It’s been so long since my last post.
I’ve been so busy since I came to the US for my master’s study and I can’t even describe how many things I’ve gone through during these two semesters.
Although these are some of my personal experiences from me, I write this post to describe my honest feelings regarding what I’ve achieved and what I’ve missed since I arrived in the US last August.
This includes my subjective view and please notice that I don’t make any conclusion or generalize anything hastily.
Offered AWS Software Developer Engineer Intern
First, I’m gonna start with some good news.
I’m joining Amazon Web Services, Inc. as a Software Development Engineer Intern starting from May 22nd, 2023 to August 11th, 2023.
As I have aimed to get a job and settle in the US, I think it is a great opportunity to have an internship experience in a big tech company like Amazon.
Of course, since the recent layoffs triggered by big tech companies such as Meta, Amazon, and Twitter have made the software developer industry less promising than it was during COVID-19, it is not sure if I can get a full-time return offer or moreover, obtain the green card even if I can have a full-time position.
However, at least I passed the first hurdle, I have no choice but to do my best while believing that I can make it.
Although I heard I’ve been assigned to the CloudWatch team in AWS, it is not clear what specific task I will take so I will elaborate this in a later post.
I want to talk about something which might be helpful for someone who is interested in an Amazon internship position just in case.
Obviously, I cannot disclose the details of interview questions but one thing I can say is that Amazon prioritizes not only the technical interview but also the behavioral one.
In general, the behavioral interview comes after or with the algorithm & data structure interview for most SDE positions. (Of course after the online coding assessment…)
However for Amazon (or just only for my case…?), I went through the algorithm interview after passing the behavioral interview.
It is well known that the working attitude is as important as the coding performance in Amazon based on the 16 Leadership Principles and this was highlighted again by the interviewer who I talked with.
In addition, since active feedback and communications in the forms of regular meetings and strict documentation rules are highly valued in the Amazon culture, I think it is important to show yourself who is fit into this work style.
In conclusion, if you want to join Amazon, it is recommended to prepare for the cases or experience related to each Leadership principle to be ready for the behavioral interview as well as study the LeetCode.
One thing I felt after taking classes
I took 5 classes for two semesters (actually 6, but one of them was a research credit) and I got pretty good, but not satisfactory grades.
I want to talk about one thing which is different from the classes in Korea for someone who graduated in Korea and is thinking about going abroad for graduate study in the US just like me.
Before we get started, someone can point out that what I’m saying is only about the graduate courses, but for Penn CIS, I think it is not so different since the undergraduate and graduate students take the same classes in many cases and some courses are even identical but only with different course numbers for different programs.
However, it is not harmful to keep in mind that my experience is restricted to Penn CIS courses.
I think to follow the courses in the US, there should be something more than attending classes, doing homework, and preparing for the exams like in Korea.
Although it can be course by course, from the perspective of American culture which attaches importance to communication and feedback, professors give quite a lot of questions during the class and the students actively answer them.
It is not familiar for Korean students since we are more used to the culture that people usually hesitate to give a question and answer it in front of a lot of audiences.
And for an extreme case, it can even affect your letter grade.
There was a participation score for one of the courses I took, and I thought it would be an extra credit for some exceptional students or a penalty for someone who doesn’t participate in the class too much.
This is not my personal conclusion, but the actual notification from the professor at the beginning of the class.
He said we don’t have to worry about it too much, so I just attended the classes and did my work as hard as possible.
But it turned out that there was a deduction if I didn’t actively give Q&A during the classes, which led to a lower letter grade.
To be honest, I think it is unfair but… what can I do?
This is not the only case I’ve encountered, because there was a similar class at American University, which I went for the exchange program in 2018.
In this class, just being in class without speaking was even not counted as an attendance, which can adversely affect the final grade. (so I dropped it eventually…)
This is an unacquainted system for Korean students who are more familiar with one-way lectures.
Moreover, as English is not our first language, it is much more difficult to speak in front of an audience for international students like us.
Also, the students in the US take advantage of the office hours more actively, which I haven’t attended during my undergraduate except for checking my exam scores.
Here, it makes a quite huge difference if a student participates during office hours because some courses give a lot of hints and assistance during office hours, which is really helpful for reducing the time to do homework or project.
Even if that is not the purpose, it is not bad at all to talk with TAs and professors by attending office hours, especially in the US where the connections/networks are really important.
Who knows? Maybe these small participations make huge opportunities.
To sum up, not expressing myself is ultimately my own loss in the US.
So try to communicate with others as much as possible even if it is hard to get used to.
Remember that no one is gonna take care of us if we don’t do anything.
Research as a master’s student
FYI, a master’s program in the US is slightly different from the one in Korea.
A master’s program in Korea is a basically research-based program, where a student is assigned to an academic supervisor and lab, and should participate in research to graduate via a master’s thesis.
