CMU-SV Software Engineering students build their interviewing muscles at the Coding Gym

Adam Dove

May 3, 2016

Coding Gym Club

Source: Mary Christine Zeise

Coding Gym Club

In the competitive field of software engineering, it’s rare to see potential applicants helping each other prepare for job interviews—or at least, that’s what Software Engineering master’s student Vincent Su thought. But when one day he saw a group of students on CMU’s Silicon Valley campus doing just that, it inspired him to create a place where students could meet in that same spirit of collaboration on a regular basis. That place is the Coding Gym Club.

The idea was born out of a very familiar feeling—a fear of the future.

“Same as most students in my program, I was preparing for coding interviews and getting pretty anxious about it,” Su explains. “One day, I passed by a group of second year MS students who were sitting together and solving one coding problem. They analyzed it together, bounced their ideas and solutions off each other, and grew together as a group. I thought, ‘Why not make that a regular thing?’” 

All it took was a quick post to the CMU-SV Facebook page for the interest to start pouring in. In particular, Hill Ma, who was at the time in the last semester of his Software Engineering master’s program, thought Su’s idea was brilliant. As a big fan of competitive coding himself, Ma partnered with Su to spearhead the club, hosting algorithm workshops and whiteboard coding practice.

Every Tuesday since the club’s inception in fall of 2015, the group has gathered to hone its members’ coding and interviewing skills. Software Engineering interview questions vary from company to company, but most consist primarily of algorithm and data structure questions.

We aim to mimic an interview scenario.

Vincent Su, Software Engineering master’s student, CMU Silicon Valley

“We aim to mimic an interview scenario,” Su adds. “A problem is presented, we discuss and communicate our ideas, draw and write things down on the white board to help explain our ideas better, identify how to improve our current solutions, come to an agreement, and implement it ourselves, either on our computers or on the whiteboard.”

According to Su, algorithms and data structures are particularly important for software engineers, and a sound understanding of them is essential throughout a software engineer’s career—not just during the interview process. But even more than practice, the Coding Gym Club is about accountability.

“I like to use the analogy of a gym,” Su says. “Everyone knows working out is good for them, but very few people actually go the gym regularly. It’s a commitment. The goal here is much more than just getting better at interviewing. It is helping students lay a solid foundation in problem solving.”

Ma graduated in December of 2015, leaving Su fully in charge of the group’s six regular attendees. While it may be small, Su sees the group becoming a resource for anyone at the Silicon Valley campus who may need it.

“Whether people come to the sessions or not,” Su says. “I want to make sure everyone knows the benefit they can get out of the Coding Gym. Peer advisor programs, mock interviews, workshops—we’re here to expand the idea of ‘students helping students’ style career development.”