Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Great Google Adventure: The Big Test

Not long after getting in touch with my recruiting contact, I picked my day for the technical interviews. More nervous than I'd ever been in my life, I pushed the date out as far as possible -- to Thanksgiving break, 5 weeks from then. 

My head was spinning, how would I ever be prepared in time with all my other coursework to worry about? At the time, I was taking 6 classes, working part-time in a research lab, and the second round of midterms were approaching fast to top it off. I needed to learn some serious time-management skills to be able to allocate enough time to prepare for undoubtedly the most unnerving interviews of my life. Viewing the technical interview prep advice slideshow attached to my email from my recruiter convinced me I had a lot of work to do.

Determined, I picked up a copy of Cracking the Coding Interview, loaded up past contest questions from Google Code Jam, and opened a Google doc (of course, first setting it to look like an editor before getting started). Every week I'd code a few more problems up in the doc and copy it over to Eclipse to check for errors.  

My study buddy thought taking a nap was a better idea

Eventually, it was the night before the big day. Reviewing my hard work, I had coded up 50 pages of Java into the doc, covering everything from trees and traversals to basic string manipulations. Still, I felt horribly unprepared as I'd never done a technical phone interview before -- or even just a regular phone interview. I barely slept that night, which I knew was going to be to my detriment.

Finally, 2 pm rolled around on interview day. Logged in to the interview doc, I tried to suppress the sheer panic as I knew my phone would be going off any second. A little after 2, I saw another person pop into the doc and my phone went off.

*2 stressful hours later...*

I had somehow managed to survive the back-to-back interviews although I thought I overall only did okay. The first I was convinced I had botched since it took half the interview for me to understand what was even going on. The second was much easier since I was able to breeze through both the brute-force and an optimal solution to the problem. I even had time to answer bonus questions on the second one and discuss my mind-controlled UAV project, which must have helped make up for the first interview.

One day later I was texting a friend when I saw an email notification pop up on my phone from who else but my recruiter. I instantly entered a state of sheer panic, thinking I shouldn't have heard back so soon -- I was expecting at least a week or two for feedback. After several minutes, I mustered up the courage to open the email, only glancing through it to check for length, figuring short meant bad news. As soon as I saw it was a long email, I actually read through it -- I had made it to round 2. I couldn't believe what I was reading.

Next up: the host-matching process.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Great Google Adventure: The Genesis

It was the 14th of October as I was sitting in Beach Hall for Software Engineering waiting for lecture to start when I heard my inbox notification go off. Glancing at the subject, I became curious as to what the email was about. I saw a forwarded message of a forwarded message of an email from a UConn alumnus who was doing some recruiting for Google a couple weeks earlier. He had just so happened to hear about my mind-controlled drone project and was interested in sending my contact info to more recruiters at Google. I couldn't believe what I was reading. Google -- the company I've wanted to work for since joining the CSE program.

I'm walking around Google Cambridge as part of a tour during my internship, impressed by the office. I can't help but wonder if they do summer internships in this office or just the main HQ in Mountain View. I ask a fellow intern if they ever do recruiting at Tufts. I say, "I wish Google would come to UConn to do recruiting."

I'm flipping through the channels in my suite in Andover, Massachusetts after a long day at the office. I happen to see The Internship is on next, a comedy about two middle-aged dudes who manage to become Google interns for a summer. I decided to watch it because, hey, why not? Throughout the movie I'm thinking to myself, "Wow, I wish that was me, I bet I'd have a blast there." The movie finally ends and I'm thrown back into reality of my regular internship. At least I have one unlike some of my less fortunate friends, but still...

I liked to imagine one day I'd end up working at Google, although I doubted it would be anytime soon, as I'd only been programming for 2 years. Now I was being presented with the golden opportunity to make that day sooner than I would have ever hoped for.

Excitedly, I responded with all necessary contact info as well as a link to the magazine article I was featured in for the project and a video of the demo he missed me give to a group of students participating in an ACM robotics contest a couple weeks earlier. I waited for a response and... nothing.

Until a week later. 

