~Moving over to Devpost for my current and future hackathon/side projects~

I’ve decided to migrate to Devpost entirely for future projects, since I’ve been working on bigger team and collaborative projects lately. Devpost is by far the easier and cleaner way to organize relevant information (e.g. logistics, responsibilities of teammates, the fact that the project description was crafted by the whole team, etc.) than posts on my personal blog.

See my Devpost profile~~~ https://devpost.com/jluo9612

With that said I will dedicate my blog as a place where I gather learning resources and share my thoughts on things from now on.

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An interesting interview experience with a startup

I came across a local startup (A) during the Fall career fair at my school, talked to a lady who represented A. She said she was very impressed with my experiences and projects, however since they are mainly looking for potential returners, I, as a sophomore, would have to have lower priority than upperclassmen. I agreed and returned home afterward. About two weeks later, I was contacted by another recruiter, S, from the same company A, to schedule a phone screen.

Phone screen went well. Nothing happened until I followed up with S two weeks later. S immediately thanked me for the followup and said A has been integrating a coding challenge for their candidates but is now done and can move on.

Completed the coding challenge. Again, absolute silence from S until I followed up the second time. Then S went on and scheduled a final video interview for me with two engineers.

Up to this point, a month has passed. I’ve always replied immediately to S’s emails when they came. I had a pleasant conversation with the engineers over the video chat and they told me I’m a top candidate.

Two hours later, S called with a verbal offer, then went over some things like compensation and benefits, which they don’t offer for interns. To be honest, at that moment I didn’t feel very excited about this offer already. So I told S I’m far into another interview process. S said the deadline is in three days but it is negotiable if things change. I felt a bit pressure coming from the other end of the phone but I didn’t think too much about it at the time.

Then S called two days after, updating me on some minor stuff. I told him honestly that I think the compensation is too low compared to the software engineer average salary in the area. He began to sound impatient, cutting me off whenever I tried to explain about my relocation concerns and answered: “No we don’t offer any benefits for interns”.

Two days later, the offer letter came. At the bottom of the letter, there’s the HR’s contact info for questions and concerns. I felt it could speed things up if I reached out directly for a salary negotiation so I decided to shoot an email to the HR.

Out of courtesy, I CC’d S in that email. I even ringed S’s phone three times. S picked up the phone the third time but said that there was another call and quickly hanged off with impatience. I waited for S to call back.

Blahblahblah….

Here’s when things got interesting: S called back, immediately began raising their voice and chastising me for my “highly unprofessional and disrespectful” behavior to send that email to the HR. The very first thing S said was they “understand that I was inexperienced” and S, as a veteran recruiter with 15 years of experience, had never seen this behavior more than twice.

Then I was silenced by S for about 2 minutes. I was stunned. Although I did wonder if my behavior was against etiquette, I realized that S was being unreasonable. Well, if it’s only for employees, why was the email included in an offer letter? I decided to assert myself. I asked why and S said that contacting HR is only allowed for employees. I explained firmly that I was only exercising my right to know before a decision to accept the offer. S ignored my appeal and went onto talking about how unprofessional I was.

At this point, I felt it was pointless to argue with this person so I apologized to S. S began to compromise a little bit but still continued to chastise me and asserting their 15 years of experience…

I decided to decline the offer.

So this week, after messaging one of the engineers on LI informing him that I declined the offer, S called me again. I wondered again why S was calling me even at this point that I clearly showed disinterest in accepting the offer or ever conversing with them again. Well, as a seasoned professional working in the tech industry, S is clearly showing a lot of professionalism by calling me now to ask why I decided to decline and probably after saying that I was their “top candidate”. If it was what I thought it was, I’m done with S, and company A which hired S as their university recruiter.

My Facebook University Engineering Program Essays

I believe mobile technology can empower community builders in two main ways:
Mobile technology helps build communities of tech learners and builders. I know that the most popular software products in the world are all built by a community and for a community with an enormous amount of mentoring and learning involved. I’ve first learned how to code in JavaScript and build software with the Hack Club community. With the help and encouragement of my mentors, I turned my open source browser game, Shouty Flap, into an iOS game. It soon got quite popular among Hack Club students. For me, the fact that I am sure what I’ve built has potentially made at least a small number of students think that “if she came in barely knowing how to code and built this in a day, I can build it too” is truly exciting and empowering. This is why I am striving to become a community-oriented tech builder.

Mobile technology helps build communities of tech users. No piece of useful technology is built without valuing the voice of the user and putting the needs of the user at the center. Sadly, we still have a long way to go in genuinely valuing the inputs from students as a community. My college’s official student course registration system was not only not mobile-friendly but also painfully difficult to use. A group of students had formed a coalition calling for a better system until the introduction of SCU-Classes, a schedule builder in the browser developed voluntarily by two students provided a temporary solution. Unfortunately, with the graduation of the developers, mobile SCU-Classes didn’t work out because of worries of the app’s compromised usability in mobile. So our students had to continue the fight for a mobile course reg system. Recently the administration finally decided to build a mobile version of the course registration system. What I appreciated the most from this story was the power students gained to fight together because of mobile tech. I feel extremely fortunate to be in the middle of a highly progressive community built by people who believe in the power of tech, and I am eager to join this rank of builders and engage in my communities through the medium of mobile technology.

