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Tech interns give tips on how to start at tech compagnies

On Sept. 15, the University of Ottawa’s Hackathon group, uOttaHack, hosted a panel showcasing tech interns who shared advice to those interested in working in the industry.

uOttaHack is a hackathon community at the University that works in collaboration with Major League Hacking (MLH) to host events such as Hack-a-thon’s (12-48 hours of coding competition), Local Hack Days, and various tech workshops. 

The intern panel was composed of seven U of O students who completed internships at major tech companies. The companies presented were Twitch, Facebook, Quora, Microsoft, Google, and Akuna. The panel focused on information for students wishing to pursue internships themselves and presented tips on the general interview process and what these internships may look like on a day to day basis.

Tony Kim, one of the hosts of the event and a community coordinator for uOttaHack, helped organize the panel. Kim, is a third-year electrical engineering and computing technology student at the university and a project management intern at Synopsys.

Zi Gao, another community coordinator for uOttaHack, is a third-year computer science student at the U of O. He has completed internships at Google, Tesla, Microsoft, and Intel, and provided a valuable viewpoint on the world of high ranking internships. Gao and Kim invited other third and fourth year students to present their internships and explain how other students can have one of these internships themselves.

Ben Burk, a fourth-year computer science and mathematics student, who works for Akuna, (a tech industries trading company) spoke about his experience in a lesser-known field of tech. His advice for students looking for internships is to understand some of the more popular algorithms and their implementations.

“I recommend [to] everybody here [that] for any type of internship that you’re seeking, consider building a data structures and algorithms repository to practice that stuff,” Burk said. “You’ll use it as a reference to leverage that during online assessments or interviews.”

Burk also recommended practicing LeetCode, a website where people practice their coding skills. There are 800+ questions (and growing), each with multiple solutions. Burk explained that prior to any interview, students should practice this to ensure that they understand data structures and algorithms, as interviews often require the completion of coding questions. He did this himself prior to his interviews and said it helped greatly.

Another panelist, Daniel Wu, a third-year software engineering student recommended that students take the time to research the company they’re applying for. Wu applied to Shopify, where the first step is a “life story” interview where the candidate runs through their life and how they’ve become interested in coding and tech. Without researching Shopify, Wu would not have known he needed to be prepared for that.

Twitch, an online live streaming service, offered an internship to Marissa Phul, a fourth-year computer science student at the University. Phul said the work experience was invaluable and she spent the summer working on her own individual intern project, which culminated in a final deliverable project.

In order to prepare for her interview, Phul said she, “watched a lot of talks from tech conferences, employees at all [major tech] companies go to practice and talk about the work that they do and so I found a ton and watched them prepare.”

Burk, along with Vivian Diec, a third-year software engineering student, talked about the helpfulness of books to prepare for the interview. Diec worked for Microsoft and said she used books such as “Cracking the PM Interview” by Gayle Laakmann McDowell.

Tolu Olubode, a fourth-year software engineering student landed an internship with Facebook and Quora through networking. He was recommended to Facebook by someone he met on Twitter, and met the recruiter for Quora at an intern event and later interviewed for the job. Olubode stressed the importance of reaching out to people who work at the companies you wish to work at, or simply people with impressive work experience.

“Reach out to these people, but ask for 30 mins to practice through the interview and do a mock interview with them,” he recommended. He says most people will be shocked at the request for a mock interview as it is not a common request, and will agree and provide a valuable learning experience prior to the interview.

Finally, the questions and answer section of the panel provided some insight into how students in a relevant degree can get involved in the tech industry, especially if they don’t have any connections. Kim recommended that students get started in the public sector through the Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP) as he did. It’s [a] really easy way to get your foot in the door and then that will maybe lead to a better job down the line,” he said.

The uOttaHack Intern Panel concluded with individual tips for students who had questions about recent graduates and extracurriculars or clubs to get involved in. The panel was recorded by uOttaHack, and upon contact will provide a copy for any students who missed the event. For other uOttaHack information, as well as their annual Hack-a-thon, refer to their website here.