ACM-W NA Profiles: Blanche Pinto
Blanche Pinto is a Tools and Automation engineer at Apple on the macOS Bluetooth Quality team. She writes code and scripts for automation testing for Bluetooth and wifi connections within the Mac side of Apple. She completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of South Florida.
How did you decide to get into computer science?
I sort of knew from high school, but then I had a quick change of heart in between when [I applied to university]. Since I did my high school back in Dubai, we had a difference in our curriculum compared to the one everyone has in the U.S., just a little bit. We had the option of taking computer science in our junior and senior years. Compared to biology, I just, I didn’t, I couldn’t stand [biology]. And so I decided to take comp science too. You know how that goes. I actually really liked it but then when I decided to apply for university I went in as a chemical engineering major.
Then the first week, right before classes started, one of the professors did a pre-engineering MATLAB course – really just basic coding and I remember thinking, “Wait? What am I doing? I love coding.” I enjoyed chemistry, too, but I loved computer science more. I love the feeling of coding and watching everything run successfully. So, right before classes started I switched.
I guess I’m one of the lucky ones to realize my passion early on.
You got multiple internships with no referral and got a job at Apple right out of school. What advice do you have for current students about using their college experience effectively?
I think one of the most important things is to use your network as much as possible because when you’re in school, you can reach out to people on LinkedIn. They respond–maybe not always–but you have a shot.
Go to hackathons and work on projects. One of the things that I missed out on in university was going to hackathons. I think I went to one and I was a little sick that day. So it was just like, oh, shoot, not the best time for me. But yeah, I really wish I’d gone to more hackathons, met other students and worked on new tech.
I was very nervous coming into computer science, especially moving to the US. There was a new atmosphere and new people. I didn’t know anybody. So when it came to talking to people—especially professors—I’d get super nervous. My first two years, I wouldn’t step into office hours. Then I went with some of my friends – they would go and I’d be like, “okay, I’ll just tag along.”
That’s when I stepped out of my comfort zone and I got more comfortable talking to professors, asking them questions on the material and also for advice. Get your butt in the professor’s office and ask your questions! They’re there to help you
One of the other things I love doing is traveling to conferences – like the Tapia Conference, GHC and SHPE National Conference. Talk to your respective departments to see if they’re willing to sponsor you or they have scholarships available.
You not only get to meet engineers, but you also get to meet other students from all over the country and hear about their experiences which is amazing. They also host a lot of technical and non-technical talks which are useful in getting internships or full-time jobs.
Traveling to these conferences is probably how I got my internships and then along with that, I was able to get research opportunities back at university.
If you’re in a school with a really good career fair, then sure, go to the career fair. At USF, we’ve got a good [set] of companies that come to our career fair, most of them are defense contracting, local startups or other local companies. Some big companies like Google and Intel collaborate with our department to host workshops outside of the career fair – so make sure you’re signed up to your department newsletter and you’re on the lookout for events.
If you want more options, or maybe you want to work for Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix or Google, you do have to step out of your comfort zone and travel to conferences or attend them virtually. Think of them as an investment. If you can pay to attend these conferences, go ahead and do that, but see if your department or other student organizations on campus can sponsor you first. There’s even a lot of free conferences out there, you’ve just got to look.
There’s a lot of organizations and communities for underrepresented people in tech — like ACM-W [who have] a lot of opportunities posted online. There’s a bunch of communities online that come together to help students – like Rewriting The Code, ColorStack, and Built By Girls.
I would recommend researching that because there’s a lot out there. It’s just a matter of finding the right resources.
What advice do you have for international students?
One of the first things that I had to learn was which companies hire international students and which companies don’t – I had to prepare for that before going into any sort of career fair or conferences.
You got to do a whole lot more research compared to a student who’s a US citizen or a permanent resident.
I remember when I was at one career fair and you know I connected really well with the recruiter, we probably talked for like 20-30 minutes and then when I mentioned I was an international student, they said, “Oh, I am so sorry, we don’t hire international students” and I thought, “oh, that’s awful.” But it is what it is, right?
You manage with what you’ve got. It can be disheartening, but what I advise international students is to do is: do your research well in advance. Be honest about being an international student when you’re talking to a recruiter. You don’t want to be in a sticky situation later. They’re there to work with you.
I do think that international students have to work a little bit harder to get internships and jobs because a lot of companies can’t hire you. If you can’t get internships, my advice is to look for research opportunities on campus or work on passion projects. Not getting an internship is not the end of the day.
When you were deciding between going for a masters or getting a job, how did you make that decision?
[My decision] was a little bit interesting. I had just finished my internship at Twitter and was in my final semester before graduating with my bachelor’s. I’d finished my bachelor’s in three and a half years instead of the whole four years. Part of me just wasn’t ready to start working and be an adult or whatever.
I knew I wanted to get a master’s degree eventually. Since I’m an international student, things get harder in the long run with work visas, so I knew getting a masters would take off some of that strain.
Another part of me was like, “oh no, I’m a little scared to go into the work force”, but then a third part of me was like “if I start working now, then I’ll actually start making money. I’ll be able to pay my bills, get a car, and whatnot.”
When it finally came down to making the decision, I had a good opportunity with the [USF Comp Sci] department offering me a TA position, which worked out really well – my tuition was covered and I got paid hourly. So if given the chance for international students, I’d say that it’s okay if you get a teaching or research assistant position or something like that, and you want to do your masters. Then go ahead. Do it.
But if you really feel like “okay, I am done with school. I don’t want to step foot in another class or submit a late assignment ever again,” then go work!
School is not for some people, and that’s completely okay. I just really liked going to school.
See what’s best for you and go from there.