GUWIL Hoya Spotlight – Janet Zhu

Janet Zhu is a senior in the College majoring in Computer Science. She is the current Director of Technology on the Hoya (the first female in this position!), current marketing manager on the Step Team and GU Women Who Code mentor. She dabbles in art and graphic design, and enjoys running, cooking, yoga, and generally being outdoors.

Q: Tell us about your experiences interning at Amazon and Sloan-Kettering Cancer Research Institute, how have they influenced you?
This past summer, I worked as a Software Development Engineer intern at Amazon in Seattle. Anyone who asks me how my summer went knows that I can only rave about my experience. The previous summer, I interned at the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Research Institute in NYC. Though the two experiences seem very different, they both had similar impacts on my life. The two cities have so much character were each incredible to live in and explore in their own way. Both internships cause me to put my current career goals into perspective. The former solidified my love for technology, and the latter caused me to rethink my desire to go to medical school.

Q: What did you do to standout when applying for your internships?
In my interviews, I always like to mention my unique academic background. I began college as a pre-med biology major, switched over to chemistry, and didn’t change my major to computer science until the beginning of my junior year. I remember being hesitant to stray from my path towards medical school because of pressure from my mom and the fact that I had already dedicated so much time and effort into being pre-med. It was the last day of add/drop last fall that I put my foot down and decided that if I was gonna pursue what I really loved, it was now or never. I don’t see that experience as a setback, but rather an opportunity to prove to myself and potential employers that I sacrificed a lot to get where I am, and that computer science is what I’m truly passionate about.

Q: How did you prep for your technical interview?
Technical interviews are notorious for pulling fastballs so I just did a lot of practice problems, which involved numerous late nights and whiteboard markers. I was told to practice dictating my thoughts as I code, since the interviews were to be conducted over the phone as well as online in a chatroom-like setting where the interviewer could see everything I type. The set-up was a little nerve-wracking but I maintained a “what do I have to lose?” mentality. Every interview, regardless of how well it goes, is always practice for the next one.

Q: How have you been able to balance priorities within your busy schedule?
Fall of last year was my busiest semester in college thus far. With transitioning to a different major, applying to internships and being a TA, I often felt like I was in over my head. However, I found that having a busier schedule sometimes makes it easier to manage my time. It may seem counter-intuitive but if I have two free hours versus an entire afternoon to finish an assignment, I’m always more dedicated and focused with a shorter amount of time. Undesignated free time always gives me an excuse to procrastinate, so my advice would be to use your packed schedule to your advantage!

Q: What’s the biggest challenge you faced in the workplace and how did you overcome it?
During my midterm review at Amazon, the biggest criticism that my manager had for me was that I often seemed timid when presenting my updates to the team. He said that even though my results were impressive, they weren’t as convincing because I came across very reserved. This took me by surprise because I was trying my hardest to maintain a professional demeanor. This advice helped me be more unapologetically outspoken, ask questions often and let my personality shine through. The people on your team should not only be your coworkers but also your friends!

Q: What advice would you give to someone who was interested in the same field? To a freshman?
Just do it! In my very biased opinion, tech is the best field to be in right now. There are job opportunities aplenty, the work is always very exciting and impactful, and depending on what you do, there is usually a lot of freedom to do what you love. For someone who is just starting out, the computer science department is full of helpful professors and upperclassmen who would love to talk your head off about resources and opportunities for new students.

Q: What does feminism mean to you? Modern feminism?
I recently watched Emma Watson’s UN speech advocating He for She, a movement to bring men into the conversation about feminism, and it completely redefined feminism in my mind. The reality is that outdated perceptions of women still exist today. This summer, I was one of only two women on my team and a handful on my entire floor. I was told by several people that, “I don’t look like I’d be interested in computer science.” I’m sure they meant well, but I didn’t know whether to feel insulted or flattered. I believe that in areas that we have control over, such as equal pay and equal opportunity, there is definitely room for improvement.

Q: How has your Georgetown education thus far prepared you for your future?
Georgetown College is a great place to be in that there is so much flexibility to study what you want. I see myself as walking proof of this, having done a complete academic 180 halfway through college. I also love that I’m not siphoning myself into becoming a complete tech robot. Some of my favorite classes have been in philosophy and psychology, courses that I would not have taken were it not for the College’s core requirements.

Q: What’s the best piece of professional or career advice you’ve ever received?
I read an interview once featuring Olivia Wilde who was quoted saying something to the effect of, “if you’re having trouble making up your mind, you’ll probably end up okay since it means you like both options equally.” This advice doesn’t exclusively apply to professional situations, but it really helped me take a step back and relax when I was deciding what to do with my future.

Q: Where do you see yourself going from here/What’s your next move?
I accepted an offer to work at Amazon full time after graduation and I couldn’t be more excited! I’ve never lived anywhere outside of the DMV so moving to Seattle will be a great change of pace. Before I take off, I plan to invest in a nice raincoat and a sturdy pair of hiking boots.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to check out Janet’s answers to the GUWIL Quiz!