Almajnouni has built Songify, her own song-recommendation web app. She explains that mentioning a pet project such as this when meeting with a recruiter can make a lasting impression, which is exactly what she did at the ICS Industry Showcase last year. She made personal connections at the two-day event, talking with recruiters about her passion for coding — including when she met with a representative from CoStar. She has since secured a job at the commercial real estate data company and is ready to hit the ground running when she starts her new role there as an associate software engineer later this month.
What made you decide to major in software engineering?
I didn’t come in as a software engineering major — or any other ICS major. I came in as a chemistry major, but after my first chemistry class, I wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted to do. College is a time for experimenting and exploring, so there’s been a couple of changes to my major.
Initially, because UCI was one of the first schools to offer data science — which was pretty new back in 2018 — I thought I’d look into it and switch majors. But first, I had to take a couple of programming classes to meet the requirements. That’s when I ended up taking my first programming class, and I thought, “This is it! This is what I want to do!”
So unlike a lot of students who start out as computer science majors at UCI, having learned programming in high school, ICS 31 was my first introduction to computing coding of any kind. But I liked the fact that there wasn’t just one way to approach problem solving. With coding, there are multiple ways to get the exact same solution, which gives me room to explore my creativity. So I ended up majoring in software engineering and minoring in human-computer interaction.
Have you had a favorite professor or class at UCI?
I love all the professors for human-computer interaction. They have a passion for accessibility and human interaction, recognizing the importance of the user experience, and I feel like they’ve transferred that passion to me. I think about HCI in my daily life now. For example, I’ll notice when a cup isn’t very accessible and wonder how we could fix it!
When I’m designing apps, I ask, “Would this be considered accessible if I code it this way?” That’s something the HCI professors really instilled in me. Accessibility isn’t just a box to check off; it’s more a way of thinking about how to design for everyone. As designers or coders, your products or programs are your baby, so you want them to be perfect in every way.
Speaking of learning, can you talk about your work as a UCI Math CEO mentor?
I wanted to be involved in volunteering in any way possible, so I spent a bit of time teaching kids how to solve math problems. And it was very interesting, because when I first started teaching them all these concepts, I would talk to them like they understood what a variable is. Then, when I asked if they had any questions before I moved on, this one boy asked, “What is X?”
I was used to teaching my classmates, so I realized I had to break everything down, because these students didn’t even know what a variable was. But that’s how I learned to break things down for myself as well. If there’s something I’m having trouble understanding, I just break it down!
Can you talk about your membership in Women in Information and Computer Sciences (WICS) at UCI?
I urge anyone who is a tech major at UCI to attend all of the WICS events, because they are very resourceful — and fun! They get representatives from all over, from Amazon to Google. At one event, we all sat at tables, each with an industry representative, and worked on a puzzle. One of my friends was in a group with a representative from Meta, and later on, the rep contacted her to say they were impressed by how she solved the puzzle and wanted her to interview for an internship.
WICS events — they also have coffee talks and information sessions — help you build your network and make personal connections with recruiters. You can talk directly with the source, asking questions about what they look for in a candidate. Our WICS club is really active here in ICS, which I think distinguishes UCI form other universities.
Can you also talk about your experience at the ICS Industry Showcase?
Honestly, it’s one of the best events at UCI for ICS students who are looking for internships or getting ready to graduate, or who are current grad students. I printed out like 20 copies of my resume, prepared a little elevator pitch about myself, and attended a couple of the information sessions. Then, I went to talk with the companies at the fair, asking them about what they do and introducing myself, seeing how I would be a great fit for what they do.
I urge people to step out of their comfort zone a little when talking to a recruiter, rather than just passing on their resume. Build a personal connection and distinguish yourself by selling yourself and telling them something interesting, something that sets you apart. After I would meet each of the recruiters, I would send them an email about a specific thing that I connected with them about. And they’d respond, “I remember you!” It’s crucial to reach out within the first 24 hours, when the event is still fresh in their mind. Making that impression helps a lot, and then keep in touch with them. I actually got a lot of replies — and two job offers — out of connections made at the industry showcase.
What will you be doing in your new role at CoStar?
I’ll be an associate software engineer. I’ll be helping the software engineering team build the architecture and the software for CoStar, which has a bunch of subsidiary companies, such as apartments.com. Their newest acquired software is homes.com, so that’s the team I’ll be working under. I start this month!
What are your future goals?
Eventually, I would like to find something that merges all the skills I’ve learned at UCI — the technical skills and programming languages and design concepts — with my people skills. I worked last summer as a technical product management intern, and I really enjoyed bridging that gap between the technical skills and the managers. I love interacting with people, and I also love coding, so I’d love to merge the two.
Do you have any advice for prospective students hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Don’t give up something just because it’s hard. That’s not a good enough reason. If I had, I wouldn’t have even made it through my first year! This isn’t easy, but try to enjoy the challenge. Know that you can do it, and go for it!
Also, network, network, network. Use all of the resources that UCI has to offer because they have great resources. Attend the career fair, visit the career center, join a club. If you’re into data science, there’s Data@UCI. There is a club for everything, and they have great events, like hackathons [such as Hack at UCI or VenusHacks].
Then display what you know through a personal project. Your capstone project is one way to display your knowledge, but then also work on something in your free time. Saying that you learned a certain language is not sufficient. What have you built with it? Find a problem that you face in your in your day-to-day life and work on a solution.
So I thought about a little struggle for me, which was that I would always ask my friends for song recommendations, but I didn’t always like the songs they suggested. “What can I do? I’m a programmer. I have coding skills.” So I used Spotify to generate a bunch of recommendations based on a single song. Then I created a web app to generate more recommendations based on that single song. The app will preview the song, and you can decide if you like it or not. If you don’t like it, the app will generate another option. You can then add all of the songs you like to a playlist in your Spotify account.
That project became my baby. Now, I talk about it whenever I get the chance, not just to recruiters but to everyone who likes to hear new music! I’m very proud of it. It’s something simple, but it’s the little things that matter.
— Shani Murray