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Advice for Preparing for a Job in Software Engineering


By: Tara Gu (MEng ’15)

I’m Tara Gu. I studied Biomedical Engineering at Duke for my undergrad, and am currently a MEng ECE student. I have failed many times at job interviews, but I started to have more and more positive results, and finally a software engineering internship offer from Google, after I started doing the following activities:


Last year, I went to my first hackathon—HackDuke, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. There were more than 500 students from colleges all over the States (University of Illinois, University of Maryland, University of Virginia, etc). I met students, mentors (software engineers from sponsoring companies such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, EBay, etc), and even medical school students who have no experience in programming, but want to collaborate with software engineers.

There was an expo of all the sponsoring companies, which was essentially a career fair. Engineers, not recruiters, accepted resumes and answered students’ questions, and gave out their contact information. After the hackathon, I requested an informational interview with an engineer from EBay, and he gave me useful advice.

During the HackDuke weekend, I slept for 20 minutes in 30 hours. The hackathon was draining, and I needed to go right back to my projects and study for exams after taking a nap. However, it reminded me that I chose to become software engineers because I love programming. In one of my Google interviews, I asked my interviewer what was one thing he recommended current students to do. His answer was hackathons. Software engineering requires dedication, because there will always be times when we run into difficult problems we can’t solve, and we tackle them relentlessly all days and nights. Hackathons give us similar experience while in school.

You can even continue working on your hackathon project as a side project after the event, and show it to recruiters/engineers at career fairs. I was asked numerous times by recruiters and engineers about my HackDuke project. Moreover, it you develop something portable (phone app or web app), you can do a mini demo at career fairs. As a side note, a student I know developed 2 iPhone apps during summer. Even though he did not have a summer internship, he snagged 12 next-day interviews after showing his apps to companies at TechConnect.

I encourage everyone to participate in hackathons before you graduate. There are many hackathons happening every weekend (Major League Hacking). I recommend selecting hackathons that have a good number of participants and mentors, and sponsoring companies in which you have interested.


Confidence is one of the most important tools in coding interviews. Companies want to hire people that are SOLID, which entails both how well you can solve coding problems, and how well you deliver your answers. In classes, I notice that there are students who answer questions in a way that they are sure and certain, even though their answers may not be correct. Many of them are international students.

Even though they aren’t native speakers, their confidence overcomes any language barrier. This also applies in coding interviews: one should be sure of what he/she knows. Even though your answer may not be 100% correct or has the best space and time complexity, it is important to stay grounded and assertive while working with your interviewer to come up with solutions.

If you think you are not assertive or confident, I recommend talking to a professor you know about ways you’re displaying a lack of confidence, then work out a way to improve them. If you think you have always has a lack of confidence, or certain events undermined your confidence, such as Duke CAPS confidence workshops for international students, as well as weekly support groups. If you have a coding interview coming up, this video will give a quick fix.

Alumni Spotlight: Engagement during and after MEng

2ec24c8By: Rachel Fleming, MEng ’13

I am a “double Dukie” as some people would say. The 4+1 MEng Program was the perfect opportunity for me to spend one more year on a beautiful campus, earn my Master’s degree and share my alma mater with MEng peers from around the world. The Civil MEng program allowed me to take my structural engineering education to the next level while gaining an introduction to the business side of the industry. To this day when I speak to prospective Pratt students, I highlight the unique MEng program that Duke has to offer. Everything from graduate student campout to MEMP seminars enhanced my overall Duke experience.

After graduation – the second time – I began working full time for Gilbane Building Company in Durham. As a project engineer, my role was to assist with the management of a construction site where I coordinated the updating and distribution of construction drawings, tracked and resolved on-site issues, compiled subcontractor invoices and much more. I was very grateful for the MEng internship requirement that helped me gain real-world structural engineering experience that continues to help me as a construction manager. Now, I am about halfway through a two year Gilbane management rotational program where I am gaining experience with estimating, purchasing, marketing and business development in addition to many more facets of the company.


