Mounica’s Journey to a Google Internship
A Q&A with Mounica Kamesam, Director of Operations at TechTogether Boston and TPM Intern at Google
Hey Mounica! Can you tell us about yourself, your current involvement with TechTogether Boston, and your job experiences?
I’m a rising senior at Northeastern University studying computer science. I got involved with TechTogether Boston last year, around March 2018, and have been on the organizing team ever since. I am currently a Co-Director of Operations, working with an awesome team to plan all things related to event logistics, hacker transportation, workshops, and onboarding volunteers to help make our event a success. Last year, I completed a six-month product management co-op at mabl Inc., a startup in Boston focused on developing an intelligent end-to-end software testing solution. This summer, I’m excited to be working as a technical program management intern at Google. I am very grateful to be where I’m at right now, and would love to share parts of my journey.
Why did you decide to study Computer Science in college?
To be honest, I chose to major in computer science somewhat on a whim. During my senior year of high school, I knew I was interested in biology (due to a couple of bioinformatics summer research projects that I worked on) but I also knew that I did not want to pursue a career in medicine. I was under the impression that undergraduate biology degrees often lend themselves to a pre-med track. I didn’t know much about computer science — in fact, I didn’t take any CS courses in high school, aside from a high level HTML course in ninth grade. I learned how to construct simple websites in that course and thought it was interesting. My high school also offered AP Computer Science, but I didn’t know enough about the subject at that point to willingly enroll for the course. However, I did some research and decided that computer science would be an interesting major because of its interdisciplinary nature; you can pair any subject with CS and find interesting projects to work on and problems to solve. So, I rolled with this idea and applied to most colleges and universities with a computer science major.
How was your experience taking Computer Science courses? What were the challenges you faced as a CS student?
During my freshman year of college, I was struggling with my introductory computer science courses! In fact, I often revisited the idea of quitting and switching to another major. Many of my peers had taken computer science courses before and were familiar with coding, which made me feel very behind. I didn’t understand some of the most fundamental concepts and struggled through most of my assignments by attending office hours and pouring over projects with my partners. Things weren’t looking great. Somehow, I made it through the year. I then decided to retake the second programming class that CS majors at Northeastern must take.
What?? You retook a class in college?
Believe it or not, retaking a course isn’t the end of the world (even though it can seem that way). In my case, it actually energized me and gave me a fresh outlook on what was to come. I initially took an introductory and required Java course (Fundamentals of Computer Science 2) in spring 2017, but felt that I wasn’t understanding enough material. My plan was to give it another shot during the following summer semester, and then decide whether to continue with CS after that. I followed through on this plan, performed somewhat better in the class, but still not great. Luckily, a lot of my friends were in the same boat as me — they too had decided to retake this class and we were all working through it together. Since I didn’t do significantly better the second time around, I wasn’t 100% convinced that this was the right path for me. At this point though, several of my older friends convinced me to take the next course in the trajectory: Object Oriented Design (OOD) — I took this in fall 2018. OOD is a course that focuses on building complex programs while integrating various design patterns. This too was a challenge, to say the least, but by the end of the semester I finally felt like I was learning and understanding more concepts which felt like progress!
So after taking some classes, what was your first internship/co-op experience like?
Winter 2018 started to roll around the corner, and I had to start thinking about my first co-op opportunity. Northeastern University is known for their co-op program — where you spend six months working in the industry to gain real work experience. I had a better attitude about CS at this point, but unlike most of my peers — I didn’t want to be a software engineer (especially for my first co-op). I was not feeling confident enough about myself or my abilities — especially in terms of technical interviews. In fact, I applied to a few engineering roles and took the technical interviews (some online, some in-person) — these were very difficult. When you’re a straight CS major, following the software engineering path or trajectory is the norm for many people. I spent some time practicing coding questions on popular resources like Leetcode, Hackerrank, and Cracking the Coding Interview. It really didn’t feel right at the time, because I was essentially studying for these interviews and then got worried about how I would actually perform if on some off-chance I got a software engineering role.
For these reasons, I started to explore jobs that require some level of technical skill and understanding, but where I wouldn’t have to develop code daily. Fortunately, I found some interesting data analyst, marketing, and product management opportunities. During this process, I came across mabl in my school’s career portal. They had a product management co-op listing, and appeared to be looking for someone with a basic technical background but also able to interface with customers and solve their issues, and work with sales and engineering teams to ensure a smooth customer experience. I applied and interviewed for this position in mid-March, and accepted it shortly after receiving an offer. During this role, I learned a tremendous amount from my team about software development at a startup, how sales organizations operate, how to communicate with different types of stakeholders and customers, and strategies to develop good interpersonal working relationships.
After your six-month co-op, what was the transition back to classes like?
I wasn’t looking forward to making the transition from co-op back to classes. I was going from a vibrant and fast-paced startup environment back to the full-time student workload. I’d argue that this transition is pretty rough for most of us at Northeastern! I was taking four core CS classes in spring 2019, including Computer Systems and Theory of Computation which are two challenging upper-level courses. It took me a few weeks in January to get readjusted to the swing of college student life, and get invested in all my courses and projects during this semester. I no longer had free weekends and weeknights to spend however I wished — most of this time was now consumed by homework, projects, and studying. In hindsight, it was my hardest semester to date. Balancing the demands of four CS classes was challenging to say the least — and I often found myself making weird tradeoffs in my head like “oh, if I spend X extra hours more on this assignment which is worth Y% of my grade, then this is a better use of time then doing that busy work for Z class”. It was very difficult for me to keep up with the rigor of all these courses, and I found myself quite stressed out during most of the semester. With the help of some wonderful classmates and TA’s — I somehow made it through the semester!
