Beyond Coursework and Job Hunt

The academic journey at UMass Amherst extends far beyond lectures and assignments—it’s about venturing into uncharted territories, challenging the boundaries of learning, and maximizing every available opportunity. As a graduate student in computer science at UMass Amherst, I’ve discovered that initiatives such as independent studies, projects, and the job hunt process are not just complements to coursework, but essential elements of a comprehensive academic and professional growth experience.

My Diving Board: Independent Studies and Projects

At UMass Amherst, the combination of independent studies and projects has significantly shaped my academic and professional trajectory. One pivotal decision I made was to undertake an independent study with Meta through the 696DS industrial collaboration program. Far from being a mere academic pursuit, this venture allowed me to delve deep into intellectual challenges, offering an insider's perspective into how researchers at Meta solve problems and the value of thinking creatively and outside the box.

At the same time, working on various projects provided practical outlet to showcase my problem-solving skills and creativity. A notable example was the development of a Chrome extension called Autofill designed to streamline the process of filling out application forms. Not only did this project enhance my technical skills, but sharing it on LinkedIn also caught the attention of Simplify, a company working on a similar idea, thus expanding my networking opportunities.

Drawing from the experiences gained through the independent study with Meta and the various projects I undertook, I felt equipped to venture into new terrain. I decided to approach Professor Hao Zhang from the Human-Centered Robotics (HCR) lab with a proposal to extend my learning to a robotics perspective. Recognizing the depth of understanding I had acquired, Professor Zhang was more than willing to include me in his lab.

Venturing from academia into the job market, I found the process of job and internship hunting akin to navigating a maze. The competitive landscape, especially in the current market conditions, wasn't the smooth sailing I had initially hoped for. However, I soon realized this process was more than a mere job search—it was a valuable learning experience in itself.

While finding my way through this maze, resilience, adaptability, and creative thinking became my guiding lights. I understood the power of leveraging networks to open doors to opportunities and realized how stepping outside my comfort zone could spur personal and professional growth. This journey also taught me that there's no one-size-fits-all path in the job market; each unique path can lead to individual experiences and valuable learning opportunities.

The multitude of projects and research I had been part of served as an advantage during interviews. Drawing from my background in startups, I found that I primarily received responses from similar organizations. Although there's a certain allure to working for FAAMG/MAMAA companies, my journey taught me that there are numerous rewarding opportunities beyond these brand names.

In terms of preparation, while many suggest dedicating daily hours to platforms like LeetCode, I found it more beneficial to invest in research and projects. I recommend either completing LeetCode exercises before starting your Masters or setting aside a few hours over the weekend. This way, you can dedicate most of your time to impactful activities like research and projects, which I believe can have a more significant influence on your growth and career. Continuous practice on LeetCode often consumes productive time and becomes truly useful only when you have interviews. In contrast, hours spent on research and projects not only enhance your resume but also contribute to your intellectual development.

The important thing is not to get disheartened if these brand names elude you. Instead, seek out opportunities that offer impactful work or teams that align with your professional interests and growth aspirations. Remember, the job hunt isn't merely about landing a job—it's about finding the right fit where you can contribute, learn, and grow.

UMass also boasts a diverse and successful alumni network, which can be an invaluable resource during the job hunt. I had the opportunity to connect with distinguished individuals like Nari Kannan from Amazon, Esha Sahai, Founding General Partner at Flamenco Ventures, and even had lunch with Gavin Andresen, the former Chief Scientist at the BitCoin Foundation, and Jim Flynn, Program Director at MIT. These interactions were not just insightful but also inspiring.

Therefore, don't shy away from reaching out. At most, people might say no, but the potential gains far outweigh the risks. Be proactive and take advantage of the resources available to you. After all, your career journey is about carving your path, and such interactions can provide invaluable guidance.

This book was created by Subramanya Nagabhushanaradhya with the help of wonderful friends. For feedback, errata and suggestions, the author can be reached on linkedin. copyright ©2023 Subramanya Nagabhushanaradhya

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