I am thankful that working at Gilbane has allowed me to continue to stay engaged with Duke and specifically with MEng and MEMP. I enjoy seeing the students at TechConnect and other industry events. The highlight so far has been working with a great group of MEMP practicum students mentored by John Nicholson. They fostered a wonderful collaboration with DiVE Director Regis Kopper and Research and Development Engineer David Zielinski. The team took on a challenging project that looked at how to bring a construction BIM model into the DiVE to allow clients and end users to virtually walk through their future space and inform early design decisions. The group took the project a step further and explored the ability to move objects in a room while standing in the DiVE. Culminating in a DiVE open house presentation, the students demonstrated their project to Duke faculty, staff and local Architects by leading live demonstrations of the virtual reality experience. Through practica, career fairs and events I look forward to engaging with future MEng and MEMP students as an alumna.


Professional Emailing

By: Julien Mansier MEng ’15IMG_0363

We have all been told to make a good first impression, whether it be an interview, on a date, or just meeting a stranger. I believe that this extends to electronic communication, especially emailing. If you have worked or interned you may know that you will make many ‘first impressions’ via email within the first month of starting. But your professionalism must extend beyond the first few emails; be ready to hold a majority of your professional conversations over email. From my experience, on an average day, I would expect several hundred emails. That leads to a huge probability of making a mistake and/or hindering a relationship. Does this sound overwhelming and terrifying? Don’t fret, there are some simple rules you can follow to alleviate this stress.

To start, it is important to know what the email culture is like within your organization. What was expected of me with my previous employer may be vastly different from a very open-community organization like a Google or Facebook. That being said, there are some generally accepted rules about emailing. They are:

1) Reply to emails within 24 hours. Personally, if I receive a message before 4 pm, I do my best to respond before the end of the business day (EBD).

2) Know your acronyms: ASAP, IMO, EBD, etc. This rule is fairly simple, but it will save you a bunch of time.

3) If you don’t know the gender of the person, do not try to guess. I can’t count the number of times I’ve received an email for Ms./Mrs. Julien Mansier. There is nothing wrong with opening with ‘Hi,’ or ‘Good morning,’

4) Be conscientious of the Reply-all button. If you were one of many on an email, and you want to reply (or forward) to one person, then do not reply all.

I want to harp a bit on rule #4. Be careful with reply all: Everyone has a horror story. For instance, my company (25,000+ US employees) was giving away tickets to a football game. All the contestants had to do was reply to this message to be entered into the drawing. I think you can see where this is headed. Within 15 minutes, I had over 1000 emails in my inbox with ‘Yay!’ and ‘I hope I win!’ I am sure IT had a blast with that situation.

Moving forward, the last important topic is the email itself. I am not so concerned with the content, but rather the length. The answer to how long an email should be comes from knowing your company’s culture. Our rule was that if it was over one paragraph, you should just call or talk in person. Just remember that people’s time is limited and valuable. It is faster for you to speak your thoughts than it would be for the receiver to read three paragraphs; it’s a win-win, you get your answer fast and they save time. Many email clients offer a chatting service, which I found to be more utilized than email. If you do decided to write a novel of an email, don’t be surprised if you learn a new acronym: TL,DR…Too long, didn’t read.

Good luck!

Duke MEMP Interview with Dr. Daniel Egger

Duke MEMP Interview with Prof Safak Yucel

MEMP Visits China and India to Welcome New Students

By: Bridget Fletcher, Assistant Director of Student Services

As a part of our on-boarding process for the entering class of 2013-2014, we held a series of events in China and India. Dr. Murray and I met with students in Beijing, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Bangalore. These visits gave us an opportunity to do a couple of things to help students prepare for their trip to Duke. First, we were able to meet one-on-one with students to help them with class selections, general questions about the program, and to (hopefully) ease some concerns about life in the US. Next we were able to introduce the incoming students to some alumni and current students of the program, not to mention a chance to meet each other! Finally, we were able to gather all the students in each city together for a shared meal and a presentation to formally welcome them to the program.


We also held a series of alumni events in each city that led to some great opportunities to catch up with alumni in China and India. Our students go on to do some amazing things! From the trading floor in Shanghai to the essential oils business in India, we learned about the many ways our alumni are putting what they learned at Duke to good use in the world.