P.S. To Facebook hiring managers: consider hiring a higher proportion of folks from non-target, non-tier 1 schools. You’re losing out on too much amazing talent and passion. It costs you money and reputation. Just saying.

Failures and bold steps

After an intense fall of internship applications and going through recruiting processes, I’m finally back!

If I learned anything from it, I think it is the detrimental fact that the experience of people who have experienced rejection and failure has never been valued as much as it should be. Of course, we only want to talk about our successes, not failures because we want to look good in front of other people and feel good about ourselves. And we want to learn from people’s successful experiences in the hope of being closer to succeeding ourselves.

But really, throughout all the years you’ve lived you must have known at least one “Big Head”, haven’t you? Some person who has absolutely no talent or tried nearly as hard as you have, but seems to get all the things everyone’s been dying for at school/work because of pure luck? These people, even though they might be in the exact right position to do so, can’t provide any valuable information for how to try and advance in something for all of us who’ve kept our faith in hard work and persistence. As a student and job seeker I’ve been asking around for advice at career fairs, career experts, industry professionals and online – I can only say I really am disappointed in all the generic job search advice and resume tips (easily obtainable from the Internet) I got from them so far. Don’t let these people’s bullSh*t bother you even a tad bit.

I was informed today that I wasn’t offered an internship at Twitter this summer despite that I have prepared for my interviews for a month beforehand. I had so much fun talking to the best engineers and fellow candidates and absolutely everything seemed to have gone so well. Here’s the important part, though: I watched all of CS Dojo (YK Sugishita)’s videos and went through his Udemy course all as part of my prep. Besides the superb coding interview prep videos, I was awed and fascinated by YK’s story as a former Google software engineer and now a full-time YouTube content maker who dedicated his time to help a growing number of candidates succeed in their next coding interview. Here’s one of his countless inspiring videos on this topic:

 

I’m not really the only person who deserved all the good things because I worked so hard and the world is unfair to only me. I mean just look at him. Why in the world would he quit his perfect job at Google to making YouTube videos full time which guarantees no decent income? He tried so hard to go through all the trouble of getting a job at Google and then just went and inflicted that “failure” on himself! This makes me believe that any successful person in the long term who has built up credibility and won the trust and likes of others would probably never go around and flaunt their achievements first thing when they make first impressions. And anyone who would accept you no matter what and appreciate whoever you are will never judge you even when you share all your failures with them. This is why YK is such a great mentor and has so many followers. He encourages people to take bold steps. Why can’t anyone who’s in the position of offering guidance to our students be just a little more like him?

From YK, my research and interviews with Twitter engineers, I’ve reflected and learned a million times more from my failures over the past two months than I have from seemingly helpful tips from recruiters at career fairs.

My Twitter Academy Essays

It’s getting closer and closer to internship season. I’m preparing for my onsite with Twitter next month and I want to share my responses to the questions on my application and hopefully this would be helpful for some of you.
#TellYourStory: In 280 characters or less, share with us who you are through a hashtag and explain why you chose that hashtag.

The hashtag I choose is #WeTheStudents. This is a hashtag Hack Club uses, and my friends there are making a movement to change the landscape of how high school students engage with computer science and coding. I am extremely fortunate to be a part of this movement. It has changed many of my longheld personal beliefs: growing up as an only child, I was used to being protected by my parents and believed that students and young people have little to no say in deciding a future for themselves because of the lack of knowledge and/or experience. To me, the title “student” used to indicate powerlessness. But my experience learning to code and interacting with Hack Club’s members liberated me from constraining myself within the circle of my own family; it made me dare to adventure, live differently and always open to new knowledge. Now I am more than proud to be a student because this title signifies that I am forever a learner who uses knowledge/power to empower others and the power multiplies with #WeTheStudents.

#ShipIt: Our engineers are constantly shipping (launching) new features and functionality on the platform. In 280 characters or less, list one idea you would ship that would impact the way diverse users interact with the platform?
Twitter’s accessibility efforts have already greatly enhanced the usability of the platform for disabled groups. For example, Alt Text is one of the best features that enables a blind user to be able to access images on Twitter. However, its usability is compromised when content providers are unaware of this option, when it takes too much effort for them to manually provide the descriptions for every image, or when descriptions provided are not detailed enough. The use of specific machine learning algorithms and image recognition technologies can solve this problem by recognizing elements in the image, thus providing a detailed description. After the basic feature is implemented, further optimizations such as natural language used in descriptions can be done, but content providers can still use the manual input option during the transitioning stage of this feature.

