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Graduating from UC San Diego and Landing a Silicon Valley Software Job in Four Years

June 30, 2014

by Kirsten Koa (Dublin High School Class of 2010 and UC San Diego Class of 2014)

Kirsten Koa and her family at UCSD graduation

Kirsten and family at graduation

If someone had told me when I left Dublin to study Computer Science at UC San Diego that I’d later land a job at Google and get offers from multiple other companies as a Software Engineer, I probably would have just smiled and thanked them for the compliment.

Four years ago, I chose to major in computer science because I loved playing video games growing up and I thought it would be cool to learn how to make some. Even though I took a variety of AP courses at Dublin High, I went into college with pretty much zero programming experience. The most “coding” I had ever done was messing with some HTML/CSS code to make my MySpace profile look better in middle school. (Do high schoolers today even know what MySpace is?)

Anyway, I started out in the moderate-paced introductory class where we pretty much learned how to code photos filters similar to the ones you’d find on Instagram. It was a really cool and well-taught introductory class, but the transition from:

Meme - I have no idea what I am doing“I have no idea what I’m doing…”






Meme - Then I would know the meaning of life


to: “Everything makes perfect sense!” didn’t happen magically overnight.









I got a hard kick in the butt when I got my first midterm back with a big fat C on it. This is the introductory class for my major, I thought to myself. I have to do better.

After that midterm, I started seriously reading the textbook and going online for extra beginner programming problems in addition to going to every class. Soon, the programming problems became puzzles and solving them became a game to me. The more I learned, the more puzzles I could solve. I was hooked.

Kirsten with Java green screen project

Kirsten’s Java green screen project

At the end of the quarter, I was never more proud of an A in my life, and as a final project, I got to take a photo of myself in front of a green screen and code myself into a Jurassic Park scene.

I left my introductory class more excited about my major and eager to learn more. During that class, my professor kept encouraging everyone to get an internship, so I asked my mom to send me the resume I had written while taking CHEE at Dublin High, updated the resume, and used it to apply for some on-campus internships and research positions.

By the end of my freshman year, I had completed a two-quarter long unpaid internship and obtained a tutoring position within the UCSD Computer Science Department and a research position with a scholarship attached for the following school year.

Becoming a tutor was probably one of the best decisions I made in college. I found it very gratifying to help others understand concepts that they found confusing, especially since I was in their seats not too long before. It also introduced me to a community of great, talented people, who always motivated me to learn more and to keep trying, even when Google just rejected me for an internship the second year in a row.

I’ve learned countless things from my college experience, but my biggest take away is to find something that you love and keep going for it. I have read more rejection letters for prospective jobs and internships than I can even remember, but instead of being discouraged and giving up, I took those rejections as a challenge to become a better programmer.

Kirsten's corgis Ventus and Bagel

Ventus and Bagel have 12,000 followers on Instagram (@ventusthecorgi)

I read books, did mock interviews, practiced interview problems, and even made a few mobile games with my friends. Even though these things sound like work, they were actually pretty fun. Okay, maybe not the crunching interview problems part… but the feeling when you solve a really hard one is awesome. And, an even better feeling is nailing an interview and receiving a job offer a few days later.

Last fall, I was basically living in hotels and airplanes, exhausted from studying and travelling for job interviews and conferences, while taking a full course load at UC San Diego. But in the end, it was well worth it. Months before graduation, I received several amazing job offers for full-time Software Engineering positions from great companies and even struggled before coming to a decision of where to go. One company had even written that they would buy me 2 Pembroke Welsh Corgis as a sign-on bonus; it was seriously one of the hardest decisions of my life. #firstworldproblems

Kirsten's Corgi Memory app

Kirsten’s Corgi Memory app for iOS and Android

By the end of my four years in college, I automated test suites at Qualcomm, worked on top mobile games at MobilityWare, implemented a server health reporting system at Microsoft, helped develop a Google Glass app that helps the colorblind distinguish colors at UC San Diego and developed two corgi-related games to the App Store and Google Play. I played lacrosse on the UC San Diego Women’s Lacrosse Club Team and went to Nationals in Virginia Beach (with the best team ever). I learned how to surf and boulder with friends. I got to play Mario Kart 8 a year before release at E3. I explored Washington and went deep-sea fishing, caught a salmon, and cooked it for a week’s worth of dinner. (Yes, I’m very proud of that salmon.) I went to Disneyland over 20 times. (Don’t worry. I had a season pass.) And I met life-long friends through my studies and involvement in student organizations at UC San Diego.

I loved the last four years at UC San Diego. Now that I’ve graduated, all I have to say is:

Meme - graduation

In all seriousness, I definitely feel like I’ve had a unique and memorable college experience, and I am truly excited for the new adventures to come.

For students interested in computer science, I recommend checking out and for videos on the many applications of computer science as well as beginner coding tutorials and projects. For more specific or advanced topics, I find YouTube is a good and free source of tutorials.

Kirsten Koa was also profiled in a recent UC San Diego Guardian article (available here), won a Facebook-sponsored scholarship to attend the 2013 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, and was awarded the UC San Diego Computer Science and Engineering Department’s 2014 Excellence Award.

Kirsten Koa and fellow UC San Diego graduates


One Comment
  1. Brenda Thompson permalink
    July 14, 2014 12:07 pm

    I’m so proud of you!!!!!

    Miss Thompson

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