Some of our alumni, current students, and even future students also spent some time with us exploring each city. This was a great way for us to really experience the places many of our students come from. I learned so much about each place from our many talented tour guides! For example, I learned that in Shanghai, shopping in your pajamas is a tradition and rain in Bangalore can stop traffic for hours at a time.  Some of the greatest foods, sights, and experiences of my life happened on this trip and it was a pleasure to share them with such wonderful people!

In each city we visited I saw some great things happen – roommates were chosen, course work was discussed, friends were reunited and new friends were made.  It can be intimidating to plan a move halfway around the world to a country you might have never visited before. We hope these sessions with a few of our staffers, alums, and current students, made that journey a little easier.

You Will Earn $614,783 Less if You Don’t Know This Secret.

By: Tom Mercer – MEM, ’11


Dear MEM & MEng Students –

I am going to try to teach you how I’ve lost more than $20,000 because I had a certain belief, and how, after I learned about one little secret, I earned more than $10,000 in ninety minutes.

If you’re lucky, you already have a job or internship lined up for the summer. If you don’t have a job yet, what I’m going to teach you is even more urgent. If you have a job, you’re probably going to change jobs within a couple years, so it’s important to internalize this belief before then.

Two months ago, I was standing on the edge of an arch in Arches National Park, looking out over an awesome view while standing inches from a 500-ft cliff. I was talking with my friend about his future job at the most progressive law firm in our home state. The partners of the firm have argued and won several of the major cases the state’s Supreme Court has heard in the last 20 years. Our conversation turned to our student debt (law students have LOTS more) and our starting salaries and benefits.

I found that I was going to earn substantially more as an entry-level analyst than he would as a fully-credentialed lawyer at the most prestigious firm in the state, so I asked him about how he negotiated the compensation.

His response shocked me. “I didn’t want to ask for more money, because these are the people I’m going to be working with, and I don’t want them to think I’m selfish.”

My friend and I both have excellent degrees (and you do too, or you will soon). What caused this massive difference in starting compensation (>$20,000)? A single belief and less than ninety minutes of effort.

The last time you got an offer, how did it make you feel?

Were you excited?

“Yes, that’s great, when can I start!?”


“Is that all?”

Or did you feel something else?

I’ve felt these emotions when I received offers in the past, and I just accepted the offers because “I just need a job” or “This pays more than my last job”.

But the last 3 offers I’ve received, I’ve done something different, and I want to explain it in detail because, with respect to money, this is the highest-impact activity you will ever do.

What’s the most you’ve earned per hour? I’ve earned >$21,000 in three long days, and >$2,000 in 2 minutes and 14 seconds. None of these compares to the $20,000+ I’ve earned by negotiating for a few minutes.

OK, that’s great, you say. How do I earn this $?

First, there is a mindset. You invested the time and money to earn a graduate degree from Duke. Based on that, I can say you are among the top 10% most valuable potential employees to any firm.

You are a top performer.

Top performers contribute disproportionately to teams. Google and other companies spend billions of dollars every year attracting and retaining top talent, because, while a top performer may cost twice as much, they often contribute more than 10 times more value![1]

Now, if you approach salary negotiation from this mindset, there are some behaviors you’ll naturally do differently.

I’m going to explain them in painstaking detail. I promise that if you take that first brave step toward ACTION, when you invest an hour in this research and send the email or make the phone call, you will 1. see that it works, 2. start to believe it, and 3. get better at it, until you’ll internalize the core belief, and then you won’t need these scripts.

Top performers do all of this naturally.

When you get an offer, DO NOT STATE A NUMBER FIRST.

When you get an offer, DO NOT STATE A NUMBER FIRST.

After the other side makes an offer with a number, do not say, “YES! When can I start?” nor, “Is that all?”

Both of these responses indicate you are not a top performer, and that you are not professional.

Instead, say, “Hm. That’s interesting. I’m sure we can work out a fair compensation package that’s agreeable to both of us.”

[Attitude: We’re in this together. We’re going to find a FAIR compensation, TOGETHER. You, the company, will get a top performer who delivers disproportionate value. I, the worker, will get extra compensation.]

Understand that the first offer you receive is for suckers. It’s like the sticker price on a car or a retail price for a contraption in SkyMall magazine. Only this is far more serious. The first offer is the ‘sucker’s price’ on 3,000+ hours of your life, every year, until you retire or die.

