February 27, 2013
By Mohini Ufeli
Sometimes, an on-campus job can serve the same purpose as an internship. When Monica Chelliah ‘14 talks about her job as a Web Programming Assistant, she exclaims, “They’re paying me to do a job where I can learn!” Chelliah owes her excitement to the fact that her job provides her with technical experience valued by employers in the computer science industry.
In high school, Chelliah shied away from computer science lessons. She came to college thinking that she would be a History or Studio Art major. Her first summer, she asked to participate in a Chemistry professor’s research project, and was approved. For the research, she was given the task of writing little scripts—programs which complete tasks that humans usually find tiresome and time-consuming. This was her first real exposure to computer science, and it was during this research that she began to think, “I really like programming.”
Chelliah now works for the library’s web programming department, which is in charge of designing the code that dictates the appearance of Mount Holyoke’s web pages. She stumbled upon the position while searching JobX for her previous position as a Chemistry Department Technical Assistant. As a Web Programming Assistant, she was taught the basics of different types of programming languages, which she now uses to write small programs and scripts. Her main duty is to work on code-related problems as assigned by her boss, which oftentimes requires the daunting task of independently learning a new coding language. However, the mental challenge that comes with writing programs more than makes up for it. “You’ve been given a problem, that no one else has solved yet,” she explains, “You write it, and it doesn’t work! You go back, debug it, spend a couple of shifts. Once it finally works and it does what you want it to, it’s that feeling... you’re like, Yes! And then you go on to the next, harder thing.”
Uncertain about her future plans, Chelliah says, “I just try to learn as much as I can in the present, so in case I want to do something, I have the skills.” She has found that employers in the computer science industry ask students for experience, and not necessarily the classes they have taken. She consciously chose the web assistant position because it might be relevant to her future career and would teach her necessary technical skills. What Chelliah values most at her job is the learning and the fact that her boss is always willing to offer help if she should face any difficulties. “What I’m taking away is what I’m learning,” she says.
Chelliah might attend graduate school in Computational Science or Computer Science. Her advice to students came in two parts: “Don’t ignore JobX,” she says. She also recommends that students be unafraid to ask professors for research opportunities, even unpaid ones. “When you apply to graduate schools, it looks really good!”