I got the email from a different Googler, who became my recruiting contact. And so began my internship interview process with the Silicon Valley tech giant.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

September Open House Drone Demo

(Totally not filmed with a potato)

Yet another one of my several demos for UConn's Open House to inspire prospective students to pursue a major in engineering. If I can do something like this coming to college with "no programming experience whatsoever", maybe they can too.

Here I use a smirk to make the drone lift off. Once in the air, I use a mental push command to spin it around. Finally, I get it to land by raising my eyebrows.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Mind-Controlled UAV Project in the Media

Look Mom! I'm in a magazine!

Oddly enough, I happened to be noticed by the executive editor of MutliRotor Pilot magazine when demoing at Invention Convention while just so happening to have a quadcopter demo -- and a pretty cool one at that. This was the final result. I was also featured on my department's homepage in another article for the same project. Here's the link to the magazine and the link to the article.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Connecticut Invention Convention 2014

Today was my first time going to the Connecticut Invention Convention, but not to compete of course. I was to help showcase the Computer Science and Engineering department (technically the CS, CSE, and CompE departments). Some students such as myself had volunteered their last weekend before finals to represent the School of Engineering instead of anxiously cramming.

All the departments had booths staffed by students and professors with demos to represent the 12 engineering majors. Arriving bright and early with my laptop, my Emotiv EPOC EEG headset, and ISAAC the A.R. Parrot Drone 2.0, I saw a huge swarm of parents and middle school students surrounding Gampel. Confused, I just stood in the swarm with them for a few minutes, not aware that I could have entered early to set up. "Is that a drone? Cool!", one of the strangers said as I awkwardly stood around waiting to be let into the building. I knew the demo was going to be a showstopper -- if it worked.

Finally gaining entry, I greeted the professors at my booth and began to set up my demo. Getting the EPOC saturated with saline and fixed on my head, I loaded up the Emotiv SDK and the Java program to communicate between the SDK and ISAAC. After confirming everything was good to go, I tried to relax, surveying the large crowd that had swarmed into the building in the meantime. Walking around Gampel with my nerd gear, I got a few intrigued and many more puzzled looks from spectators and fellow Huskies.

This was actually a bigger event than I was expecting

After the introduction and welcoming address to the young inventors, people were free to walk around and check out the displays set up by SoE. As I didn't have much room on the small table, I tried moving off to the side of the booth to fly ISAAC. Curious people gathered around, probably confused at the bizarre contraption clamped to my skull. Although not without some struggle, I was able to get it to fly. There seemed to be random instances in which one of the many components I rely on to communicate with each other for a flawless demo decided to not participate in the baton-passing of the data.

Displeased with these occurrences, I tried to investigate the cause as the size of the crowd tapered down. Sure enough, I was randomly getting disconnected to the SDK for seemingly no reason, now seemingly permanently as restarting the program and the headset didn't fix the issue. I was told that I didn't have to stick around since the demo wasn't working but I stubbornly refused. "How is this possible? Is this thing almost dead? I just charged it last night!" Of course I didn't have the charger with me either, so I had to run back to my dorm to grab it. And of course that meant venturing out into daylight looking like an escaped science experiment test subject.

However, retrieving the charger and plugging it into the headset for a few minutes didn't do anything, there was nothing wrong with the amount of charge remaining. Confused, I asked one of the professors what could possibly be at fault. The most probable culprit? Interference.

The EPOC communicates to the SDK over Bluetooth. As crowds gathered which contained people wearing Bluetooth headsets and people that possibly unknowingly had Bluetooth enabled on their phone, my connection to the computer would cut out and all the sensors would go black on the display. Sometimes relocating my demo would solve the problem. In one instance I herded a flock of roughly 20 people over to a wide open space and successfully flew ISAAC with the headset and received a round of applause.

Repping for the CSE department

After discovering the issue, we asked spectators to disable Bluetooth to reduce interference possibilities. The result was a larger frequency of successful demos. Many visitors took pictures and congratulated me on the project. I was even asked to do an interview for an article from the executive editor of a magazine -- all which wouldn't have ever happened had I decided to abandon ship the instant things decided to go south. Times like this I'm thankful for my stubbornness.

Overall, it was a huge success. Many people were (*Three Dog voice from Fallout 3*) astounded, bedazzled, and otherwise stupefied. Hopefully I had a positive impact on a lot of kids that might be considering engineering.