By Douglas Esser
When companies such as Microsoft, Google or Amazon hire computer scientists, the interviewers often put the applicants in front of a white board and ask them to solve a coding problem on the spot.
“It’s tough,” said Saam Amiri, a Computer Science and Software Engineering major who has gone through the process at Microsoft. “The tricky part about these interviews is not only the content but delivering it in a way that makes sense and a way the interviewer is after.”
It’s also about nerves.
The best preparation is practice — and UW Bothell students have that opportunity through the campus chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), a national professional organization. The club holds a weekly Cracking the Coding Interview. Club officers, in the role of interviewers, have students come up to a white board to write code.
“If they fail in our workshop, that’s what we hope,” said Amiri, club president. “We hope they’ll fail with us and ace the actual interview. It’s just a learning process.”
A club with a mission
Interviewing practice is just one of the programs offered by the club to advance the careers of UW Bothell students and promote technical awareness. One of the largest clubs on campus with more than 300 members and 17 officers, the ACM schedules about 70 events a year. They include workshops on the Linux operating system, Python programming language, building circuits and using internet of things sensors, as well as meet-and-greets and tech panels. A hackathon last spring was one of the club’s biggest events. The next hackathon is set for April 19.
Arkady Retik is the club’s faculty adviser. Other computer science faculty, including Johnny Lin, Yang Peng, William Erdly, Yusuf Pisan, Rafael Silva and Kelvin Sung, support it.
Hanan Ibrahim, the first president, founded the club in the fall of 2017 with Amiri and Thomas Kercheval. Ibrahim graduated in 2018 and now works at Microsoft. Kercheval is an officer this year and, like Amiri, a graduating senior. There have been at least two earlier ACM chapters that faded away when their leaders graduated, Amiri said. That won’t happen this time.
Before the current officers leave, they will train the next group of leaders to manage operations and run workshops and other events. Club members who want to become officers apply and go through two interviews — one as an individual and the second in a group to see how they work together as a team. Accepted candidates also go through an internship to ensure a smooth transition.
“It’s not about just being successful right now, it’s planning for the future, finding those talented, passionate people to lead the club because they are going to be the face of it next year,” Amiri said.
Benefits of leadership
Interviewing, planning and leadership development are a few of the skills Amiri has sharpened as club president. Another is marketing.
“I started to use LinkedIn a lot more to not only market myself but also market the club,” Amiri said. “You stick out when you get all those views for posting about cool opportunities and events that are relevant to what you’re actually passionate about.”
That led a Microsoft recruiter to reach out to Amiri. He starts a job in August as a program manager at the company. He expects to work as a bridge between software engineers and the customer.
“You have to be able to communicate in normal speak but also very technical jargon,” Amiri said. “Luckily my experience of running a very technical but also professional club helped me a lot.”
Seeing the ACM club succeed has brought Amiri a lot of joy. It’s fun to push the boundary, he said. “I’m always trying to think of ways to improve our processes and make it a very inviting place for everyone.”