Class of 2004
Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
You've returned to campus several times after graduation and
talked to many students; have you noticed any major differences or
similarities about student life since you graduated?
One thing that hasn't changed is how busy students are.
Some classes have changed as the curriculum evolves, and the
physical campus itself has changed quite a bit but it's nice to
see some things that are still around, like the Fence and the
When you were talking to students at the TOC, what stood out
the most in elevator pitches/resumes?
The extracurricular and hackathon projects always stand out -
it's great to see students working on technical things outside
of class (I know how hard it is to make the time!). Also I'm
impressed by how the limits of what students can accomplish
just keep growing because there are more and more open source
libraries and tools out there.
Which computer science topics that you learned at CMU do you use
the most at Harris? What were the most valuable non-CS things that you
learned at CMU?
Some of the most useful CS-related things I learned were from algorithms class- to think
critically about what the code is doing and figure out how to be more efficient. Also having that
understanding of what's going on under at a lower level from 15-213. Even though most of my
software projects have been high level, I've seen that it's still easy to get into trouble and create
memory or other performance problems if you don't pay attention to what's going on under the
hood, especially when you start scaling up your applications. Outside of CS, I took three years of
Japanese classes and having that in-depth language study really helped me to learn to
communicate better and pay close attention to detail. When you're trying to translate or say
something in another language, you have to be careful about your word choice and context to
convey meaning accurately, and that mindfulness carries over to any communication in general.
And this is definitely useful for software - thoughtful error messages and documentation are
crucial to helping users or other developers trying to fix your code (or trying to figure out your
own code that you wrote a year ago). I try to avoid using terms that the user or testers may not
know and to make the corrective action clear (if there is one other than 'contact your
What is your favorite part about your job? What is the most challenging part of your job?
The best part of my job is creating things! The most challenging thing is having to make the constant trade-offs of deciding what tasks should be done. This can mean negotiating features with customers, or deciding whether to take on a significant design or architecture change in order to facilitate future changes or maintainability, or deciding which bugs are really critical to fix and which can be put off for now, all while meeting schedule constraints.
What is a typical day in your life at Harris like?
On an average day, I might do any or all of the following - code, review my team members'
code, talk with my lead about current status and plans, review interface specification changes,
write up estimates for change requests, answer questions from my team or the company we work
with, discuss cross-team code implementation or changes, or help troubleshoot an issue with a
team on the other side of the country.
What activities were you involved in while you were at CMU?
I was involved in cmuTV, and Women@SCS.
How often do you stay in contact with friends you made at CMU? Is it hard to stay in
We stay in touch on and off, a lot of friends are on social media which helps. I also find excuses
when I can to get out to the West Coast and visit my friends there.
People often recommend finding mentors in their respective fields (similar to the little/big
sister program in Women@SCS). Did you have a mentor (maybe in Harris?) after graduation?
Do you mentor anyone now?
At Harris, we have what's called a group leader, this is the person who handles your performance
reviews and can also be an advisor/mentor. I used to be quiet and nervous about having conflicts,
but I've been fortunate to have group leaders as well as team leads who encouraged me to speak
up when I had something to say or gave suggestions how to handle difficult situations with other
companies we work with or customers. As a team lead I try to act as a mentor to my team
members, both in helping them write better code or learning other skills like dealing with clients,
and in giving them opportunities to grow. I also learn from my team as well!
Do you have any opinions on the stress culture at CMU? Did you ever experience it when
you were a student?
I absolutely experienced the stress culture. But I only stayed up all night a couple times, I highly
value my sleep! The experience definitely helped prepare me for work - the transition to work
and having regular hours felt relatively easy compared to being at CMU. I've heard other alumni
say they've been bored after starting work- I always have some project or hobby to spend time
on, so that wasn't an issue for me.
What do you miss most about being a student, if anything?
I miss the environment in general - there were always interesting talks, activities, or just fun
things going on- like seeing pi written out in chalk all over campus on Pi Day. We have talks
and fun events at work as well, particularly for Engineers Week, but it's not quite the same as
being immersed in it.
What was the biggest adjustment to make after leaving CMU?
Learning how to deal with the people side of things. I'd had several group projects as well as
internship experience, but as a logical-minded, introverted college grad who just wanted to code
and make cool things, I had little experience as far as things like negotiating, resolving conflicts
between teammates, communicating with managers or clients who don't have a background in
technology, etc. I've had to do all those things now and more, I've learned a lot so far and am
Tawnie says she made use of several of the recommendations in 'Lean In', by Sheryl Sandberg:
"For example, she talks about 'sitting at the table'. Like the women in her anecdote, I had a
tendency to sit in the back of the room, even in college, but now as a software team lead (and
sometimes the only female lead in the room) I saw her point that I should not be hiding in the
back and looking like a spectator or worse not seen at all. I should be in the middle of things and
making my voice heard. It felt a little uncomfortable at first, but now I sit near the front for our
"Don't be afraid to ask for things! Ask for feedback - whether technical or general, this is how
you will learn to do better, and get your career to the next level. You are your best advocate - just
ask what you need to work on to get that promotion, or get assigned to that awesome new
project. Ideally your managers or leads will give you feedback as they see things you need to
improve (or that you're doing well) but not everyone will take the time to do so. Many
organizations only do reviews once a year, don't wait until then to get the feedback you need.
Also, inevitably you will get some negative feedback - you may not agree, but try to take the
time to ask the person the reasons for the feedback, and think carefully if that's something you
should work on to accomplish your goals?"