicago for my first one?! This was amazing. Of course, it's not all fun and games, I definitely had to do my homework. I researched their website and the more I learned, the more excited I got. ThoughtWorks is a software consultancy company that delivers quality software to clients while advocating for social and economic justice in the world. This focus on changing the world through software really resonated with me. I've always wanted to make a difference and if I can do that by building code, even better. That being said, I ended up just putting more pressure on myself for the interview since I wanted the job that much more. 

ThoughtWorks building (25th floor)

The first day started off pretty relaxed with a tour of their office and a presentation of what the Associate Consultant job consists of and what the 5 week training in Pune, India is about (most of which I already knew having thoroughly prepared). Then came the tests. First we had to do a Wonderlic test, which was incredibly stressful because you have 12 minutes to do 50 questions. These questions were just basic logic questions but it got increasingly more difficult. I only left one question blank, but quite a few I just kind of guessed. The next test was a ThoughtWorks-developed logic test that were like flow charts. You follow the instructions and the diagram by doing operations on numbers in boxes and replacing the numbers and looping and changing boxes, etc. I was thankful there were practice problems beforehand that we could all go over together (there was a group of 5 of us doing these tests). We had an hour to complete 11 questions. I had to do a few questions multiple times because I kept reading the instructions wrong, but I finished with enough time to double check everything and I think I did okay! The next, and final, activity of the day was a group game where we had to build a cost-efficient house for 10 pugles (pug-beagle dog mix), but we each had requirements that needed to be fulfilled (ie. size of pugle, cost of walls and doors, pugles don't like rain, etc.). Our solution didn't end up the being the best, but I think we worked well enough together. We only had 25 minutes so the time constraint restricted us. Overall, the day turned out to have gone pretty well! 

Friday was the big day with 3 different interviews.

My schedule for the day

First off, I had an hour to prepare a 5 minute presentation about anything in STEM. (I had previously googled the interview process, so I knew that was a possibility, unfortunately - I was actually pretty worried about it to be honest). I had no clue what to do it on, but they said the idea was to basically teach them something that you know well and suggested to do something I just learned in my courses. I went with that and chose to talk about the basics of cryptography (with classic Alice, Bob and Eve explanations of encryption) and used the shift cipher as an example. I kind of stumbled through it, but I was able to decently answer their questions. Then they asked me about my technical experiences and had me explain inheritance to them as if they were high school girls and knew nothing of the concept. Then I was asked to create an algorithm for a tic tac toe game. I blanked a bit here, but they guided me through it and we tested what we came up with by playing a few games. And before I knew it, the technical portion of the day was done! I was most worried about that one, so I was happy that it was the first one. After that, they provided lunch and I sat in on a Lunch and Learn presentation about sales. While I didn't understand everything that was said, just sitting with all the other employees made me feel like I was part of the team. I liked that they make everyone feel welcome and that everyone was treated equally. And everyone is so friendly! 

Entrance to ThoughtWorks office

After lunch, I had the pair programming hour and half. This was basically the same idea as at GHC, but we did more tests on my SalesTax code and refactored some functions. I really like these interviews because you all work together, and I get better idea of how  ThoughtWorkers work. We would try one thing, and when that didn't work, we would go back and try it again. It also helps me get a better appreciation for TDD (unlike the assignment I have for my QA course...). Once we ran out of time, I had a bit of a break before the final values interview. ThoughtWorks puts a special focus on the social change aspect of their company and wants to make sure their employees share those values. This interview was with more senior ThoughtWorkers where they wanted to know who I was, why I wanted to be a part of TW, what does social justice mean to me, how can changes be applied, what I could do to make a difference, why do I think there are so little women in CS, what has made me angry in the news, what social cause am I passionate about, etc, etc. I actually think this one went pretty well, we had a good back and forth conversation, and I think I answered everything pretty well (and they took a lot of notes so hopefully that's good!). And then the day was over and I was rushing to the airport for my 6pm flight! 

View of Chicago from ThoughtWorks office 

All in all, I think I did better than I anticipated. Like usual, I over prepared and psyched myself out for nothing. Now I just cross my fingers and see what the results will be in a few weeks! I'll post again once I know their decision :)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Student Opportunity Lab

Last week at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (I can't believe it's already been a week!!), I attended the Student Opportunity Lab session. This session was geared towards undergrad and grad students looking for advice from resumes to career tips. The way it worked was that multiple tables were set up with one or two professionals at each table giving advice on their specific topic. You were given around 15-20 to talk with these mentors before switching to a new table and a new topic. When you walked in, you were given one of these map sheets that outlined what table was where.

I just wished they would have given us this sheet while standing in line for at least 10 minutes before going in.

