By: Anu Shetty
Photos by: Katie Herchenroeder
In a world where getting hired is akin to winning the lottery, recent college graduates, especially computer science majors, are finding it more and more difficult to land jobs and internships in the top companies of their field. In fact, according to inc.com, an American weekly magazine which publishes about small businesses and startups, it is more than ten times harder to land a job at Google than it is to get into Harvard.
Computer science majors at City College are well acquainted with this battle they face in their career path, and CCNY has never been able to provide students with internship opportunities at the major tech companies, that is, before this big break.
A new opportunity club on campus, CCNY Code, is now seeking to help computer science majors land internships in the Big 4 tech companies- Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook. In less than a year, this group, founded by Anthony Shalagin, then a CCNY senior and now an engineer at Amazon, and alumnus advisor David Wysoki, has allowed the unnoticed engineering hopefuls to start their careers by interning at these major companies.
Wysoki was a student of City College in the 1970s when tuition was $55 a semester. After founding the program, Wysoki reflects, “These kids are me. They literally are me and my friends.”
Their bootstrap and career prep program has propelled a dozen underrepresented engineering candidates into internships that previously seemed out of reach. He believes that, “I have the ability to engineer connections for these kids. What we are giving them is the opportunity to see what the world looks like.”
The journey toward these opportunities started with Wysoki, Shalagin, and 18 students struggling to find space to hold meetings in coffee shops and in the lobbies of office buildings downtown. However, through outreach and sheer determination, they were able to transform this group of young aspirants into an organization with over 200 members and industry supporters ready to launch these students into their dreams of a career in technology.
The organization provides students with the skills they need for technical interviews, resume reviews for various jobs, seminars and bootcamps for coding, and a strong social media profile and Github. Opportunities for City College students to enroll in seminars at IBM and Amazon and to part take in site visits to companies like Google, Etsy, and Shopspring are just a few opportunities pioneered by this club.
This past summer, the group was able to place twelve members in internships at Google, IBM, UBS, Facebook, Amazon, JPM Chase, and many more first-tier software engineering companies. Here are some of their stories:
A recent CCNY graduate, Anthony Shalagin, was one of the original founders, along with Wysoki. The relationship they developed started when they met through the S Jay Levy fellowship program; they quickly came to the realization that CCNY does have many alumni from tech companies. This bothersome epiphany is what inspired them to create an organization on campus that helped students find jobs in tech companies such as Amazon and Microsoft. He believes that students at CCNY “need someone to believe in them. They have the technical skill set but don’t have the resources. Top undergraduate universities have strong alumni that recruit students and organize large dinners. CCNY just doesn’t have that.” His goal for the organization is to have every computer science student work at a top 10 tech company.
A junior computer science major, Melvin Cherian, acquired a twelve week internship in Google’s Engineering Practicum. Cherian’s internship experience included the ability to work with software engineers and present what he learned and how he benefited in the end. His advice to anyone looking to apply for an internship at Google is “to apply for the EP program first and do well on the job so you get the offer.”
One thing that many students in the program noted was that the organization felt more like a community than anything else. Poonet Thaper, a computer science major who interned at Amazon this past summer, noted that this group “helped with building confidence” and encouraged him to pursue opportunities he wouldn’t have gone for otherwise. He believes that, “it is difficult to get students really involved,” but this group offered a sense of community and support.
Michael Ousseinov, a senior computer science major who interned at UBS also felt that a sense of community came with the club. He said, “it’s easy to feel like a lone warrior,” however he noted that the peers he had in the group were inspirational and wishes there were more groups like that at CCNY. After interning at UBS, one thing he felt that he took away from the experience was the communication skills he picked up on. Because of this opportunity, he feels like he “does not need to worry about how to talk to people in the office setting or ask questions.” He feels more confident talking to those higher up than him and trusts more strongly in his ability to handle the soft skills that can be nerve wracking without said experience. His advice to underclassmen considering joining the group is, “the first step is to get into the right mindset. Learn what you need to know and don’t be afraid to push yourself.”
Shateesh Bhugwansing, who interned at the Royal Bank of Canada, had similar advice. He suggested, “getting in the mindset of a top tier developer so you can understand what it really takes. Work hard now so it doesn’t become daunting later. Just reach for the stars and don’t feel like you don’t belong.” Throughout his internship, Bhugwansing noted that it was a great place to start a career and felt that because he enjoyed being there it “didn’t feel like work.”
All the above testimonies depict the positive impact the organization has had on the students here at City College. Wysoki and Shalagin’s initial goal with the organization was met faster and cheaper than anyone thought was possible. Wysoki notes, “300 students have careers in technology for less than $1000. It’s the best money I’ve ever spent.”
Wyoski still continues to seek opportunities for his students to partake in site visits, courses, and side projects at these major organizations. More recently, he has secured paid job opportunities targeting early career women engineers under a city program. As he reflects back on his accomplishments from this past year, he states “Not only can we build this, but we can show that a bunch of crazy students and a lunatic advisor can create this at their school on a hill in Harlem.”
The organization’s impact on these over 200 students and on the City College campus, as well as the commitment of the members to come back and help future generations of City College graduates, speaks to the full circle approach the group emphasizes and what they hope will keep it alive. Wysoki’s final piece of advice to existing members or anyone apprehensive about joining is, “I promise you that you are going to belong, you’re going to succeed, and the people at the Ivy’s aren’t going to see you coming.”