However, most master’s programs here are course-based and research or thesis is totally optional.
Thus, a student doesn’t have a supervisor or a lab usually and is able to graduate without any research but just by completing the graduate course credits.
Though there are research-based master’s programs in several schools, this is an overall view when people talk about master’s programs.
However, a master’s student can participate in research by contacting a potential supervisor just as an undergraduate student can do it.
There are several ways to do this, one is applying for the master’s thesis, second, enrolling in a research course such as independent study, and lastly, obtaining a Research Assistant position.
I only took courses in the first semester and started the independent study with one of the professors I took a course by in the second semester.
More details on my research will be posted in the Tech category, but to put it simply, it is about building an NPC agent and game manager for text adventure games with an LLM (Large Language Model).
It is for adding flexibility and scalability to a game system which is usually based on hard coding by leveraging natural language prompts for LLMs.
My supervisor has a huge interest in natural language processing technology for these text-based games (especially Dungeons & Dragons), so my topic has also been set into this category, which is quite enjoyable eventually.
Actually, there is nothing much to say from me who has conducted research only one semester.
I can generalize anything since there are tons of students who have longer and deeper research experience than I do and things can be quite different depending on supervisors, labs, or schools.
One thing I want to say here is that if you think there is no opportunity to join the research for master’s students, that is wrong.
There are many master’s students who got research chance, including me, and there are also more ways to start it than you think. (But it depends on the programs. For instance, online programs or professional masters focusing on only getting a job might be more restrictive…)
In fact, students who want to pursue a Ph.D. after finishing their master’s usually choose this route.
Anyway, if you want to get research experience, try to talk to a potential supervisor with confidence.
Although some faculties might require a certain level of letter grade from a course which he/she teaches, it is not unfair because it is not only the case for master’s students but also for undergraduate students.
If it is not a tough request, for example asking for funding without any context, I think there is no one who feels offended only because a student has an interest in his/her research fields and wants to contribute to the results of the lab.
It’s never a loss just to talk, so appeal as much as possible.
Awarded 3rd place in the Start-up Hackathon
Another valuable experience I had in Spring 2023 was participating in KITEE-FELIX 2nd Start-up Hackathon, hosted by KITEE(Korean-American Innovative Technology Engineers and Entrepreneurs) and FELIX.
This Hackathon was different from an original Hackathon, which is based on coding and development because this was an idea-thon where the participants come up with start-up ideas and present them assuming that they actually try to get investment from VCs.
Although I’m not thinking about a start-up specifically right now, I have thought about it roughly and I thought this is a good chance to meet people outside of the Penn.
So I applied for it and eventually, it was a great choice.
I cannot talk about our team’s idea in detail, since it might be useful later, but the good news here is that we got a 3rd award.
But this is not the point, the more important one is that I was able to learn what an effective presentation is for persuading people.
The most impressive thing one of the mentors said during the Hackathon was that most engineering students are inexperienced in analysis of the customers’ needs, pain points, actual marketability and profitability, while only focusing on the latest technology which they are most confident with.
Therefore, it can lead to failure since they cannot get empathy from potential customers no matter how amazing the technology they have.
At first, I thought this is so obvious, but it turned out I was making the same mistake after I had finished the intermediate presentation, which made me really ashamed.
I was just concentrating on making a demo with a “technology” I know while ignoring other essential points in the presentation, but I realized that only our team has not done any build-ups for convincing the audience, such as marketability analysis, calculation of profit model and specific return in the future, and statistics regarding the customers’ needs.
Due to this, we received poor reviews compared to the presentations of other excellent teams and our presentation had to be revised by 3 a.m. on 2nd day.
In conclusion, we accomplished 3rd place with a largely revised and improved presentation compared to the previous one.
However, it is still regrettable that marketability analysis and specific profit calculation were still unavailable due to time issues.
I learned from this event that a presentation is not for showing off my knowledge, but another form of conversation that persuades and emphasizes other people.
In addition, I found that continuing to meet and talk with people in other fields to share information, talk about diverse topics, and get to know what I don’t know will remain a valuable asset for me.
I think it was an opportunity that has definitely broadened my views that I’ve lived with my entire 20s only focusing on my studies and work.
If I have another chance before graduation, I plan to attend it again.
This is a brief summary of my school life for a year.
Actually, I want to talk about it in more detail one by one, but I don’t think it is available since I have to prepare to move for the upcoming internship.
What I felt so far is that studying abroad is not only for increasing my knowledge of the major but also for taking a broad view of the world based on new backgrounds, people and experiences beyond the environment where I have lived my whole life.
In that sense, I feel that I have grown quite a lot and I am looking forward to seeing better myself in the future.
I hope many (potential) students who dream of studying abroad will have a meaningful achievement anywhere they will be.