Precious Summer Thoughts

September 2 notes the conclusion of the internship.

September 3 notes the flight over that other coast on the west.

Let this post be an attempt to disentangle the cobweb in my brain that are my thoughts from this summer. Let’s go.

When in NY…

Undeniably summer 2016 will be remembered as the summer I ventured outside of my bubble at Stanford and the Bay into NYC. Far away from many friends and family that could have supported me at any point. Honestly, it was liberating. Can you imagine the fun and games two girls can have living all by themselves in the middle of Manhattan? The weekends were ours to plan, without any sort of obligation like family outings and appointments to attend. There were the occasional visits from friends, but those weren’t seen as duties, more like opportunities to explore cool places in New York that we ourselves haven’t been to!

But of course, there are the not-so-great parts. Like, how NYC is indeed so cramped that garbage bags lie in heaps stacked on top of each other, awaiting their ride to the dumpster. It’s a foul smell, as you can imagine. Or like, how Times Square would really be a lovely place with its lights and all if it didn’t take more than a few minutes to cross one simple intersection. Pedestrians (cough cough, tourists) need to have their own transportation system over there. Or like how, the city is small enough to be walked around in, but there’s this thing called humidity, very foreign to a Californian like me (tbh, didn’t ever really think of myself as Californian, but the humidity was a deterrence to many opportunities to exploring the city). You literally cannot walk for more than 5 minutes without breaking a sweat. How there are people walking around in suits and heels, I shall never know.

Honestly, though? I absolutely fell in love with New York City. It had become a bit of a fond childhood memory for me, for the times I would drive down with my family to stand in line in front of the Coca-Cola advertisement for a Broadway ticket. To come back now and explore at my will and actually want to learn more about the city and its history…is an opportunity that I am incredibly thankful for. Of course, not to mention I paid 10 dollars to watch Hamilton from the front row. Now, that’s a kicker.

Return to Google

Many of my friends know that this is my second summer interning at Google. Last summer, I was an Engineering Practicum intern based in the Mountain View office. As a 19-year-old who had just decided on a major, that summer was, needless to say, overwhelming. I left in September, with the image of tech companies being too daunting and complex to navigate. I left feeling shaky and incredibly insecure about my seemingly rash decision to join the CS pipeline and go into tech. Exactly a year later, I walked out of the Google NYC office, feeling so sad and so appreciative of everything that I had learned, and knowing that one day I want to come back.

Software Engineering Woes

My transition into college definitely took an unexpected turn. I came in, thinking I wanted to become a doctor, having excelled in math and chemistry. In sophomore year, I was unsure if I was considering CS for the sake of doing CS like everyone else, and in order to be the odd one out, I decided to major in Symbolic Systems. As I took more psychology, linguistics, and philosophy courses over the years, I’ve come to really embrace the humanities and love them. As for the technical side, well…numbers became to scare me. I had lost that fire of wanting to work through problems endlessly. And as last summer came to the end, I was eager to make a transition into product management, anything other than coding. To cut a long story short, many conversations with my wonderful recruiter about my future steps led to this open email I sent her:

I think I realized a lot of things when I was talking to you today. The inherent question was never really which place to go work at; it was PM or SWE. I like to go about things logically, and so I thought “I did SWE last year, and I need a diversity of experience. So I should do PM.” That’s what I said to you today. PM was always so intriguing to me, and the idea of PM for a summer felt like an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I also thought on the flip side, I wasn’t choosing Google for the right reasons, the reasons ranging from the repercussions to the familiarity when I’m someone who advocates for pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. When I signed Google a month ago, I don’t think I had really been convinced; I think it was mainly out of fear and a feeble statement of “I should go and give it another chance since it wasn’t the best last summer.” But what you hinted at today actually gave me clarity on what my true fear was: that my technical foundation isn’t strong. The truth is, I think design questions are so exciting and the idea of owning a product is so grandiose and almost dreamy for an internship. Yet I have definitely been insecure about my technical abilities, and it hasn’t been easy admitting that. I usually would attribute it to how I’m just not nearly as interested in it as product management, but that really is a cop-out reason. Because I know that…as a PM, you have to love your engineers and you have to still have the vigor and enthusiasm for tech problems like an engineer. Today, I think I’m better able to realize why I should and am going to Google next summer: it’s to challenge my insecurities and fears, to get outside of my comfort zone of having the flexibility of shying away from software engineering whenever possible.

As this summer came closer, I was really anticipating whether I would disappoint as much as I felt that I had before. Would I be properly prepared for these twelve weeks? What if I didn’t really know as much as I believed myself to?

The thing is, with CS…it’s so unpredictable how long it will take to solve the problems. You try your best, but for all you know, one bug could take an hour or it could take a week. Sometimes, that bug ends up being a one-line fix. Not exactly the most satisfaction one can find. With CS, you have to be patient. Because ultimately, the beauty of computer science is that computer science was completely man-made. That means no matter how flawed it can be, there is always a solution. We can bend CS to our will and we can utilize it to create fantastic and useful products. With CS, you can basically be a wizard.

I’ve regained my confidence in my abilities to be an engineer. I know that if I set my mind on doing solving a problem, I will be able to solve it. Software engineering is a path that I can definitely see myself taking, and that puts my heart at ease.

Don’t underestimate the team.

Freshmen year, my friends dubbed me the social butterfly. I loved meeting new people and hearing their life journeys. I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by wonderful people who uplift me and motivate me to be the most compassionate and loving person that I can be. Navigating the workplace was a new challenge. I would rarely speak up last year, and due to my wariness of my technical abilities, I was hesitant to ask questions. I really had no commonalities to share with my team and they were a quiet bunch, too.

During that summer, I would go to these organized chats with women employees at Google. Each time, they would emphasize that their top priority when choosing a place to work is the team. I honestly couldn’t understand why the team was more important than the work or the product. And of course comes this summer. I found myself surrounded by a different lot than my previous internship. Young, many married with babies, mostly men, mostly white. You would think I would feel even more alienated, but I was much more comfortable being around them. I loved listening to the jokes about gaming and parenting being tossed around, and I was always greeted with friendly smiles at the office. My team definitely knew how to work really hard and have a good time. I bothered the heck out of my host with questions, but he never complained; he would always jump at the opportunity to help me out, and forever I will be thankful! I hope that later on, I can foster that community wherever I go.

But I still care about the product.

UGH, the product I worked on this summer was so fantastic and enjoyable to tinker with. I so wish I could talk more about it, but alas, as it is unreleased currently, I must restrain myself. But it’s a bit of a tickle and a giggle, to know that I have an itching secret. This experience was much more visual and interactive than others I have worked on, and that was pretty exhilarating in and of itself. To be able to make the slightest change in code, and to see it happen and change in front of you. Sighs, it totally reaffirms my want to be involved in a product’s decision-making and usability.

Moving forward, the question still remains: software engineering? Product management? User experience? I see all three of these options to still be very viable. I need to do much more exploration. Whenever I think it’s too late for me to explore a new avenue, I need to remind myself that realistically I will only regret not trying and it’s never too late.

~

This is the majority of what I have to say for now. Summer 2016  will always be near and dear to my heart. It was everything I could have asked for, even more than everything.