I’m grateful to be much further along in the computer science curriculum by this point, and my attitude towards the subject has definitely become more positive. I also feel more immersed in the field than I did when I was starting out — I’ve met several great mentors and friends along the way these past few years both in and out of classes, and am constantly impressed by the talent I find in my peers (including my fellow organizers on the TTB team — couldn’t ask for a better support network).
So from your Tuesday Takeover on the TechTogether Boston Instagram, we heard you intern at Google. How did you get that internship?
Around the time that my co-op was wrapping up (late December), I was browsing online for summer internship opportunities for summer 2019. I was looking for internships instead of 6-month co-ops this time around, so that I could make more space in my senior year to spread out my additional computer science requirements. During my internship hunt, I found an application for a ‘technical program management’ internship at Google, in which a lot of the skill requirements seemed to be a good fit based on my experience and interests. So I decided to submit an application and see what could happen. This is the first step — and it seems obvious, doesn’t it? But I’m going to highlight this one, because a lot of people don’t even apply to jobs where they don’t feel qualified. This is especially true of women: A Harvard Business Review statistic stated: “Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them”. You need to make the leap and hit “submit” or “apply” to job applications regardless of whether you think you meet all the qualifications — and most people don’t! In fact, having every single qualification on a job posting probably signifies that you are overqualified. Hiring managers and recruiters should be deciding whether you’re qualified, not that little voice in your head. I’m convinced that they consider far more than your GPA, age, race, or previous experience — rather they look at this information holistically in combination with your creativity, interpersonal skills, and attitude towards learning.
It was about two months or so after submitting my application that I heard back from a recruiter at Google. During that time, I was applying to other internships and was completing phone interviews because I assumed that they had rejected my application.
Google gets millions of job applications each year and can only extend offers to a small percentage of people who apply. This is why it takes some time to hear back with concrete information moving forward. Anyways, I was intrigued when I got my first email from a recruiter — she proceeded to set me up for a phone interview (which was both behavioral and technical). I completed this about a week after she emailed me — I spent about an hour on the phone with my interviewer and we went through a series of behavioral questions, as well as a technical question that I completed by coding in a Google Doc and explaining my thoughts and questions as I worked. After I completed this, I didn’t think that I did particularly great or anything — my coding solution wasn’t optimal, and I definitely didn’t feel like I impressed my recruiter during our call. Again, immediately after this interview, I assumed that I wouldn’t get the role, and diverted my attention to school and other commitments.
However, about a week later I heard back from my recruiter saying that this interview went well, and that I would move on to host matching! I was pretty surprised at this point. Host matching is a process where you informally speak to potential managers who are looking for summer interns. They tell you about themselves, their teams, and the project, and you have a great opportunity to engage with the potential host and ask them all your questions about the project they have in mind. There needs to be a mutual interest at the end of these conversations — you need to like the project your host has described, and they need to want you on their team.
My host (and current manager) was wonderful during this process. He explained how his team worked, his current projects, and provided a description of the work I’d get to do if I worked with him. We talked a little bit about my previous experiences and courses that I was taking that semester. The entire conversation was very exciting to me — especially because he worked on a Google Cloud team that I really admired! After my conversation with him, my recruiter asked me to send back a detailed debrief of our phone call, and describe why I felt interested in or qualified to do this role, based on the skill requirements I gathered during the host phone call. I was really excited at this point — I’ve never been able to justify why I wanted a job to a recruiter before. I’m unsure if this is common practice for large companies, but I was grateful that she wanted to hear my opinions and actually took them into consideration.
Hosts tend to interview multiple candidates during the “host matching” phase, so hearing back can take anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks — this is yet again another area where you need to be patient. Potential hosts also use this time to call up your references and ask questions about your work. This is why it’s crucial to maintain good relationships with your past employers. Some of the interns I’ve met this summer tell me they’ve interviewed with up to 12 different hosts! I had a few companies whose timelines I had to respect, so I conveyed this to my recruiter and she was amazing in terms of moving my interview process along. I heard back within a week or two that there was mutual interest, and got an offer shortly after that.
I believe my overall process went very “smoothly” — a lot of the other interns I’ve chatted with this summer had timelines that stretched much further than mine — sometimes up to six months! This is where luck and timing come into play. Some of them had several more interviews than me — but this is across the functions of: software engineer, site reliability engineer, UX designer, business analyst, etc. At any large company, the interview processes differ based on the role you’re applying for — but patience is key. Of course there’s luck involved, but I believe that anyone can get the role they’re after — with some hard work, dedication, and authenticity.
What’s it like working at Google?
Working at Google is everything I expected — and more! I’m unsure how much information I can divulge at this point due to confidentiality agreements, but I’m excited to be working cross-functionally on a Cloud team. I work with awesome individuals from user experience design, product management, technical program management, and engineering teams. My project involves cross-team collaboration and data analytics to shed light on the ways that customers engage with certain products. With any new job, it takes a while to feel settled and understand how to navigate the space — that’s definitely true at Google. There’s an influx of information at your fingertips and it takes some time to understand how to leverage it to your favor. That being said, I’m lucky to have smart and understanding colleagues at work who are patient in explaining new concepts and answering my questions.
What is next for you (academically, professionally, and/or personally)?
I’m heading back to classes for the upcoming year to finish my computer science degree. During this time I hope to reflect on my work experiences so far to identify my favorite parts, to target these areas for full-time employment. Looking back on my college experience so far, I’m grateful to be where I am now both personally and professionally. College truly goes by in the blink of an eye, so my advice to anyone starting soon is to enjoy every second of it.
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