Disclaimer: This syllabus may evolve over the course of the semester.


Welcome to the Fall 2023 session of Grinnell College’s CSC 281, a course entitled Thinking Beyond Grinnell—Learning from CS Alumni. In this course, we will meet virtually with alumni with careers related to computer science who will talk about their life and career paths, and will provide advice for students on things to learn and things to do.

This year, we’re trying a new focus for the course. In addition to learning from the alumni, we will also work with the alumni to build your skills at technical interviewing.

The focus of the class is the visits by alumni. While in some years some of these visits will involve alumni coming directly to campus, this year, all of our visits will be online via Webex.

The Web site for the course is You find find some interesting things on the course web, and I’d encourage you to look there.

Some basics

Samuel A. Rebelsky. Cell 641-990-2947. Office hours TBD.
Tu 2:30–3:50 p.m. CDT in Science 3813

Overall course structure

Each week (except the first, possibly the last, and weeks that we don’t have class), between two and three students will participate in a recorded mock technical interview with either an alumni or with SamR. Students not selected to participate in the recorded interview will either serve as the interviewer or interviewee on a similar question or set of questions. All students should also review the recorded interviews and be prepared to debrief on them.

Each week, we’ll try to focus on a different aspect of technical interviews (e.g., asking questions, debugging, designing algorithms, testing).

In class, we will hear from an alum about their professional lives and then debrief on the technical interviews.

Most alumni visits will be remote, using Teams, WebEx, or Zoom. If possible, I will try to schedule a few in-person visits.

After each class session, students should submit a short (one or two paragraphs) reflection on what they took away from class.

Structure of individual class sessions

A typical class session will consist of the following.

  • Any introductory remarks from Professor Rebelsky.
  • An introduction to the first speaker.
  • A fifteen-minute “life story” by the first speaker.
  • An introduction to the second speaker.
  • A fifteen-minute “life story” by the second speaker.
  • Questions and answers.
    • From the students to the speakers.
    • From the speakers to the students.
  • A debrief on the recorded interviews.
    • A short session in which students discuss their own comments in small groups.
    • Comments from the alumni on what they observed / what suggestions they might have.
    • A short reflection from the interviewees on the experience.
    • Comments from other students on additional issues they observed.
    • Some open discussion, focusing on the particular aspect we are considering that week.
  • Discussion.
  • Additional practice (if there’s time).

For this structure to be successful, students must be actively engaged in the class. In particular, they must be active in developing thoughtful questions for the speakers and in responding to questions from the speakers. They must also be thoughtful in their reflections on their peers’ interviews.

Additional issues


This course is offered for one credit and is graded as S/D/F. All students who take the course are expected to do the following. Since Grinnell expects that each one-credit course require 45 hours of work, I have annotated each expectation with the approximate time it will take.

  • attend all the class meetings (13 weeks x 1.5 hours = ~19 hours);
  • participate in a recorded mock technical interview with SamR or one of the alumni (1 hour);
  • review those interviews (11 weeks x 30 minutes = ~6 hours);
  • lead or participate in weekly peer mock interviews (10 weeks x 60 minutes = 10 hours);
  • weekly learning reflections
  • other miscellaneous tasks, such as preparing to lead interviews (~ 9 hours)


My goal is to help you learn as much as possible in this course; please let me know what I can do meet your learning needs. If you have a disability that requires accommodations, please contact Disability Services. Disability Resources will work with you to determine your needs, and will provide you with paperwork outlining the accommodations you require. Please give me this paperwork at least a week before the course activity for which you need accommodations. If this timeline is not feasible for any reason, please contact me as soon as possible and we will work together to find a solution.

You can find additional information on my approaches to accommodations in an appendix to this syllabus.

Religious observance policy

Grinnell College acknowledges and embraces the religious diversity of its faculty, students and staff. Faculty and students share responsibility to support members of our community who observe religious holidays. Students will provide faculty members with reasonable notice of the dates of religious holidays on which they will be absent, and this notice would be expected to occur no later than the third week of the term. Faculty members will make reasonable efforts to accommodate students who need to be absent from examinations or class due to religious observance. Students are responsible for completing any part of the course work, including examinations, they have missed due to religious observance, and faculty members are responsible for giving them the opportunity to do so. (Approved by the Faculty, September 21, 2009)

Textbooks / references

There are no required textbooks for this class. However, I recommend that you consider reviewing the following text, which has an excellent reputation. Unfortunately, it has not been updated in a few years.

Laakmann McDowell, Gayle (2015). Cracking the Coding Inteview (6th Edition). CareerCup.

More recommendations to follow.


Since most of the learning happens in class, class attendance is expected. However, I understand that things do come up. Please do your best to notify me in advance if you will need to miss class on a day.


You will rarely have an opportunity to participate in communal question-and-answer sessions with alumni or other CS professionals. Experience suggests that our alums are fairly open in their responses, willing to share the bad as well as the good. As a member of this class, you should participate actively in the Q&A sessions, formulating and asking questions and responding to questions when asked.

Note that “asking questions” is an important skill for you to develop. Listening carefully to someone and synthesizing a question based on what they said helps you form connections.

We also have a discussion board on the class Team. I do not require you participate in those discussions, but I encourage you to do so. You’ll learn more chatting with others about what you’ve seen or learned (it may even help you write the daily reflections).

Academic honesty

As students, you are members of the academic community. Both the College and I expect the highest standards of academic honesty, as explained in the Grinnell College Student Handbook.

You are permitted to discuss any and all assignments with your colleagues.

Frequently (and not-so-frequently) ask questions

Do we have a final?


Does everyone pass?

Everyone who regularly attends class, participates in class, and participates in practice interviews passes. Those who don’t, don’t pass.

If I ask a question, will it show up on the syllabus?