THE GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE I HAVE LEARNED – Part 2

95475-12042514041853 Last year, with choosing a major being one of my primary headaches, I, unexpectedly, decided to take a computer science course. I heard coding consumes life. I knew projects are often finished through a week of trial and error. My friend’s joke that she woke up at 3 am suddenly with a solution to one homework problems finally occurring to her head indeed intimidated me. Still, with no programming background, I was determined to take up such a challenge.

Although I was overwhelmed by the endless concepts in this new world most of the time, I was totally amazed by how everything works magically. I could still remember the time when I started to get myself familiar with the software development environment on a computer and spent almost an hour in attempting to create my very first project by carefully following the instructions word by word (even though I knew nothing about their meanings) I jotted down even the simplest codes that my professor mentioned in lectures and could not wait to run them on a physical computer after class.

However, as time went by, I became increasingly frustrated. My frustrations not only came from staring at my computer for hours without coming up with even a single line of code or frequently debugging my programs till very late at night. I felt I fell behind most of my peer who were already programming experts or gifted prodigies. Some started at a pretty young age and were already fluent in various programming languages. Others were proud of their experience in working on complicated projects with large teams prestigious companies or even have several original mobile apps to their names. People always say that talent play a large role in this industry. Am I a real late starter? I constantly asked myself whenever I had a hard time understanding a chunk of code while others seem to finish doing it so effortlessly. I attended those engineering career fairs, timid and unsure of myself. Everyone there appeared ready to impress recruiters with their glittering projects or give a perfect 90-second pitch, while I was even too afraid to drop off my resume. Why would they ever consider me? I had only taken one very basic computer science course and had so few accomplishments that I could present to boost myself. Shouldn’t people pursue things that they are good at? Why would I keep stubbornly adventuring in this new world, knowing that I would never be as smart as those brilliant brains?

Sometime I loved to seek answers to questions like “is it too late to learn to code” online. I was so surprised that so many people who also discover their passion in programming feel the same way just as I did. They lacked confidence, doubted their abilities and so they asked the same questions. I was also surprised that so many excellent software developers actually received their formal CS training and get their feet wet in the industry in their late 20s or even 30s. Much later than I did. One day I encountered a quote that I will never forget, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”This is told by one of the software engineers that I admire, who received a Phd in architecture but only started her programming journey at 27. Yes, it is ideal if we can start a thing as early as possible. However, starting late will never be an obstacle, if we are truly passionate about that thing and really want to make a difference.

Inspired by those stories shared by others, I started to redefine the formula that determine a good programmer. It is not all about past experience or age. If you have crazy ideas, if you never allow a problem get the better of you, if you see the world differently, and with at least some knowledge about the basics of programming, there is no reason why you should not be able to become an authority in that area. If you are alive, you can always pursue what you are fascinated with. Maybe I was just too anxious for success. Why not doing it now? I found the seeds (of my true interest) by serendipity. Why not sowing it now? Why not just growing it with 100% drive and determination? So I calmed down, started with basic ideas and easy problems, sought every opportunity to practice, self studied how to develop iOS apps, explored popular interview questions…I also tried to catch up and thus took three major-required math courses last quarter at the same time. Initially, they all said, “That would be impossible… You won’t make it! You can’t have three finals from 8 am to 6 pm on a same day.” However, I ended up with good grades and realized that, nothing stops you when you seriously begin to work hard. This quarter, I suddenly feel the subject is no longer that hard for me! After enough practice, tricky concepts gradually make sense and they all intertwine with each other in such a wonderful way. Also, I was thrilled by and rewarded with so many “Aha” moments that truly demonstrate my progress. So I copied this inspiring quote, neatly, on my notebook; thus, I can see the sentence whenever I open it in my later computer science courses. My tree is now growing, at a amazingly aspiring speed.

Kexin Yu | UCLA Career Center Peer Advisor B.S. Mathematics of Computation (2017)

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Advice To My First Year Self

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Happy Fall Quarter Bruins! Here’s to the next couple weeks of studying, midterms, and of course, some good ol’ UCLA football.

Today’s post is courtesy of me, Jesselyn. I’m one of the new Peer Advisors for 2014-2015, and I’m excited to share with you all some of my own reflections after my first year. A quick blurb about myself: I’m currently a 2nd year Psychobiology student interested in working in the healthcare industry. Which sector exactly? Consulting, optometry, public health… I’m not sure yet, to be honest. Like many other 2nd years, I’ve just embarked on my own career exploration journey, in the hopes of finding a profession that best fits my interests and abilities.

