My Summer at Google

Award Winners

Everyone knows Google as a search engine, email client, etc. But this summer, I was part of a different side of Google – this year’s Computer Science Summer Institute (CSSI).

I was invited to CSSI inadvertently, actually. I applied for one of Google’s Anita Borg Scholarships for First Years (which I highly recommend to any girl planning to study CS) and as a part of Google’s support for my education, they invited me to the all-expenses paid CSSI. The program has two sessions of about 30 students each and I had the privilege of attending session one with 26 other rising college students interested in CS. I had no idea what to expect, but I knew I couldn’t go wrong with Google.

The three weeks I spent at Google opened my eyes to many careers in CS and related fields. The enthusiasm at Google is contagious and I found myself getting more excited than I ever imagined possible. Google brought us in with open arms and showered us in swag (including a BRAND NEW Nexus S 4G phone which we used later in our classes).

After a quick tour of the amazing Mountain View campus (T-Rex skeleton and all), we dove right into programming. Because of the wide variety in our programming experience, we started off with Google’s App Inventor program (which has sadly just been discontinued along with the rest of Google Labs). We were able to create neat applications that could run on our phones immediately.

That first week, we designed apps that ranged from simple button-clicking to more advanced messaging systems  (think early, early version of Twitter). By the end of the week, we were “let loose” on our own projects in small teams which allowed us to explore all of tools of App Inventor and really get creative. My group created an app that helps you find meeting places that are closest to all of your friends, even if they’re spread out across the city, state, or even country. It was so rewarding to be able to create an application that I could see on the market, after being at Google for only a week! Still, App Inventor was constricting in its abilities and we were ready to move on.

The following week, we rolled up our sleeves and got into some more heavy stuff. We started Python, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. We learned in small lectures and worked through examples with the help of Google employees. I hadn’t had much experience in this area before, but it was easy to pick up and our schedule had a lot of free time for us to experiment. We created basic applications and websites, flexing our skills before the “big-time” projects.

During the last week of CSSI, we worked in small teams to create a web application. My team decided to create an application that we dubbed “Google Desks”. The idea behind our application was to take the concept of Google Docs and transport it into a more collaborative and easy-to-use environment. Users can login or register as new users, create or join “desks”, and then go about sharing documents easily. If you have a whole lot of documents, you can open some of them up (e.g., put them on the desk) where your friends who are at the desk can see any of those documents (if you let them). Your friends can “pull” over your document, edit it (if you let them), and you could see what they were editing. At the end of the session, everyone leaves the desk with what documents they have (or any documents they had made a copy of) and the desk disappears.

The idea was to take the study group and virtualize it in a way that was more natural than Google Docs. Our idea basically boiled down to re-creating Google Docs and adding more to it -- over the span of three days -- which led to some sleep deprivation, but it was worth it! Other groups created applications ranging from schedulers for college students to online games to an entire system to manage doctors' records and prescriptions. At the end of the week, we presented our projects and everyone had a project to be proud of. Oh, and then we went and watched the last Harry Potter movie :)

Which brings up a whole other aspect of my Google experience. Outside of the programming and the fast-paced learning, Google took the time to get to know us and to teach us skills for college and beyond. We each had a “buddy mentor” with whom we had lunch with on a semi-regular basis. My buddy was able to answer questions I had about college, work, a CS career, and Google. We were taught how to present well, how to organize our resumes for career fairs, and how to manage our time.

We also had two sessions of panels where people with careers in CS were able to tell us their stories and answer questions we had. The first panel involved Google engineers, ranging from those who work on UI to those who are responsible for the search engine itself. They told us funny stories about their time at Google that really highlighted the work environment inside the company. Our second panel involved those outside of Google in the industry. We learned about academia from a Stanford professor, government work from a NASA project manager, and the corporate world from representatives from EA Games, Intel, and Pixar. We also had presentations from Google’s diversity department and we made posters to show everyone what CS really means. We took the True Colors Personality Test to understand how we can work more effectively in groups.

We took field trips, too. We went to San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and a Giants game on the Fourth of July. We had a presentation about Street View and we got tips for succeeding in college. We met college interns at Google. I had three weeks of amazing food and lots of Ultimate Frisbee and soccer games to exercise it all off. I met some of the most amazing students I’ve ever had the opportunity to get to know from all across the U.S. and Canada.

Those of us from NCWIT met up with a previous national Aspirations Award-winner for lunch. We comprised a large percentage of girls in the program, and in my session alone, there were four of us from NCWIT.

It’s really hard to summarize the time I spent at CSSI in a single blog post. Though three weeks seems like a short time, the experience as a whole was transformative and I feel more prepared as I head off to college. 

 

Ayesha Bose is a winner of the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing and currently attends MIT. You can read more about her Google CSSI experience at her blog.