(this was the line up ^) Instead, as you walked in, you were given the sheet and then you had to figure out the map before finding a table. I had a few tables in mind that I wanted to sit at (having had looked at the list of participants beforehand) but by the time I figured out where they were on the map, those tables were already full. Although I do have to say that that did work out to my advantage in the end because I ended up at some tables that weren't originally on my list but were still very interesting. 

I think the best table I attended was the updating your LinkedIn profile table. I didn't think I would really care about this one, but once all the switching occurred, it was one of the only tables with spots left so I went for it. I ended up learning some valuable lessons about LinkedIn. I never realized how important LinkedIn was for broadcasting your information - people use it more than I thought for hiring! Also, I didn't know selfies were such a big no-no! Luckily, LinkedIn was hosting a photoshoot at the career fair to get your headshot taken (I most definitely took them up on their offer - waiting for my picture to be uploaded!). I also had never heard of getting recommendations from people you worked for before, which is a great feature to have! I haven't had the chance yet, but I'll definitely be updating my profile with Amanda's tips as soon as I get some free time (you can see my profile here: Kristyn's LinkedIn)

I also attended a session about transitioning from school to work, one about cybersecurity as a career field, another about getting started in industry, and also undergraduate research internships. You can see more details about some of these sessions here: GHC Wiki

I wish I stayed a bit longer and gone to a few more tables (maybe more of the "Day in the Life of" tables), instead I left after about 2.5 hours since I was getting so sleepy. GHC, why must you be so crazy busy and tiring!! All in all, it was still a great learning experience!

Monday, October 13, 2014

GHC14: The Experience of a First-Timer - Part 3

If you haven't seen it yet, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of my GHC experience!

The Friday of the Grace Hopper Celebration I was up bright and early again for my 7:45am Hopper shift (which was a struggle after dancing the night away the night before). My job was the same as before - tell people where to sit for the keynote speaker. This time, I had this sign here to let people know if seats were still available where I was standing.

This time, I stuck around to hear the keynote: Dr. Arati Prabhakar, director of DARPA. She showed this video of how a quadriplegic lady was able to use her brain to control a robotic arm. I thought that was pretty neat! Technology has such amazing uses.

At the end of the keynote, they played this awesome video for next year's GHC in Houston! Made me super excited for 2015!

After I signed out of Hopper duties, I met back up with the others and we decided to do a last stroll through the career fair - in case we missed any good swag opportunities! Boy, am I glad we did. We were just walking along and I happened to see a camera guy walk by. I looked back and I saw Gillian Jacobs! If anyone doesn't know, she plays Britta from the TV show Community - which I happen to be a huge fan of. And as anyone that knows me can attest to, I'm a major fangirl when it comes to celebrities. So I may have had a mini panic attack when I saw her. Of course, the girls I were with didn't really know who she was so they couldn't appreciate my excitement. But I am super thankful for them (shoutout to Daphne and Lindsay!) because since they weren't fans, they didn't mind just walking up to her and asking for a picture (if it were just me, I would have just stood there starstruck instead of taking action). So thanks girls for this awesome picture! (also photo cred to Tess from ThoughtWorks!)

So that was awesome. Also at the career fair, we saw a few of those Intuit unicorns (they were having a contest where if you see a stuffed unicorn at the conference, snap a pic and tweet them for a chance to win something). We did all this and I got a favourite, so I thought maybe I could win one of the cute little unicorns (I mean look how adorable they are!!)

Unfortunately, we just missed out by a few minutes - they had given them all away already :( We were very disappointed. So we left the career fair and headed for lunch at the food court. Before the sessions were about to begin again, we took pictures (and a selfie) to commemorate our GHC experience!

I then went to the Presentations in Security session. You can see the notes for this sessions here: GHC Wiki. I thought it was pretty fascinating how they were able to find cyber criminals in underground forums by looking at their different writing styles. I've always found computer forensics to be super interesting so to see that their work actually led to finding criminal doppelgängers is awesome!

After a cookie break, I attended my last session at GHC14: a second Presentations in Security that introduced cryptography. I thought this session would give me some insight for my project in my cryptography class that I am currently taking, but it was more of a introduction to the basics of crypto - which was still helpful! It reinforced what I already knew.

Once the last session was over, (sad face :( ) we all met up at the ABI Communities dinner, before heading to the final celebration of Grace Hopper!! I was sad to see it coming to an end. The days just flew right by, before I could catch my breath - and some sleep! While not everything went exactly as I planned, I think it was still an amazing opportunity. Every now and then I would just look around - on the escalator, at the keynotes, in line for lunch - and just try to grasp the fact that every one of these women are just like me. Maybe we all have different backgrounds and maybe we come from different places in the world, but we all have the same struggles - the struggle to fit in, the struggle to be confident, the struggle to have faith in ourselves - and the same goal - to find equality for men and women. While we may all be here for various reasons, we still all have this ultimate goal: to celebrate being women in computing. We can debate all day about what was said and done, what is right or wrong, but at the end of day, the Grace Hopper Celebration is just that - a Celebration. A celebration of where we've been, where we are now, and where we can go next.

