Finding the Confidence to Try New Things in Computing

Break Through Tech organized two career development programs for 111 undergrads in January
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For University of Maryland freshman Valerie Yen, interning with Ticketmaster in January 2023 provided a powerful reminder that she has the skills to execute a technical computing project—even on a tight deadline.

“When I did the Guild program with Break Through Tech last summer, I was shocked by the quality of the product we were able to put out at the end of the week,” Yen said. “I found the same thing when I did my Sprinternship with Ticketmaster—when I put my mind to it, I can figure it out.”

Taking on Business Challenges with Sprinternship™

Launched in January 2022 at UMD, the Sprinternship program is part of Break Through Tech’s mission to propel more students who identify as women and nonbinary into tech careers. First- and second-year computing students are matched with host organizations in the D.C. area to spend three weeks immersed in their workplace cultures while tackling assigned business challenges.

Yen, who plans to double major in computer science and immersive media design, collaborated with a team of UMD and George Mason University students to visualize database metrics for Ticketmaster’s season ticket sales application, Archtics, and build a Slackbot that sends reports about the databases. Their goal was to improve the efficiency of Ticketmaster’s sports ticket sale systems.

“Obviously, we didn’t know anything about Ticketmaster’s infrastructure coming into this. We had to learn how the office works, how to use Grafana software for data visualization and how to create a Slackbot,” Yen said. “Making something the team can actually use coming out of this Sprinternship, that’s impressive. That’s exciting to me.”

Yen explained that knowing which databases are available and “healthy” will enable Ticketmaster’s site reliability engineers (SREs) to optimize and tune database processes so that customers can purchase tickets as smoothly as possible. Ticketmaster SREs can now take the groundwork that their Sprinterns laid to improve their database monitoring processes. 

“All of our Sprinterns did such an amazing job, better than we could have expected,” said Hillary McTigue, vice president of engineering at Ticketmaster. “We can’t wait to do this program again. It’s just been such a rewarding experience.”

Choosing Your Own Computing Adventure with Career Launch

While Sprinterns were busy making industry connections and working on business challenges, another group of UMD students used the winter break to explore technical interests.

When Sprinternship applications closed in October, 220 UMD students had applied for 58 spots in the program. Faced with this challenge, the Break Through Tech team decided to innovate. Turning away students did not feel true to the mission, said Break Through Tech Career Access Lead Caitlin Rudy.

“I knew that our team could come up with a great alternative that would still allow these students who did not get into Sprinternship to have that chance to complete a project and add to their résumés,” Rudy said.

Rudy worked closely with Break Through Tech Curriculum Innovation Lead Elias Gonzalez to develop and pilot a new program called Career Launch—which Rudy likes to call a “choose-your-own-adventure” project-based program. To kick off these projects, students were divided into groups to decide on the area they wanted to focus on for three weeks. They were given the liberty to choose any area of technology and any topic of their interest to pursue during the program.

One group discovered a mutual interest in machine learning and chose to develop a machine-learning tool that can predict heart disease. Starting with raw data from a 2020 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey that they accessed through Kaggle, the four students met daily to change the raw data into a clean data set, create data visualizations and analyze their results to see how well each classifier model they applied predicted heart disease. For team member Sophie Tsai, the experience reinforced her fascination with machine learning and taught her what effective group work looks like.

“Career Launch has been a really great opportunity to try things that I might have been a bit scared or hesitant to do on my own,” said Tsai, a sophomore computer science major. “The structure helped me to set aside that time and push myself to explore machine learning. Our group worked really well together to come up with our own ideas independently and then incorporate them into a cohesive final product.”

Inspired by their work during winter break, Tsai and her team plan to keep up the momentum—and continue their project—to see where it takes them from here.

“We still want to create a front-end user interface application so that people can find out whether they’re predisposed to heart disease, but we didn’t have the time,” Tsai said. “We are all checking our calendars to see how we can find time to keep working together this semester, and I can’t wait to see what this turns into.” 

Written by Katie Bemb

Are you interested in getting involved with Break Through Tech? Email breakthroughtech [-at-] umd [dot] edu () to get more information on our career programming and how your organization can be part of building a more inclusive tech ecosystem.


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