Student reaches high, lands software development internship
UWL Senior Amy Higgins felt the nerves multiply with each keystroke. She was tackling a computer coding challenge real-time in front of interviewers from Google. She shared her thought process aloud over the phone and they watched each step as she worked the problem out online via a Google doc.
“I remember a very horrifying moment when the interviewer said, ‘That looks great, but it won’t work. Can you tell me why?,” recalls Higgins.
Higgins, a UWL computer science major, went back through the problem line by line. One “0” needed to be changed to a “1.”
“It was really challenging, but the interviewers themselves were very understanding,” says Higgins. “They know you are going to be nervous and this could be the interview that could make or break you. They kind of want you to succeed.”
It was the second of three interviews with Google for a 12-week internship this summer. Higgins had no idea how she did until she received an email two months later indicating someone from Google would be calling her. When the caller told her she’d been hired, Higgins was speechless.
Previous rejections had left her worried she wouldn’t have an internship this summer. Now she’d be developing new software for the multinational technology company. Higgins started at Google May 25.
Seeking out campus support
Higgins is grateful for assistance preparing for general interview questions with UWL Career Services, as well as practice solving challenging technical problems with Computer Science Department faculty.
Andrew Berns, assistant professor of Computer Science, practiced mock phone interviews with Higgins, challenging her to explain the logic behind the problems they reviewed. Helping students prepare for interviews is something Berns is happy to do whenever asked. It’s part of the culture of the CS department, he adds.
Berns loves to see students find success — however they define it — whether working for Google or finding their future in a completely different field. He says Higgins’ success is largely because of her own dedication. She’s a student who consistently seeks out a deeper understanding of the curriculum.
“Seeing her success makes you feel lucky to be in a department that attracts students like that,” says Berns. “It’s just impressive to watch them succeed.”
Seeing UWL students from departments across campus land prestigious internships with companies such as Amazon.com, the Seattle Seahawks, late night TV programs and more, is an occasion that doesn’t go uncelebrated in UWL Career Services, says Josh Bench, career adviser.
“Whenever a student lands a position like this, we get pretty pumped in the office,” he says. “We aren’t the ones who landed the internship or job, but to be a part of it and see them succeed, that’s why we are in higher education.”
Bench helped Higgins prepare for her first interview with Google two years ago, going through standard interview questions, and more recently he helped her with questions about salary negotiation.
He’s impressed with students like Higgins who reach high for career opportunities. For her first internship, Higgins was told by a recruiter that over 8,000 people applied and 220 were accepted into the program that particular year.
Higgins encourages other students to apply for internships, even the ones that seem out of reach.
“I think we need to think bigger and give places like Google a shot,” she says. “It’s an amazing experience. If nothing else — even if you don’t land full-time job with the company — it gives you great padding for your resume for future jobs.”
Higgins’ conference connection
Higgins found out about the internship opportunity last year during The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, the world’s largest gathering of women technologists. There she met a professional who worked for Google in New York City who was interested in helping her connect to an internship opportunity at the company.
This is Higgins’ second internship with Google. Her first, last summer, was working on an internal project using Python. This year her responsibilities are greater: developing software that Google’s customer service staff use to look up charges for Google Play or other Google accounts.
“I’m trying to learn as much as I can,” she says. “If there is ever an opportunity to learn a new language or skill, I take it.”
Higgins is a minority in her pursuit of a career in computer science as a female. Only 18 percent of computer and information sciences graduates in the U.S. were women in 2012, down from 37 percent in 1985, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology. Being the minority can sometimes feel awkward, says Higgins. But that isn’t the case at Google, she adds. Both of her internship supervisors have been women, and Google recently sent her to a summit for Google women in engineering where she learned skills for advancing as a woman in computer science.
Higgins’ goal is to one day work for a large company like Google because she enjoys being part of something much bigger than herself.
“I really believe in Google’s mission — to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” she says. “That’s a noble goal and to be working toward that with so many other people feels good.”
Find help from UWL Career Services
UWL Career Services offers students a host of career and graduate school preparation services such as resume assistance, mock interview practice, decision making on job offers and help finding internships and entry-level jobs.