The insider's guide to the Jerome Fisher Program at the University of Pennsylvania

Summer at Google’s Computer Science Summer Institute

by Jenna Barton, M&T Class of 2019

by Jenna Barton, M&T Class of 2019

It’s hard to believe that only a few weeks ago I was entering the Google office, excitedly clutching my new badge that would serve as my key to the ever-bustling wonderland that is Google Cambridge. As part of Google’s Computer Science Summer Institute (CSSI), I was one of thirty rising college freshmen flown to Boston to begin what would be one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

The three week program was broken into two segments: the first two weeks were dedicated to giving us a foundation in multiple coding languages and the last week was dedicated to team web-app projects that were ultimately deployed to the internet via Google App Engine. Intermixed throughout were fun activities (like the crazy “chair scavenger hunt” and presentation roulette), different types of panels to field our questions (students, interns, and engineers all came to help out), and multiple presentations on life skills (from interview prep to hints on giving a stellar presentation).

Walking into class each day was like walking into another world. The classroom setting had the quintessential Google flair and character, and was always populated by a myriad of teaching assistants eager to answer any and all of our questions. Each programming topic had a new instructor, and each instructor was a Google engineer who was happy to answer questions about what he or she thought of working at Google in addition to what we were working on in class. Most lectures were accompanied by “code-alongs” that let us follow along on our computers with what the instructor was doing on the main screen, making the lessons very interactive and intuitive. After each lecture was completed, or sometimes as a break between subtopics, we were set free to work on labs using what we had just learned, tasked to take our new skills and test them on different assignments that got progressively more difficult as we dug deeper into each language. When we arrived at the end of the second week, I was beyond excited to have a collection of programs that I had written after the various lessons on HTML, CSS, Command Line, Git and GitHub, JavaScript, Python and Google App Engine. Looking back on it now, I am still astounded by the sheer amount of information we covered. In two weeks I had gotten a crash course in numerous programming languages and tools, and that’s only the beginning of what we accomplished.

As we entered the third week everyone was beyond excited to put their skills to the test – it’s one thing to complete a task designed to test specific skills, but it’s another to take the skills you’ve learned and try to use them to bring one of your own ideas to life. On the Friday before the last week we received our project groups (a group of three) and were given a couple of hours to brainstorm ideas for a web application we wanted to design and implement for our final project. By lunchtime the following Monday, we had our design document completed and got the green light to start coding.

I am incredibly proud of how our final project turned out. Our goal was to create an interactive website that helps college students maximize the efficiency of their study habits. There are two options (study or break) that users can choose from and then set a designated time allotment. After the timer hits zero and a notification pops up, students are prompted to move on (take a break if you were studying or study if you were breaking). If you choose to break, the site will randomly generate a break challenge for you or you can follow a link to a workout video embedded into a separate page on the site (both of which correspond to how long you want to break for). Once we deployed our application to the internet, it was amazing to see how the different elements of code interfaced with one another regardless of what language it was written in or who it was written by.

Overall, my experience at Google was something I’ll never forget. From the great friendships I made with my fellow students, to the fond memories I have from exploring the office and surrounding area, to the wealth of knowledge I gained in class, my time in CSSI was invaluable, and if given the chance, I’d recommend it in a heartbeat.

Jenna, from Bernardsville, New Jersey, is a member of the M&T Class of 2019. She is interested in studying Computer Engineering within Penn Engineering and has yet to declare her concentration in the Wharton School.

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