How to Succeed in CS Without Really Trying


When I was in college, I was a pretty mediocre student. I knew that my grades weren’t going to get me a great job after graduation, but I had read that doing research with a professor was looked on favorably. I wasn’t particularly interested in research, but it was the lead I had.

I went to my advisor and asked her if I could do a research project with her and she was delighted. A few weeks later, she invited me to a “Women in Science and Engineering” event she was organizing at NYU. It got my brain churning and, as I walked home along the south side of Washington Square Park, I suddenly realized that NYU did not have any sort of club for women interested in CS. I’d love to say how I altruistically thought such a club would encourage more women to pursue CS, but honestly I just thought that would look fantastic on my resume. I quickly sent out an email to the CS students and founded a club. Thus, Women in Computing was born (as a side note, it is still flourishing and doing good in the world, so that’s something).

After that, I saw an advertisement that Google had a scholarship to attend the Grace Hopper Conference. Well, with my research project and being the founder of Women in Computing, I was a shoe-in. The conference was my first tech conference and I was wandered around in a haze of free pens and teeshirts, asking companies about summer internships. At the Goldman Sachs booth, the woman took one look at my resume (research, founding Women in Computing, winning the Grace Hopper Scholarship) and offered me an internship on the spot. I accepted.

When I got back to NYC, I saw a poster for the big fish: Google’s Anita Borg scholarship. I applied for that and, thanks to all of my prior accomplishments, won. This helped me win an award for my research and an NSF grant for grad school, which all contributed to me getting into every PhD program that I applied to.

So, it turned out that doing a research project with a professor was pretty good way to bootstrap success, although perhaps not in the way it usually works.

4 thoughts on “How to Succeed in CS Without Really Trying

  1. Don’t sell yourself short. Showing up is very important, and, even if you make that sound as routine (“yes, I just fund a club hat is doing great so far”) that implies a lot.
    Also, assuming that you somehow “trick” your entrance, at this point, if your were promising more than you can deliver, you won’t be where you are right now 😉

    Anyway, I think is always interesting to remind that, actually, being an awesome student is not the most important thing.


    1. It’s not that I think I tricked my entrance, it’s just a bit ridiculous how these things cascade: each award makes it all the easier to win another. Also, I worry a bit that I took away opportunities from people who might have been more invested/less fortunate. But thanks 🙂


      1. I think that mostly everyone, when taking a looking back, thinks about those “lucky moments” that define a change. I was talking a couple of days ago with my boss, and she was telling me all her circumstances that brought her to Ireland (she’s from Syria). At the end, you can reduce all into a single thing. Taking a look at a spam folder and read an email. There was a lot afterwards, but that simple action was the start.

        Those moments exist for everyone. Could be finding a friend, a partner, getting a job that lead to a different career, taking a trip… I think there are plenty of these “potentially life-changing moments”, but, at the same time, we actively either choose them, grabbing opportunities, or reject them and move the next thing. But, at the end, it’s our daily “impulse” (for lack of a better word) that will position us in a good place to get them.
        For example, while I was in college, I got the opportunity to move to the US (more of a potential thing, it never got to the “sure thing” status). I wasn’t sure and declined it, as at that moment I wasn’t really interested/motivated in moving abroad. Some years later, I moved to Ireland, where I am really happy and I think it was a great move. Again, it was a combination of me searching for it, opportunity and some luck. I was really lucky to end in the company I ended, but I had to work / take the proper steps so that opportunity present itself.
        It’s not that I believe in destiny or something like that, but after all, we have been choosing our own path. It’s normal to reduce it to some luck moments trying to get a narrative of our lives, but we tend to forget all what’s in between, that it is also very important (and hard) We only see the straw that drop the camel’s back 😉

        UPDATE: I’m from Spain, by the way 😛


  2. “did not have any sort of club for women interested in CS.””

    Did they have a general CS club? If so, they had a club for women interested in CS.

    Having special clubs just for women (or just for men) hurts women by making them seem different and an “other”. We don’t have special clubs for red-heads in CS for the same reason.


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