Ben Johnson ’13 says he got lucky, but his resume tells a different story. Johnson interned at Bibliolabs, a Charleston-based tech startup. Then he worked as a software development intern for Hawkes Learning Systems. Then he created and produced a mobile app called Blank Sketch – all while working toward his bachelor’s degree in computer science at the College of Charleston.
Johnson graduated in May 2013 and moved to Orange County, Calif. to begin working for Google.
Q: What is your position title and what do you do at Google?
A: I’m a software engineer for Google’s Tag Manager service, which lets clients update their own metadata. Basically it takes out the middleman and lets business owners control their search marketing and analyze their own data.
On any given day I might attend and facilitate meetings with the design team where we collaborate on design documents that describe products or services for me to build. Then I’ll create the products or services by using existing code and writing new code to ensure that everything is efficient and valuable for our users. My job requires creative problem solving, an understanding of software engineering principals and clear effective communication, so I get to exercise different skill sets everyday.
Q: How did you get the job at Google?
A: I had always wanted to work for Google but I hadn’t even applied because I’d heard it was so difficult to break in. When a recruiter contacted me I was surprised but very excited about the possibility of working there, as I think Google is always on the cutting edge of software and technology while maintaining user friendliness.
The recruiter who reached out asked for my resume and transcripts, then a phone interview. After the phone interview, they flew me to Irvine, California for in-person interviews. I had four interviews in one day, then another phone interview, then I finally received a job offer. I cancelled other job interviews I had lined up because I was totally set on working for Google.
Q: What do you think made you stand out to their recruiters?
A: I think I stood out because I was well-rounded when I graduated, not because I was excellent at any one thing – I’m not. I had good grades, I participated in several programming competitions (including one hosted by Google) but never received outstanding placement, and I built an entire iOS app that was in the Apple App Store for a year. I posted my code for the app on a website called GitHub so others could see it. So if I had to guess, my diverse interests and abilities, as well as the accessibility to my information through GitHub and contest placements, are what made me stand out.
Q: What is your favorite thing about working for Google?
A: I really love the independence I’m granted at Google. My supervisors trust my work ethic and quality of work enough that no one is looking over my shoulder. Everyone I’ve met at Google is very self-motivated, and we’re working on such amazing projects so everyday is different and exciting. The free food and great pay don’t hurt either!
Q: What advice would you offer current students interested in software engineering?
A: For students interested in pursuing a career in software engineering, especially at a place like Google, I have four piece of advice:
1. Get good grades! They lead to more interviews, scholarships and additional opportunities – they’re a dependable way to get an employer’s attention.
2. Participate in, and practice for, programming competitions. Start with CodeChef, Google Code Jam, ACM ICPC and any other contests you can get yourself into. Programming competitions are extremely difficult, but the best employers in the industry like to hire candidates who participate in them. They also help to prepare you for job interviews.
3. Spend time outside the classroom building software – make an Andriod or iOS app. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, but it needs to work and be a finished product. Potential employers love to see that you’ve built something.
4. Don’t be discouraged. I had six interviews with six different people at Google before receiving an offer. Great companies want great employees, and they’ll err on the side of caution, which means sometimes they will pass up great candidates. Just keep applying and working to better yourself and improve your resume.
The more involved you are in computer science, the more the computer science major will reward you.