But, one year ago, I was a lost, confused, overwhelmed freshman who didn’t have a clue how to navigate the ins and outs of UCLA. So, to all the first years (and second years?–maybe even third years?) out there, you are not alone. These are the tips for success I’ve learned this past year–the tips I wish someone could have told me sooner:

1). Don’t overload yourself

Even before my first quarter at UCLA started, I already felt like I was falling behind. After all, I had heard countless stories of seniors not graduating on time or being able to finish their GEs. So I thought, “Okay, I’ve gotta pack on all my prerequisite classes NOW – no slacking.” But the thing is…I knew I would not be comfortable taking 2 science and math classes my first quarter. I was living independently in a new city, trying to make new friends, and dealing with roommate issues–all while craving the comfort and ease of life back home in San Jose. The competitive premed classes I was taking only added onto my pile of stress. So there I was, stressing out about being stressed out.  It wasn’t until 9th week that I vowed to never feel pressured to follow the crowd again.

This is what I wish I could have told myself: “Hey. It’s just your first quarter. I know it seems like everyone at UCLA is already making scientific breakthroughs, but they’re really not. Everyone thrives at a different pace. Ease into your first year, have fun, and don’t worry just yet!”

2). Being busy is good

I know this sounds like conflicting advice, but trust me. You want to be busy, but not too busy that you overload yourself. Time in college is so valuable. You only have 24 hours each day, and ideally, you’d like to spend 6-8 hours of it asleep. Therefore, you don’t want to waste your waking hours just lounging around. And, as tempting as binge watching Netflix sounds, you’ll feel more accomplished with your day if you keep yourself productive. Attend career fairs and information sessions? Join a preprofessional organization? Explore career options at the Career Center library? Whatever you end up doing, be efficient and keep your mind and body active.

3). Keep your eyes and mind open

Opportunities, especially at UCLA, are always a blessing! Sometimes you may not find exactly what you’re looking for, but as a first year, any work experience is great experience.

During my second quarter, I applied and interviewed to join a professional pre-health organization and was denied. Although I was disappointed, I knew I had to keep trying. I continued to look for other opportunities in any field, whatever was open. I soon started working at an on-campus coffee bar. It seemed insignificant at first, but that experience working as a barista was relevant and invaluable. Taking orders, creating espresso based drinks, and serving pastries taught me a lot about teamwork, thinking on my feet, and customer service–all skills essential for health careers and crucial in helping me land my Junior Consultant position at Bruin Consulting.

4). Do what YOU want

The best thing about your first year is having the time AND flexibility to explore any interests you may have, whether it’s academic or just for fun. (Archery? Psychology? Film? Sports medicine?) It’s very easy to feel “stuck” in a major/career path. The Career Center library–the second largest in the U.S.–offers an entire section devoted to Career Exploration. You can learn more about potential jobs in any industry from fashion design and culinary arts to finance and medicine.

5). If you haven’t failed, you haven’t pushed yourself enough

As cheesy as it sounds, it’s okay to make mistakes. After all, I came up with this advice because I made the mistake of doing exactly the opposite. You learn quickly when you make mistakes. You gain firsthand knowledge and experience, and (see #3) experience as a 1st year is always great addition to your toolbox. One of my fears as a first year was rejection. I didn’t want to fail because I believed that failure mean that I was inadequate–but that is not the case at all.

Failure means that you were confident in yourself and believed in your unique skills. You set high expectations for yourself and desired excellence. Even though you did not obtain the result you wanted, you were mentally prepared to challenge yourself. You have the fiery drive to succeed. So whatever it is that you seek, push yourself and apply for that committee board position, that internship, or that research position! You just might be surprised with yourself.

Lastly, the Career Center even offers a suggested “4-year plan” outlining the key steps and decisions you should be considering throughout your undergraduate years. It is so helpful for those who want to stay on track for graduation, professional school, or graduate school. Come to the Career Center on Strathmore today to pick up this free, detailed flyer!

Confessions of a Peer Advisor (Vol 1): My 3 Interview Mistakes

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Presenting a workshop to a group of 50 students? No problem!

Giving a classroom a tour of the Career Center? Easy peezy.

…..

Interviewing with 1 recruiter? Uhh… um… Yikes! Someone help me!

I have been a peer advisor at the Career Center for two and a half years now. I’ve critiqued student resumes, helped with internship searches and provided many with interviewing advice. Giving advice is one thing, but sitting in the seat as the interviewee is a completely different experience.

My first OCR interview was far from what I had expected and though it was filled with various blunders, I’ve learned my biggest interviewing lessons from making these wrong decisions.

Mistake #1: Rushing/Not giving myself enough time to prepare before my interview

As a full-time student, there are going to be occasions when school conflicts with your career plans. It just so happened that the day of my big interview, I coincidentally had a midterm in Bunche right before it.