Unexceptional performers accept the first offer. Just by asking, you set yourself apart.

Company #1: I was offered <$38,000 to work at Contactology in Durham. Just by asking, I got $40,000 (and I knew very little of what I’m about to share, and had not yet internalized the ‘Top Performer’ attitude). That’s $2,000 for writing a two-sentence email.

Now, $40k is not much compared to my student loans, and you’re probably not impressed. But many MEMers haven’t even asked. They are giving up $2,000 to avoid asking.

I’m going to share 2 more case studies where I had the Top Performer attitude, where I see myself as a Top Performer who contributes disproportionately high value. Once I combined the courage to ask with this Top Performer mindset and the “we’re in this together. Let’s work out a FAIR package” attitude, I began to see much better results.

Company #2 Initial Offer: $58,000 + stock options on a 1yr-4yr vesting schedule

Company #3 Initial Offer: $63,000

This time, I was prepared. To both offers, I did not state a number first. DO NOT STATE A NUMBER FIRST. (It’s ok to explain your past compensation, but it’s also ok not to. The employer is only going to use any numbers you provide them as a way to offer you less.) *The career advisors may not agree with me about this. My super-successful career aunts and uncles, and my parents disagreed with me on this one.*

But let me repeat, DO NOT STATE A NUMBER FIRST.

Once they made these initial offers, I did my research.

(Let’s say $Company is offering you $Role in $City.)

$Role at $Company on glassdoor.com

$Role in $City on glassdoor.com[2], indeed.com[3], salary.com[4]

NACE[5] for $Role in $City

When you’re finished with this research, summarize it neatly:

The median salary for $Role in $City is between $68,145 and $72,450, according to glassdoor.com, indeed.com and salary.com.

According to glassdoor.com, $Role_s at your company earn between $X and $Y.

The NACE compensation calculator, which is more accurate for well-educated by under-experienced candidates like me, suggests the $City market will offer approximately $68,400 for $Role with my education.

Take that summary and explain it over the phone or email it to the person negotiating salary with you – often this is a hiring manager, or a person from HR, and not the person you interviewed with or will be working with.

If the offer is low (and it usually is), say “according to my research, $Your_Offer is low for $Role in $City”.

If the offer is good or even better than your wildest dreams, say “$Your_Offer is less than what I had in mind. Is there any flexibility with that number?”

At this point, Company #1, #2 and #3, said they would seek “approval” from a manager or VP or CEO, then would come back with ~10% more. Company #2 also offered a “Senior” title at this point.

Maybe the person negotiating with you won’t offer more salary at this point, and they’ll say something like, “the economy is tough” or “Our budget is tight” or “My manager/VP/CEO wouldn’t approve that”.

Agree with them. Sympathize. Successful negotiation is not confrontational. Say something like “yes, the economy is tough” or “I understand you have budget constraints” or “I understand your manager/VP/CEO wouldn’t approve it”

Then do 3 things.

1. Remind them about another high-value skill you have, how valuable it will be for them, for their company. [6]

Ask gently again if there is any flexibility with their number.

2. When you are satisfied that they won’t offer more base compensation to hire you…

(There is a fine line here, and it goes back to what my friend was feeling when we were discussing salary negotiation on top of the arch. At this point in the negotiation, you don’t want to be selfish to the point of sabotaging the work relationship over a small amount of money. You’ll know when to stop.)

…ask for this in writing: you’ll have a performance review on a shorter term (6 months), and set expectations that if you can deliver X value, then by 6 months from now, the company will offer you Y compensation.

This creates the impression that you’re going to work hard, and be worth many times what they pay you.

And you will work hard, and you will always create/give more value than you are given.

3. Suggest that “maybe there are other options to make the total package more attractive.”

Then, ask for:

In-the-money stock options

More vacation


Other fringe benefits

Now, the person negotiating with you is ON YOUR SIDE, you’re WORKING TOGETHER to put together a FAIR total compensation package. Good things will happen.

Company #2 offered 10% ($5,800) more and a senior role.

Company #3 offered 10% (6,390) more, and more bonus.

I think I did OK, but I didn’t ask for stock options. I still made 10% extra salary in less than 90 minutes of effort.

More powerful effects resulted from this negotiation than just a one-time $6,000 raise, however.

