My Grace Hopper Experience: Before

Before I begin, I want to thank the Dean of the College and the Department of Computer Science at Smith College for funding my trip to the conference. I would have been absolutely unable to attend the conference without their aid.

Initially this was going to be a single post but, as I wrote, I very quickly realized that I should break my overview of my experience into three parts. It’ll be easier for me to find time to write each part as opposed to all of them combined and easier for readers to digest.

Before the Conference…

A month before the conference started, my experience with the Grace Hopper Celebration had been well underway.

Please take note that I’m a graduating senior. After nearly 17 years of education, I‘m more than ready to leap out of academia and into the workforce. And so, as soon as I learned of it, I submitted my resume to a database that would gradually be exposed to the conference’s sponsors. I’ve always wondered what it was liked to be chased after recruiters and, well, this database satisfied that curiosity by tenfold.

Emails were being sent left and right to my inbox. It got to the point I had to create a new label for Inbox called “Recruiting” for these emails. Recruiters would even call me in the middle of my classes — ignoring the fact that I stated a preference to be emailed on my application. While I did appreciate the attention, it did get overwhelming at times and I found myself annoyed with recruiters who clearly just blasted emails to anyone within the database or showed no indication they actually bothered to skim my application.

I did set up interviews and coding challenges, however. I learned very quickly that if a recruiter wanted to chat with you over the phone, it’s likely a behavioral screen to see that a) you weren’t insane and b) were a cultural fit for their company. To clarify this, I would simply ask if there was anything I needed to prepare for the call. Their reply usually was that they wanted to get to know me and my projects.

As for coding challenges, there were two types I experienced. The first type involved online coding platforms such as HackerRank where a company assigns technical questions for you to complete in a given time frame. The second was the typical technical phone screen where you would chat up with engineers at the company before they would share a link to some collaborative editing platform and give you a coding question.

To be honest, I bombed my first technical phone screen and my second HackerRank challenge. I will argue that the HackerRank challenge was rather ridiculous as I was given four coding questions and 90 minutes overall to complete them. I believe a coding question should take at least 25–45 mins of one’s time, so it’s only natural I failed that challenge.

I was also lucky enough to receive feedback about why I didn’t move forward from my first technical phone screen. The feedback proved helpful as I applied it to another company’s technical phone screen and was soon invited to do an interview with them at Grace Hopper. How did I get feedback? I replied to my rejection email, expressed my disappointment, and asked on where I could improve. Do realize, though, not every company is willing to give feedback due to fear of being sued but, as a kind and wise Smithie once told me, don’t be afraid to ask.

Beyond these recruiting emails and interviews, I told companies I was attending the conference if they were sponsors for Grace Hopper but I had made initial contact with through other means. I was able to score dinner with one of the companies this way. This proved to be quite valuable, not because I had some fancy dinner for free — although it was a major win, but because I was able to talk to people at that company in a setting where I wasn’t competing for their attention with 13,000 other people. I learned their values, what sort of personalities they attracted, their culture, and even learned a few useful resources. I came out of the dinner even more excited about the company than before.

And that concludes my experience with Grace Hopper prior to the actual event. Check in a couple of days for my experience during the conference!