With her avid fascination with Computer Science, Carmen Popa unabashedly decided to pursue her dreams. This young junior at University Politehnica of Bucharest is a jack of all trades who is unafraid to venture beyond a Computer science employee to volunteering, training and, also organizing various annual workshops.
Carmen Popa became the recipient of the Women Techmakers Scholars program that strives to create gender equality in the tech industry. It was not a cakewalk as she was rejected once before. She was also selected for the Google Code of Summer that enable one to learn about open source development while earning a stipend.
Keep reading to know the secret to her perseverance and her experience throughout the entire application process.
Included in the Interview
- The journey of Carmen Popa and her proclivity towards Computer Science
- Scholarships selected for
- Why Carmen was selected
- Rejections faced
- Word of advice for future applicants
Can you walk us through the process that got you fascinated about Computer Science and your journey from there?
“My passion for CS started during an IoT workshop that I attended while in high school. My favourite activity was to create a piano using photo-resistors, as it was then when I discovered that CS was more than some basic algorithms that we did in school. I always liked science subjects, but at that workshop, I discovered that CS can be easily combined with any other domain. Ever since, I became involved in numerous activities, from volunteer work, to contests and mentorships programs, related to computer science. Along the way, I also discovered that I like teaching. What motivates me to learn best is the idea that I will pass that knowledge on. So I became a member of Codette, local NGO that promotes equality in IT, where I am trainer and organiser at various annual workshops (IoT, Android, Web Dev etc), and I am also a volunteer trainer at Coder Dojo, where I teach children the basics of programming by creating games in Scratch.”
Can you tell us about the scholarships you have been selected for?
“ Sure I would love to! In high school I attended ISEF (International Science and Engineering Fair) with a research project about the movements of the eyes – this is when my interested in research began. I obtained a Google internship this summer. I studied abroad in Finland for one year with an Erasmus+ scholarship. Some prizes at various computer science contests in high school and so far in university. Also, being selected for Google Summer of Code two summers ago: I contributed to an open source project, Catrobat, where I synchronized the sensors (compass, acceleration, inclination etc) between iOS and Android for an phone app (with the same name, Catrobat) which teaches children how to write code (similar to Scratch). “
Why do you think you were selected?
“I think my answers played an important role. I had a good intuition to what the questions were really asking, and I put myself in a good light in that direction. I showed, in my answers, my passion for computer science, my love for teaching, and how active I am in my community. For example, I mentioned my future plans to organize a mentorship program for university students (which I organized the following spring), by showing how much it helped me the fact that I took part in a coding mentorship program as a high schooler. I tried to make the answers as personal, honest and authentic as possible. Lastly, think that many many of the applicants have amazing achievements and potential. However, what I find the most important is how you present yourself on paper (!), how you show your enthusiasm, passion and keep the reader engaged.”
That is impressive! Was it a cakewalk or was it accompanied by rejections as well?
“I also applied in 2018 and got rejected. Also, for almost everything that I got, I was rejected at least once before (for Anita Borg scholarship, I was rejected 3 times already).”
Any advice you would give to future applicants?
- Work on your application early; write draft answers and have your friends or close teachers review your answers, not just once, but many time, ask them to review after the corrections as well.
- Focus on your achievements in the answers: in my case, I always tend to downsize my achievements and my contribution, and this can be noticed in your written answers very easily: if your sentences include sentences like ‘we managed to…’ or ‘the project analyses…’, then your are doing the same. You need to focus more on ‘I’ in the paragraphs that you are writing. Focus on your achievements, your impact, your contribution. It’s okay to write the first draft in a general tone (using ‘we’ or passive constructions), but later on, shift the sentences so that you are the centre of attention, because after all, it’s YOU who should be promoted in those answers.
- Writing about yourself i really hard for some people, in my case, I always feel like bragging. But I learnt one thing – it’s not bragging if it’s based on fact. Also, a small trick that I use when I write applications: imagine that you are a university teachers who has to write a recommendation letter for a student (you) and start typing with that scenario in mind. Include your accomplishments, but to the third person, as if you are writing about a totally different person. You will most likely use better and stronger constructions in sentences, and you will not diminish the work involved. Later on, of course, rewrite to the first person.
Thank you for your time Ma’am! We hope that the future aspirates will be benefited from your advice and suggestions. We wish you the very best for your future endeavours.
Are you a recipient?
We are always looking out for scholarship recipients to feature. Please reach out to discuss how we can use your experience to help others grow. Also reach out if you have been selected any special programs.