I’m going to earn 10% more.

My bonus is 10% larger.

My 401k match is 10% larger.

I’m going to earn even more than 10% more over my career, because each future raise and inflation-adjustment will stack on top of this larger compensation. A quick calculation (http://www.calcxml.com/do/ins07) suggests I will earn $614,783 more over my career. I believe the effect will be much larger.

My employer’s initial impression is that I’m a top performer, and that I believe hard work and positive results are rewarded with higher compensation. <— THIS PAYS AND PAYS.

Please negotiate your salary. If you succeed, share your success story in the comments here and on the MEM facebook page. Share this with a friend. If all of us learn to internalize this belief and do this research, we will earn more than $100,000,000 [7] more over our careers. More importantly, we will contribute at least an extra $1,000,000,000 more in value, because we will be healthier, happier, and enjoy greater job satisfaction and engagement over the years.


[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XY5SeCl_8NE I don’t recommend you buy Ramit’s $2,000+ courses, but I watched this video three times to memorize the scripts and internalize the beliefs and attitudes of a top performer.

[2] http://www.glassdoor.com

[3] http://www.indeed.com

[4] http://www.salary.com

[5] http://www.jobsearchintelligence.com/NACE/jobseekers/salary-calculator.php

[6] http://www.kalzumeus.com/2012/01/23/salary-negotiation/

MEMP Faculty Interview: Professor Theodore G. Ryan

Electical & Computer Engineering Student Showcase Event

By Ross Wade, Assistant Director of Career Services

On January 24, Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering held its first Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE) Student Showcase event. The event, sponsored by the Master of Engineering Program and Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, provided ECE students (undergraduate and graduate) the opportunity to share an innovative class project to invited employers. Engineers and recruiters from Facebook, Qualcomm, NetApp, Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle visited student tables to hear (and experience) some of the projects students are working on.

ECE Photo 1

Student projects included:

Robo-Arm – A 3D printed hand mimicking the motion of a human hand in real time. The system is Arduino based. A sensor-embedded glove it worn on the hand, its movements are then replicated by the 3d printed hand.

Personal Finance Companion – Software that manages daily transactions and financial account information, can be used to set up budgets, and remind you of upcoming financial events.

Greedy Mario Game – A game that can turn snake-like chain cubelets into a cube when manipulated by the player (the player needs to fit each segment of the chain into a cube by deciding the movement of each of those segments through the direction button). The game can provide a hint prior to each player’s move. The game ends when the entire chain fits into the cube.


Students found the event exciting and stated that having a project to discuss with employers helped them with connecting and networking.

Employers found the event interesting and thoroughly enjoyed connecting with ECE students; a member from the IBM team stated, “I was so impressed with one team of engineers that I contacted them them afterward.  This team embodied the spirit of engineering and it was refreshing to see this creativity, teamwork, and applied science used to positively shape the world around them.  In the professional world it’s too easy to loose this engineering spirit for other goals.”

A networking breakfast and lunch was held so students, employers, ECE faculty and staff could talk about industry trends, career paths, and Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering.

The employers that participated in the showcase were surveyed after the event and provided five great tips students should consider when preparing for similar events.

1. When discussing your project, remember to discuss the challenges you faced and the solutions you found; this helps employers understand how you think through challenges and also reflects other important non-technical skills such as communication, team work, persuasive, and analytical.

2. Explain your projects from a high level (from a broader perspective and not too technical) so a variety of employers (including non-technical recruiters) can understand the purpose of the project, the steps you took during the project, and the result.

3. When engaging with employers, ask thoughtful questions. Do not ask, “What should I put on my resume?” Ask company representatives how their company works, how different offices interact, etc. Ask about current technology trends and how those trends are affecting their company.

4. Have a variety of display materials – the more interactive your project the better! In addition to a laptop, add flyers, models, games, etc.

5. Smile and have good eye contact. Employers want to know you are excited about your work and have confidence in your project.


DUHatch: Don’t Wait – INNOVATE!

By: Aditya Murthy – MEng, ’14

Duke University has always been strongly committed to innovation and entrepreneurship. Being located in the Research Triangle area, there is no paucity of bright minds and path breaking ideas. All it needs is a resource to nurture these ideas and help them flourish. DUHatch is this resource.


