Jeffrey Chu, a postbaccalaureate computer science student at Oregon State University, had a perfectly fine career as an attorney. After earning a law degree in 2016 from the University of Texas at Austin, Chu worked first as a felony prosecutor, then as a civil litigator.
He liked his job but came to realize that it wasn’t his passion.
Outside the courtroom, Chu’s time was occupied not only with preparing his cases, but also with a ton of monotonous data entry tasks.
“The worst was tracking billing hours,” he said. “I had to keep track of what I was doing every six minutes.”
Chu, who lives in Houston, was working every weekend and didn’t get many days off. In order to make better use of his time, he decided to teach himself to automate some of the mundane tasks. That’s when he fell in love with programming.
Around the same time, one of Chu’s friends completed a six-month coding boot camp and told him about job offers he had received, which motivated Chu even more to make a career switch. Though he could have chosen to attend a boot camp, Chu researched his options and decided he needed a computer science degree.
“I thought the best opportunity for me was to pursue a CS degree, to get a strong foundation and give myself more time to absorb the concepts,” he said.
The degree and the foundation, Chu believed, would help him develop a career as a software engineer, not just a coder. He also realized that a computer science program would give him the opportunity to pursue internships, which would in turn give him an advantage in obtaining a full-time job.
Making an informed decision
Chu dove in to researching online computer science programs.
“One thing you learn in law school is the ability to look for things and do it efficiently,” he said. “So I was pretty confident in my ability to make an informed decision after I did all my research.”
Chu liked Oregon State’s program because he wouldn’t have to take, or retake, core curriculum classes. He could dive in to computer science classes right away. He also perused LinkedIn and found that Oregon State alumni had jobs everywhere: big tech companies, small companies, and startups.
What really convinced him to choose Oregon State was the online community he found in the student-led Slack channel, where anyone can ask questions and many will share their perspectives. Students and alumni constantly interact over a wide range of topics — including classes, interviews, career choices, and professional development opportunities.
“There were great reviews about the program there,” Chu said. “And people were so helpful, building each other up and giving advice. Other programs I looked at didn’t have that sense of community.”
A funny thing happened on the way to a degree
Though Chu quit his job as an attorney to become a full-time student in 2020, he landed a full-time cybersecurity job in 2021, while still pursuing his computer science degree. Chu thought cybersecurity would be an interesting path, and a friend connected him with another friend who worked in the field, who ultimately offered him a job.
Chu has since decided that cybersecurity isn’t the field for him. He anticipates graduating in December 2022, two years after beginning the program. In the meantime, he recently finished an internship at Amazon in Washington, D.C., and is currently on a second internship at Ford in Dearborn, Michigan.
“I’m the type of person who just likes to try multiple things and see what sticks,” he said.
Jeffrey Chu’s interview tips for career-changers
Even before he started the online postbaccalaureate program in computer science, Jeffrey Chu was a fan of the student-led Slack community. During his time at Oregon State University, Chu has been an active participant in the channel, including the following, his contribution to a recent discussion about getting through a technical interview.
To give you some perspective and to contrast with some stories here, my very first tech interview went well and I got an offer for an internship after. My first year at OSU I had major imposter syndrome and didn’t apply to any internships so I was pretty stressed going into this year’s internship recruiting season as it will be my final one (hopefully). I think I owe my success to mostly luck, but there are some things I did to reduce uncertainties.
- Get familiar with the interview process.
- Essentially, know how the interview will go. (Will it be purely behavioral? Two tech questions, one behavioral? Only tech questions?)
- There are a lot of anecdotes from people who have interviewed with some companies in the past if you do some research online.
- Reach out to people you may know who work for the company.
- Being older, leverage the professional network you have already built.
- Even if that person doesn’t work in a tech role, they can probably put you in touch with someone who does to get some insight into how the interview may go or what it’s like working there.
- Do Pramp/mock behavioral AND technical interviews.
- Practice doing LC-style questions while speaking out loud while someone watches over you and judges you. When I did my first mock tech interview I floundered on an easy merge intervals question just because I wasn’t used to the pressure.
- Behavioral wise, practicing the STAR method out loud is much more difficult than in your head.
- It’s not always about getting the right/optimal answer on tech questions.
- Interviewers want to see your thought process, how you bounce back from setbacks, and how you take direction.
- Sometimes you have to get the right answer though.