To speak… or not


With my love for MOOCs, I am currently going through Mastering the Software Engineering Interview from University of San Diego. It’s part of the specialization I am taking; otherwize I might not have tried it. I’ve just only finished the first week, and though I haven’t found anything groundbreaking in the course content, it is interesting, well structured and contains a lot of things I had to learn on my own or gather from different sources – all in one place.

What I have noticed, however, is how different some of it is from what we have learned in our universities – us meaning programmers from Ukraine. As part of the former USSR, Ukraine was never much good in education; oh, there was a lot of it, but not – how should I put it – not too practical. Comparing our education with the western countries, I can see that not only we had to endure a lot of courses we didn’t need at all, but most importantly, we missed a whole lot of things that might have been useful – AND fun.

One of those things is what Americans take as a standard – public speaking.

The first course assignment in Mastering the Software Engineering Interview was to record a video with yourself answering the standard interview question “Tell me about yourself”, targeting a specific job position. I have made four attempts and I submitted the last one. That doesn’t mean that I was satisfied with it – I was actually appalled. I just couldn’t do it anymore, so I gave up and submitted the best variant I had.

It was a peer review assignment. What kind of a reception did I get from my peers? Well let’s see.

The introduction was done well. I got to know you very well. You might have given a little too much detail for a short introduction. It seems when you first said 10 year experience you made it sound negative initially.. make it positive initially.. eye contact wasn’t sure if you were looking directly at the camera or not. Your eyes are amazing btw.. !

Well, the bit about my eyes was flattering. Taking it out, what do we see? I can’t make myself sound as if my experience was my strength! Nice. If I can’t believe it, how can an employer possibly do it? But that’s not all.

Sorry Marina but you should notice that you have to be more enthusiastic & also do not give advises to your interviewer about what a person should do, you look a bit nervous. You didn’t convey to me confidence, hope you the best 🙂

This guy does have awful grammar. (Right back at ya, huh!) But he is right, though two other peers did give a more favorable response on this point. I do not feel confident during the interviews and I didn’t feel it speaking to the camera. I couldn’t fully  get rid of nervous ticks, – use of words like “uhm” and “well” is considered to be such a “tick”. And I am not really enthusiastic. Why not? Well, because it is not in my nature and I was never taught to be so! (And all the three peers refrained from commenting on some of my facial expressions, which I noticed for the first time but which seem to be a very ingrained thing for me – I can’t seem to fix them! – so they were actually pretty soft on me.)

Through the whole course of our school years, we have been taught to listen to the teacher and to be quiet unless asked a question. It was a little different in the uni, a little more encouragement to speak up, but having never learned to speak up before, I struggled with that. There was never any course that would teach public speaking or anything like it. We weren’t taught to manage our facial expressions, to show (correct) emotion, to demonstrate interest or enthusiasm. Our whole culture isn’t demonstrative. But now that I have a job that allows me to work with clients from very different countries, I have to be able to compete with people who were taught how to do it, who were encouraged to express themselves, who weren’t afraid to stand up and speak up. Who can, in short, sell themselves.

Those three guys evaluated my assignment at 7 out of 9 points. It wasn’t a complete failure. However, Coursera also points to some resources which can be used to improve this score:

Well, at least I know where to go, right? Exciting!


About Maryna Cherniavska

I have productively spent 10+ years in IT industry, designing, developing, building and deploying desktop and web applications, designing database structures and otherwise proving that females have a place among software developers. And this is a good place.
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