Available to all Duke Students, our business incubator can do a lot more than providing you with a wonderful office space that you can run your idea from. It connects enterprising students having viable, innovative business ideas, with mentors from faculty and industry. It is an opportunity to give your new venture a launching platform.

Professor Jim Mundell, the Director of DUHatch, is a seasoned industry expert with executive level business experience in the medical device, semiconductor, thermoelectric, and electronic systems markets.  He most recently held the position of COO and Co-Founder at Nextreme Thermal Solutions, where he raised over $30M in venture and strategic partner funding before selling the company.  Professor Mundell has also held key executive positions at three other successful early stage companies such as Volumetrics Medical Imaging, Trivirix International, and CBA.  During Professor Mundell’s first 18 years he held senior executive positions with General Electric, Harris, SCI Systems, and CTS.  Professor Mundell has worked internationally in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan and Ireland. He holds an MBA from Purdue University’s Krannert Graduate School of Management and a BS in EET from Purdue University. Professor Mundell possesses a wealth of industry expertise and is a great person to talk to as your idea evolves from its nascent stages into a revenue generating business model.  He also teaches two business related courses in the MENG and MEM programs.

Along with our in-house expert, we can also put you in direct contact with experts from all areas of a business including legal, finance, accounting, marketing, sales, engineering, and manufacturing.  We call this our ‘Coaches-On-Call’ service.  At the start of every semester, we make a list of these experts available to all our teams. These are people with decades of experience behind them. They are willing to provide assistance with issues ranging from raising capital, intellectual property, and incorporating your company to general business and marketing strategy.  When a company is in its formative stages, money is invariably a major consideration. The opportunity to have an office space, lawyers willing to help you on a pro-bono basis, and experienced mentors to turn to for advice is invaluable.

A huge part of the success of any business is the ability to raise initial capital. To this effect, DUHatch presents the registered businesses with the unique opportunity to pitch their idea directly to potential angel investors and venture capitalist. The experience of standing in front of these investors is a huge reality check for many. It helps teams reassess their position and make the relevant modifications to their business plan in order to be able to deliver a stronger pitch the next time. At the same time, if your pitch manages to catch the guest angel or VC’s attention, you may have just found your seed funding!

DUHatch is also involved in the Summer Innovation Program. This program provides undergraduate and graduate students with the opportunity to receive hands-on exposure to entrepreneurship, business, and emerging technologies. It is an opportunity for teams to propel their existing start-ups into the next stage of operation. At the end of the Spring semester, a panel of judges is brought to pick one out of the various business ideas. This team is then given a stipend of $5000 to work on their idea over the course of the Summer break. Teams outside the center are also eligible and encouraged to participate, allowing for a wider range of ideas.

One of Duke’s biggest entrepreneur-centric events is the Duke Startup Challenge. Before the deadline of the 1st round, DUHatch conducts a critiquing session with Professor Mundell and a guest expert. This fall we were lucky to have Poornima Vijayashanker, also a serial entrepreneur, Professor at Duke, and founder/co-founder of BizeeBee, Femgineer, and Mint.com work with Professor Mundell. She was terrific.  This was a chance for teams to receive some validation as well as constructive criticism on their application before submitting it to the start-up challenge!

However, our biggest assets are the teams that are affiliated with the center. The myriad of bright ideas are what fuels the center. We house ideas related to Biomaterials, Hydraulic Fracking, E-Recycling, and Sports Apps to name a few. We currently have 7 participating teams: BioArt, Foam Finger, Refract, Deos LLC., Luxano Biomedical, Runner Over and Smart Metals. All these ideas have the potential to be ‘the next big thing’. We at DUHatch hope to help them realize their potential.

My role as the Student Manager of DUHatch entails communicating with the teams as well as our mentors. I work closely with the teams to understand what resources they will require and make them available to them. This includes providing them with contacts that might help them with a particular problem or scheduling a meeting with one of our coaches or Professor Mundell. My immediate goal, however, is to increase DUHatch’s visibility in the social media space. A future goal is to build University Relations with incubation centers in Silicon Valley, providing our teams with a route to bigger opportunities. This position is going to be an incredible learning curve for me and I intend to make the most of it!