By the time, I arrived at the 3rd floor of the Career Center I was covered in sweat, out of breath and looked completely frazzled. My mind raced as I tried to straighten the wrinkles in my professional attire. Thankfully, I had a few minutes to spare before the interview so I bolted into the restroom to compose myself.

Rookie lesson #1: Give yourself plenty of time to prepare for your interview

Yes, sometimes scheduling conflicts happen. Apart from those coincidental instances, make sure you have prepared appropriately for your big day.

  • Get your professional attire ready the night before– Did you iron? Lint-roll your items?
  • Make sure you have all your materials – Portfolio? Pen? Extra copies of your resume?
  • Leave plenty of time to get to the location of your interview – being late is not a good first impression. Getting to your interview on time allows you to collect your thoughts, review your resume and feel mentally prepared.

Mistake #2: Winging the interview/Not researching appropriately

As a college student, there will be many occasions when you are forced to improvise your way through a presentation, guess your way through a pop quiz – but an interview is not something to seamlessly breeze through.

Days leading up to my interview, I spent all of my time cramming for my exam rather than researching more about the company, the position or even why I wanted to work there. I walked into the interview thinking I could wing it, couldn’t be that bad right? Wrong, BIG mistake.

I was not prepared to answer the questions being thrown at me:

-Out of the 4 available opportunities, which are you most interested in working in?

-How do you think your experiences will contribute to the role you are applying for?

-Why do you want to work for us?

If I didn’t even know what type of position I was applying for, how could I discuss my relevant experiences to that role? I realized immediately what a huge mistake I made in not researching more about the company. I gave weak answers and could hear and feel my nervousness in my responses. I was disappointed in myself and knew that I was not confidently presenting myself as the best candidate to the recruiter.

Rookie lesson #2: Research, research, research!

It is so so so important to do your research before the interview.

  • Research the background of the company. Knowing more about the organization will provide you with a better idea of their values, products, company culture and even their prospective growth outlook. Not only that, understanding what the company stands for gives you a more confident idea of why it is YOU want to work there.
  • Research the position/role you are applying for. When you know exactly what you are applying for, you can accurately convince  the employer how your experience and qualifications directly match and align with the position they are looking to fill. Try reaching out to someone working directly in that position via LinkedIn or researching similar job descriptions to better understand the position’s responsibilities.
  • Research your resume/past experiences. Be prepared to clarify and expand your previous experiences during the interview. Know your resume like the back of your hand and come prepared with a few examples ready for behavioral questions like “Tell me about a time you had to make a last minute decision” or “Give me an example of when something you tried to accomplish failed”. Understand and identify your strengths- this will give you confidence in articulating your achievements to employers.

Mistake #3: Rushing & Panicking during the interview

It’s normal to feel nervous during an interview; however it’s also important not to let that take over one’s entire interview. My nervousness was on full-drive and quickly intensified when I was asked unexpected or surprising questions. Flustered, I would respond as quickly as possible, unsure of what I was actually saying or trying to convey. I’d start to stumble on my words, stutter a bit, and ramble when I wasn’t sure what to say.

Rookie lesson #3: Relax & Take a second to collect your thoughts if necessary.

Take it easy, no need to freak out. It’s completely okay to take a few seconds to collect your thoughts. Give yourself time to think more clearly about what you want to say. Rather than saying whatever pops into your head, a quick think pause will help you produce more coherent and well-thought out responses. Even if you don’t know the specific answer, it can be helpful to dissect the question in your head – explaining your thought process out loud shows interviewers how you mentally break down and solve a problem.

Looking back now, I wish I had utilized these 3 highly beneficial and recommended resources at the Career Center:

  1. Mock interviews. Take advantage of these practice interview sessions with professional career counselors. Whether you’re preparing for a scary graduate school interview or trying to secure a summer internship, come in for a practice round to prepare yourself for the actual interview.
  2. Career Center Library. There’s a section dedicated to interviewing skills in the Career Center library with a variety of sample questions and scenarios to familiarize yourself with. There are targeted interview books on coding, case interviews, medical schools and many more.
  3. Career Guide. The Career Guide has a full chapter dedicated to addressing interview questions and debriefing you on all types of interviewing concerns.

http://career.ucla.edu/Files/PDF/CareerGuide/2013/CG_2013_2014_Chapter7_091313.pdf

Though there’s no easy solution to guarantee a perfect interview for anyone, I can tell you one thing- preparation and practice helps to establish the confidence necessary to thrive in any type of interview setting. Take advantage of the resources around you to better equip yourself with successful interviewing skills.