Last year, I attended the Richard Tapia Conference in Washington D.C. The Tapia Conference is an annual computing conference held in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Students and professionals in computing fields come to the conference to host and attend workshops, share research, connect with diverse perspectives, and explore career opportunities. Caltech provides opportunities for students to travel to conferences such as the Tapia Conference, Grace Hopper conference, and SWE conference free of cost. I was part of a group of 25 students from Caltech who attended Tapia. I landed on Tuesday and the conference began on Wednesday and ran through Friday. As my first in-person conference and career fair, I learned a lot about how professionals in the industry work and interact and how to better prepare and present myself for future career opportunities. Overall I would highly recommend the experience. Here’s a brief overview of what my experience was like.
My roommate and I did a covid test and checked into the conference in the morning. As the morning was relatively free, we went to the DC CityCenter (<10 min walk from the hotel) after getting our badges to walk around and window shop. In the afternoon, we returned to the convention center to attend a short presentation about quantum computing. Around 6pm, there was a welcoming ceremony where various speakers gave their thoughts and advice surrounding the Tapia conference and connecting with others. Later that night was the start of the career fair, which had about an even mix of graduate schools and companies looking to connect with students. The first night’s career fair was very crowded and hectic. I practiced by talking to some grad schools and smaller companies to get a better sense of what questions to ask. Most companies had QR codes to input contact information as an indication of interest and to keep track of people who connected with them at the conference. I accumulated a bunch of swag, and then we went back to our room and ordered Dominos, which we enjoyed on an 8th floor balcony overlooking the faux-outdoors hotel lobby.
I had an interview the next morning in a curtained booth in the same location as the career fair. After the interview, I had lunch, a turkey sandwich that (in Emily’s words) would have really benefited from a tomato, with a few other Caltech students before going to check out some student research poster presentations. There was a diverse range of research topics. I found some cool ones including a poster about the correlation between musical ability and the ease of learning coding and another one about how STEM students of different genders perceived their ability to succeed and receive fair treatment in STEM careers.
In the afternoon, I returned to the career fair, which had been running most of the day, to talk with a few more companies I hadn’t had a chance to the night before. Most memorable was the Duolingo booth which was asking students to show them if they had a streak in exchange for their free water bottle. Later, I went to a panel about product management where four women from various companies (2 from Microsoft, 1 from Meta, 1 from Snapchat) shared their experiences transitioning from software to PM. Product and program management was a role I hadn’t known much about before but was intrigued to learn more about.
The career fair was closed on the third day, but several companies were holding one-on-one interviews and chats. I went to chat with an IBM manager to learn more about their research and development opportunities for the summer. I went to another panel called “What I wish someone told me” about navigating early career in tech. More than anything, the panelists emphasized the importance of communication and using opportunities to connect with others by both talking about your work and interests and learning about what others are doing and interested in. After that panel, I caught the tail end of a snack chat event being hosted by Dropbox. Finally done and tired, I went back to the hotel for a nap before getting dinner in downtown DC with some friends. Later that night, the conference closed with a festive dance party with presenters and attendees alike.