And Friday night was just that - a huge celebration! With dancing, glow sticks, good food, raffles, free shirts, and photo-ops - we all came together to celebrate ourselves. It was a fabulous ending to a fantastic event.

Although the Grace Hopper Celebration may be over, the celebration of women in computing never ends - each and every one of us should celebrate ourselves each and every day!

Also, I will be heading to ONCWIC in 2 weeks - our own mini version of GHC in Ontario! If you are from Canada, feel free to check it out!

GHC14: The Experience of a First-Timer - Part 2

If you haven't seen it yet, check out Part 1 of my GHC experience here!

My second day of the Grace Hopper Celebration started off with the keynote speaker (as an audience member this time instead of a Hopper!). The special guest GHC hinted about ended up being Megan Smith! I know this didn't come as a surprise to some people, but I was happy since I had never heard her speak before. (in case any one doesn't know - Megan Smith is the newly appointed Chief Technology Officer of the USA) Such an inspiring woman.

After her short speech, came the much anticipated conversation panel between Satya Nadella and Maria Klawe. While there has been much controversy about this session, I think it was still pretty awesome for a CEO of such a large company to participate in GHC. Yes, he may have said some things that can be taken negatively, but I think he was just misinterpreted. Maybe I'm just gullible and naive, but I do believe he didn't mean some of the things he said. I'm not taking anything personal.

Anyway, moving on. It turns out, the day before I had left my folder of resumes at the bag check so afterwards, I headed there to see if there was anyway it may have still been there. To my dismay, they were thrown in the garbage… I’m ashamed to say I did take the folder out of the garbage can to survey the damage. Unfortunately, coffee had been spilled on the one side of the folder. Thankfully, I managed to recover two resumes from the pile, but all the rest were destroyed. I was pretty upset since I had photocopied many copies and now I couldn’t give them out to all the companies I had wanted to, especially since I didn’t get to many booths the first day because of the crowds. (Note for next year: keep extra copies in different places as not to lose them all) I tried not to dwell on it too much and headed to the biometrics: cool or creepy? session. My main take from that was definitely cool: I like the idea that we can use our bodies - which are unique to ourselves - as security. Instead of having to remember that damn password that has to have a lowercase, uppercase, digit, symbol, punctuation and a math equation, we could use our DNA - which we have with us all the time. Okay, yes, someone can cut your finger off and use your fingerprint. But how likely is that to happen? I like to think not very often.

Anyway, I left a bit early (I like to avoid the crowds) and headed to the career fair once again. This time I went by my self (which was kind of a big deal to me - I don't usually do this kind of networking on my own) and gave out the two resumes I had saved.

Surprisingly, I did well on my own, getting quite a bit of swag as well as some great conversations. I was glad that many booths had tablets set up where you could put in your information instead of giving a resume. Obviously a resume gives them a better sense of who you are but at least I had my info out there. I found it to be a struggle though when they would ask me what I'm looking for/interested in. At this point, I don't really have any idea what I want to do, and I'm not hugely interested in one domain. I mean, yes, I'm in the software engineering stream, and I have some experience with mobile and web development and back end stuff. But as a passion? I don't have any clue. I thought maybe looking through the different booths at GHC would give me some inspiration, but I feel even more confused now - there's so many different areas, how am I to choose?

After getting tired of the career fair, I went to have lunch (I packed the second half of the sandwich from the boxed dinner from the night before - I felt so thrifty!) and to relax for a bit. I took this time to FaceTime my parents back home and unwind before the next sessions started up again. At one point I even took a 30 minute nap accidentally!

The next session I attended was Lightning Talks in HCI. I found the lightning talks to be a bit too fast for me - I didn't always completely understand what they were presenting. But there was a neat talk on how dance is affected by technology, and another one about the fandom culture on Tumblr. As a Tumblr user myself, I thought it was pretty cool how they researched Doctor Who, Game of Thrones and Harry Potter fans and their "feels" on Tumblr to predict viewer tendencies. You can see my notes on these presentations as well as the others here: GHC Wiki.

Afterwards, I then met up with the other Carleton girls and walked back to the hotel to freshen up before the evening entertainment. We went back to attend the Girl Rising film festival series. If you haven't checked it out already, do it: We only got a sneak peek at GHC, but I really want to see the whole film now. Once I get caught in my school work, it's the first thing I'm going to do. Such an incredible story.