Local Hack Day 2017 @ Santa Clara

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In October I got an email from someone at Major League Hacking about organizing Local Hack Day on campus. I fought alone last year to make LHD happen but failed – I tried to coordinate it through ACM but I couldn’t get anyone on board. Timing was probably the worst it could be: as much as people wanted to participate, having it during the weekend before finals week is a major factor that can hurt turnout a lot.

But this year LHD happened and it was a blast!

Shoutouts

Shoutout to MLH for making logistics cake and hassle-free!

Extremely fortunate to have the board of ACM’s support on promotion and funding for food and those were HUGE determining factors in making this experience successful. I ❤️ SCUACM!

Shoutout to myself for initiating SCU LHD and handling backend tasks like securing venue and swag, coordinating with MLH for mentorship, creating Splash & FB event pages, and most importantly, ordering food 🙂

Why and how did SCU LHD happen?

There was a high level of enthusiasm from Bronco/other local hackers. That for sure was the primary motivation for me about bringing LHD here. ACM already has Hack for Humanity, one the biggest hackathons on campus every year in the Spring, but I felt that a small hacker gathering like LHD can do a better job of creating a pressure-free and welcoming environment for hackers to work together.

What went well?

We’ve had projects made by teams of hackers from SCU and UCSC that only had 12 hours to hack them together.

Holiday greeting card generator is a web app built with the Clarifai IR API that lets the user search for the name of an animal and generates holiday cards with images of it.

SCU Calendar is PC application written in C# that helps the user search for events on campus by keywords. It also uses filters to work around their schedule to make sure they can attend. Once matches are found, the app will notify the user via text about the event. View it on GitHub: https://github.com/MattMistele/scu-calendar-windows

There’s an iOS app for help during natural disasters. The app allows to user to make emergency calls and/or send SOS messages in just one click. The team crash coursed on React Native and Twilio for a couple of hours and got their hands right away onto building it! That alone was pretty impressive, not to mention that this app can be literally live-saving!

What could have been improved?

  • <
    To be fair I would be surprised if ANYONE came, but we’ve actually maxed out our RSVPs and even had guests from UCSC. I was grateful for that. I learned that it’s pretty normal for hackathons to have a more than 50% dropout rate, and could have opened up more spaces for RSVPs.
  • Venue. The venue wasn’t optimal because it was inside a residential building that locked its gates on weekends. Comparing to a big, open space like Locatelli, a classroom isn’t really ideal for welcoming hackers. This is also what makes organizing hackathons much harder than you think (besides getting sponsorships).
  • Better swag and prizes. We didn’t have sponsors for prizes and T-shirts this time and those are big incentives for hackers. We don’t have a robust team dedicated to hackathon org at this point, but in the future we can recruit more people to work on getting sponsorships from companies and orgs.
  • Healthiness and variety of food for hackers. Our advisor, Dr.Figueira, was generous on arranging funding for food at the event. We had two hackers who were vegetarian and had to walk off campus to get dinner. Instead of doing quick online orders of Panda Express, the next time take advantage of the size of the event and collect feedback from hackers for diet options!

After all, organizing a hackathon was way more fun than I expected. It wasn’t big, but can’t say it wasn’t successful. And as a hacker, I could say that it was really nice to be on the other side once in a while.

“Optimistic nihilism” is liberating

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Source: Uncrate

I once considered the possibility that Buddhism is a form of nihilism through some explanations of it in a reading. I thought that was a brutally hasty assumption by some but I lacked a good way to argue that realizing that there is no self is in no way intended to be nihilistic. Rather, it goes hand in hand with the Buddhist view of life that often provides people with insights on how to deal with existential dread. I needed to understand it better and needed someone to explain it to me in even more common language. I was confused until this day when I found this video which I thought is the closest explanation of what Buddhism is telling us.

Here’s my example of this idea: I did badly on my first AMTH test today and I let myself drown in a miserable mood for a while, knowing that I made stupid mistakes despite spending so much time studying for it. It was a hit on the head emotionally considering how passionately I’ve set goals for myself in this new year and how confident I was about my plans to reach these goals after careful analysis of my strengths and weaknesses. Ironically, the harder I tried to reflect on how I could have used that studying time better and do better next time, the more pain I felt and less reassurance I have about actually doing better next time. But if only had I realized that nothing will eventually matter, I would have been much less upset, and therefore my emotions wouldn’t have gotten in the way of my reflection. Then I won’t feel miserable and can be objectively sure that I *will* do better.

This is why realizing that there is no self (anything and everything will cease existing at some point) can be a liberating experience. It means to take the first step to overcome existential dread—rather than dwelling in it—and be able to live life meaningfully in a graceful, non-aggressive way.

 

Side note: I’m constantly blown away by the graphic designs and music by Kurzgesagt. Of course, content is always the main focus in the videos, but oh I just couldn’t help but appreciate how well they put together all the amazing animation and music to render their points…a design for even the numbers! I mean, if all they wanted to do was create educational videos, they could have just lazily typed big letters on the screen and threw a bunch of old photos together.