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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.

EWAAB believes that diversity and inclusiveness are the cornerstones of the organization's success. We are dedicated to supporting and connecting with women and nonbinary and gender non-conforming people of all races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, disabilities, socioeconomic backgrounds, and nationalities.