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Learning to Code on a German Keyboard without Knowing German

By Caralyn Cyr

Caralyn Cyr - Systems Engineer at Autonodyne

I participated in the co-op program at my college, and I had decided that for one of my summers I wanted to do research instead of working at a company as a co-op student. Originally I was planning to conduct research on my college campus, but I found out about a program that matches American students with German universities to conduct research. I applied. I waited. I got denied. However, before I got upset about my rejection, I emailed the research advisor at the German University at which I applied to see if he would be willing to let me work with him anyway. His response: “Of course!”

I found myself in Germany for the summer not knowing the German language or having any background knowledge of the project that I was working on. My project was to translate a machine learning algorithm from MATLAB to Python for use on a Raspberry Pi microcomputer to control a pendulum for the purpose of energy harvesting. Don't worry if you don't know what any of that means; I didn't either. I had never heard of machine learning, never coded in the Python language, and never used a Raspberry Pi or a German keyboard. But I was willing to learn. By the end of the summer, the system worked, and I was included as a contributor when our research was published as a conference paper.

My ten weeks in Germany were ten of the most formative weeks of my life. I was able to travel around Europe for a summer, during which I learned about different histories and cultures and built my confidence along the way. However, it was my summer project that had the most profound impact on me. Even though I went into the project without any prior knowledge of the subject or experience using the tools, I was able to push myself to learn the required skills in order to succeed. I left Germany with a successful project, newly developed technical skills, and new interests to pursue in my education and future career. I was out of my comfort zone while working in a role that I was not qualified for technically, but I succeeded despite this fact. Through this experience, I learned the importance of hard work, how essential it is to be able to learn on the job, that I should not feel intimidated by a job description if I don't have all of the qualifications, and how to type on a German keyboard. I have used this experience to land several jobs since that summer, and, every time I tell this story, I am so pleased that I initially went beyond my comfort zone and did not take “no” for an answer.

About the author: My name is Caralyn Cyr and I recently graduated from Stevens Institute of Technology in May with a Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master's degree in Systems Engineering, with focuses in robotics and controls. Throughout my time at college, I participated in the cooperative education program, worked for admissions as a student tour guide, was part of numerous honor societies, and served as the Vice President of our on-campus dance club. I have started my career as a Systems Engineer at Autonodyne in Boston MA, where I integrate command and control software onto unmanned aerial vehicles. In addition to my passion for engineering, I am the External Initiatives Coordinator for Encouraging Women Across All Borders, where I help organize outreach programs to inspire confidence in young women around the world.

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