Afterwards, we headed to the dance party. Now, don't get me wrong, I hate dancing. I suck at it, and I'm wayyy too awkward for it. And I was not feeling it at all - at the beginning. There were tons of people there and I just didn't want to dance. But then Shake it Off by Taylor Swift came on (which is my JAM) and I couldn't go back. I had to join in. And am I glad I did! It was so much fun! Everyone was laughing away, pulling the craziest and stupidest moves - but no one cared! It was great.

Eventually, I just got too tired and too hot from all the movin’ and shakin’ so we headed back to the hotel for bedtime.

Next up - my final day of GHC! 

GHC14: The Experience of a First-Timer - Part 1

This past week has been an incredible whirlwind of events! With speakers and Hopper duties and networking - there was barely anytime to think! Through the craziness that was Grace Hopper though, I still had an amazing time that I will never forget!

Our journey didn't start on the greatest note - the first flight was delayed for an hour in Ottawa and then an additional 2 hours in Chicago. You could say we weren't too pleased. By the time we arrived in Phoenix, cabbed to the Budge Lodge and then checked in to our room, we had been travelling for over 14 hours! (with the time differences) (Side note: when I say "we" and "our", I'm referring to the other ladies I was travelling with. You can see some of their blogs here: Gail CarmichaelDaphne OngLindsay BangsDaniella Niyonkuru)

The next morning we were up early to get registered and to get our swag bag. Then we headed to the Communities meeting (check out the blog here:, which I had to leave early to get to the Hoppers meeting (as a Hopper, I volunteer at the conference to get my registration fee for free!). My first Hopper duty was to help lead people to their seats during the first big keynote session. Walking into the huge hall with 8000 empty seats, it was jaw-dropping.
I couldn't believe all these seats were going to be filled!! I didn't realize until that moment how much GHC had expanded. Although this was my first year, it's still incredible to know that attendance had doubled! After waiting around and making some new friends (shoutout to @claire_janelle!), attendees started filtering in. Soon enough, the room was almost all filled!
Once everyone was settled, our shift was over so we headed back to sign out and return these lovely red Hopper vests!
We just relaxed for awhile, checking out our swag bag and program guide (see my later post for all the free stuff I snagged!) until it was lunch time. GHC had this neat food court setup where you could get all different types of food - I went with tacos (it had the shortest line and I was hungry!). After lunch, I headed to the Student Opportunity Lab (Edit: see this post for details!). I left a little early so I could check in my bag before the Career Fair Launch (for only $2 it was worth it to not have to lug around my laptop!). I met back up with some of the girls I came with and waited in line to get into the Career Fair. Once the doors opened, it was like a store opening on Black Friday - a mob of people running to booths they're looking for. I knew it was going to be madness, but I was not prepared for the real thing. There were so many people in there, I was kind of feeling claustrophobic! We tried our best to get through the crowd and talk to as many people at as many booths as we could. My one regret was not having a plan going in. We just walked around haphazardly, missing many booths. That being said, I still gave out quite a few resumes and managed to get enough stuff for the first day it was opened. Eventually, we took a break and had a boxed dinner that GHC provided for us.
At 8pm, I had a paired interview planned with ThoughtWorks (they had contacted me beforehand). For my first interview ever, I think it went okay! (crossing my fingers I hear back!) By the time that was over, it was getting late and we all headed back to the hotel to recharge for the next day.

I'll share my second day at GHC in my next post!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Journey Begins

After countless hours planning and organizing, Grace Hopper is finally here! I am currently waiting at the Ottawa airport for our flight to Phoenix. Unfortunately we have a layover in Chicago, so we'll only be arriving later in the evening. I'll most likely be heading straight to bed for an early morning tomorrow. Tomorrow!! I can't believe I'm actually saying that. I can't wait to meet some amazing women and hopefully get some insight for my future career. GHC here we come!! 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Relaxation to Manage Stress

In my health psychology class, we're learning about stress and different ways to manage stress. Everyone has some type of stress in their lives so this is a great topic to be learning about since it's so relevant in our daily lives. Our prof decided to do a relaxation exercise in class yesterday, with deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and imagery. She started off by turning off the lights and having everyone take multiple deep breaths to steady our breathing. Then we went through different muscle groups, first tensing then gradually relaxing the muscle, from our foreheads to our feet. Finally, she had everyone picture their version of a relaxation setting and imagine themselves being there. Even in the ten minutes it took to go through this exercise, I could feel myself become more calm. I'm starting to think maybe I should start taking up some kind of meditation - maybe I wouldn't be so stressed all the time! Afterwards, the lecture resumed and we learned about other relaxation techniques such as chanting a phrase, or biofeedback which trains your muscles to relax. Although I just took this course as an elective and I thought it would be an easy A, I'm actually quite enjoying it. I feel like I'm learning valuable things that I can actually apply to my life to become a healthier person.