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Suggestions for summer (#1067)

Topics/tags: Miscellaneous, Things I was writing anyway

The pandemic has brought complications and difficulties to many (all). I lack much of the knowledge and skills necessary to help others, but I can sometimes provide a bit of advice to a more limited audience. Right now, many Grinnell CS majors are facing the challenge of what to do this summer. Some had their internships canceled. Some were waiting for an offer that never came through. Some still hadn’t figured out what to do this summer and now nothing is available; things changed quickly.

The CS department and its faculty have been hearing the natural question from students: What should I do now? This musing serves as my draft of a message to go out to our students [1]. I may even try to keep it up to date as I get more suggestions [2].

Dear CS Students,

I hope that you are well (physically, mentally, and emotionally)—or at least as well as you can be—during these troubling times and that your semesters are wrapping up successfully.

We’ve been receiving questions about what to do this summer from many of you, particularly those who have lost summer internships. Unfortunately, we are unlikely to be able to provide any additional opportunities through the CS department (we did ask). But we’re happy to try to support you in thinking through other possibilities.

I’ve heard that there are still some remote internships on Handshake. It’s worth checking there. I don’t know how many, if any, of those are paid, but they could be good experiences in any case. CLS might be able to provide some funding, but I’m not sure how much. It may be worth reaching out to Sarah Barks for advice.

We know that some of you need to make money to support yourselves or your families. Unfortunately, we can’t provide you with any good advice for finding either remote or local jobs. Please know that our thoughts are with you.

We’ve been told that the $2400 scholarship grants that the College has been giving out are intended to offset your expected summer work contributions. I don’t know if that makes things less anxiety-inducing, but I hope it does.

Okay, on to ideas of what you might do (related to computing) if you have some time. Most of these are to build skills, knowledge, or lines on your résumé; they won’t provide immediate benefits beyond the joy of learning or, in some cases, of helping others.

  • You might develop a personal project. That is, identify a piece of software that you would use and that is not available (or not affordable or open source) and then build it.

  • You might contribute to an open-source project. Find something meaningful to you and start to dig in. Read the source code. Join the discussion group. Look at the bug reports and feature requests. See how you can help. If you’re not sure where to get started with open source, there are a few sites designed to help.

    There are, of course, others.

  • You might teach yourself a new language or a new framework. (You can even do this in the context of your personal project or open-source project.) Or you might delve more deeply into a language you already know. I have no idea what is hot right now, but I have heard that it’s good to know React. We don’t teach phone app development in our curriculum, so you might try that. Smalltalk was one of the first real object-oriented languages and its modern versions can still help you think differently about programming.

  • You might do some of the practice problems in the collections of good problems out there, perhaps in a new language or a new framework. Here are some.

    That list reflects my historical knowledge; I admit that I don’t have a good sense of what people use now.

  • You might start a ’blog on technology or programming or something like that. I know very little about good ’blogging (and I’m probably the only person left in the world who puts an apostrophe at the start of ’blog to acknowledge that it’s a contraction of weblog). Philip Kiely knows a lot, and has a book out that might help, which you can find at I expect that if you are a Grinnell student and send PK a note, he would send you a free copy.

  • You might create resources for your peers. For example, do interviews with a dozen CS alums and gather information from those interviews. (You could build the list of languages and frameworks to learn that I was unable to present above.) Sarah Barks says that things like alumni profiles or tips for future CS students could find a home on the STEM Career Community GrinnellShare subsite: As you might expect, I’d prefer a more public location.

  • You might work your way through one or more great texts in CS. One favorite is, of course, Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, I like Sandi Metz’s Practical Object-Oriented Design in Ruby,, to gain a broader idea of OOP beyond what we teach in 207 (and even 324, although perhaps it’s just a different view than 324). You might find it interesting to read the original Design Patterns book. The Association of Computing Machinery has a list of 25 classics at

    Speaking of the ACM, I would strongly encourage you to consider a student ACM membership which, at last count, gives you access to O’Reilly’s Safari platform. I know the Metz book is on it, as are most of the O’Reilly titles and much more. If the $18 membership fee is a stretch, let me know and I’ll pay it for you. (This offer applies only to Grinnell students.)

  • You could try one of the popular MOOCs for learning something new (and for getting practice with online learning). EdX and Coursera are two of the most popular platforms. I think both of them still have free options, but they may be hidden.

Philip Kiely tells me that he has a YouTube video on Side Hustles for CS Majors, available at I have not watched it, but it’s only eleven minutes of your time, so you might find something of use.

That’s about it for now. Make sure that you also find ways to take care of your physical, emotional, and mental wellness! Go out for a walk. Do yoga. Video chat with friends. Whatever works for you.


– SamR, for the CS department

p.s. The ideas in this message were developed in collaboration with the faculty in the CS department. Sarah Barks and Philip Kiely provided additional suggestions. (I, not Philip, suggested his book. Philip suggested his video.)

p.p.s. I plan to post this message to my ’blog. If I get suggestions and corrections, I may update the posting. You should be able to find it at

Postscript: Follow-up messages from May 13.

  1. There are new remote positions being posted daily on Handshake. Students can even sort postings using the the term remote. Applications for CLS funding for remote, summer internships are open and are being accepted on a rolling basis until funds are depleted. Grinnell College students, faculty & staff can find out more on the CLS Grinnell Share site. The CLS advisers continue to help students navigate a wide variety of summer options!

  2. The US Census still seems to be hiring. (Note: While contributing to the accuracy of the census, particularly in commuities that are traditionally underrepresented on the census, is a wonderful act of citizenship, it does appear to be a risky occupation.)

Postscript: It appears that my Markdown processor (pandoc) does no like nested bulleted lists with spaces in the outer lists, but not the inner lists. I had to rewrite my post a bit to get it to work.

Postscript: Here’s what the legendary Patrick McKenzie of Stripe says about Philip’s book on his Twitter feed.

Writing for Software Developers launched today.

It’s a book which includes both structured practical advice on form factor, writing style, etc, and also interviews with various writers, including @matt_levine and yours truly.

I’ll give two obligatory comments:

  1. Writing is a professional skill that makes literally every professional more dangerous, in much the same way that learning to code does. I heartily endorse leveling up at it, for everyone.
  1. The concept for this book is great as a business, in ways which are not necessarily obvious.

It’s an artifact for the consumption of software developers which includes basically no software.

It’s a book about writing which intentionally anti-targets 99.99% of writers.

Why? Because constraining the topic to the needs of software developers specifically makes the artifact much better (you know you’re writing for someone who cares about e.g. blog posts to get senior developer jobs and not midlist fiction, and can tailor advice appropriately).

And note that you certainly could have hypothetically written Writing For $PROFESSION for literally any profession but choosing Software Developers means you structurally have a client who has effectively infinite budget for books which deliver career effectiveness.

This lets you clears throat Charge More.

I like the first obligatory comment, although I’d switch it for Grinnell students.

Programming is a professional skill that makes literally every professional more dangerous, in much the same way that learning to write well does. I heartily endorse leveling up at it, for everyone, if only to understand the stuff that is changing your world.

In any case, Congratulations Philip!

Postscript: What does it suggest when I discover that all but one of the issues that Grammarly identified in this musing were in that quoted set of Tweets? I think it means that Grammarly has beaten me into submission.

[1] More precisely, I drafted the letter in musing form. Then I sent the letter. Then I posted the musing.

[2] Assuming I get more suggestions. (I did.)

Version 1.0 released 2020-05-12.

Version 1.2 of 2020-06-03.