My name is Zane Hasnain! I’ve been a part of the Major League Hacking (MLH) community for over half a decade now. I started attending hackathons in high school, and continued in college as a Computer Engineering major at Virginia Tech. 

During COVID, I started judging and mentoring at hackathons. I also became an organizer for VTHacks, the 10+ year running hackathon of Virginia Tech, eventually becoming the Director in 2020. More recently, I’ve been helping out at other events like Cypher, and became an MLH Coach! 

I know many students are facing challenges finding internships and jobs right now, so I wanted to share some of my advice on interning at General Mills in the hope it helps you advance your career.

My Journey Into Tech and Hackathons

I grew up poor in an abusive household and faced some challenges as someone who has chronic depression and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Growing up I never really spoke to anyone and was discouraged from being social, so it was pretty difficult for me to make friends. One of my first passions was gaming, something that has been an important part of my life even now. From this, I learned more about programming by making games, and eventually discovered software development and hackathons.

Creating a network for myself wasn’t easy. Not having people you can rely on makes it hard to put yourself out there whether it’s personally or professionally. Getting out of my comfort zone and going to hackathons, learning to process failure, and meeting other hackers was the best decision of my life. Through hackathons, I’ve made some lifelong friends, developed great technical skills, and secured an amazing internship at General Mills.

Applying & Interning at General Millls

I found out about the General Mills Software Developer Internship on RippleMatch and decided to apply. I didn’t think much about the opportunity since General Mills isn’t very well-known for their technology. The interviewer was very interested in my focus on diversity and inclusion and told me about all the different teams I could work on, which was exciting.  

Overall, the internship experience was very positive! I worked on the Blue Buffalo team, helping them develop Buddies, a pet social media app and loyalty program. I worked on a feature where instead of identifying products with barcodes, you could simply take a picture of the outside of the bag. I used computer vision, machine learning, and cloud technology for my project. It was a great success, and I presented a demo to the leadership team who were impressed!

At the conclusion of my internship, I was offered a full-time position. Unfortunately, I was not able to pursue the offer since I couldn’t afford to finish my Bachelor’s degree. I’m hoping to change this around for myself soon!

My Day as an Intern at General Mills

In the mornings, I had stand-ups with the team where we talked about things like our progress, goals, and pivots. I often scheduled coffee chats with employees I was interested in meeting to learn more about their work and projects. During lunch, I tried to eat with my co-workers or other interns to be social and keep in touch. Later in the day, I continued programming and referenced my project plan to make sure I was on track and prepared for the following day’s work.

During my internship, I met tons of amazing people from the CEO to project managers to senior developers working with up-in-coming technologies. It was also cool to meet people working on interesting projects such as the Box Tops Digitization project and getting to sample new/unreleased products.

Deep Dive Into the Application Process

The application process consisted of a phone interview, a behavioral interview, and a technical interview with an engineer. General Mills has internship opportunities for students in business, sales, manufacturing, food science, etc.

My main interviewing tip is to be yourself! Often I see people who become nervous during interviews since they’re trying to appear a certain way to the interviewer but in my opinion, it becomes way less stressful if you approach it as having a conversation rather than an interview where you’re trying to impress someone.

One common interview question I’ve gotten is, “What’s your biggest weakness?”. I see people try to dodge the question or try to turn it into a pure positive but I think it’s completely fine to be honest about where your weaknesses lie. It shows self-awareness and reflection when you’re honest, and you can still create a good outcome by expressing how you’ve tried to improve on your weak points.

Don’t forget interviews aren’t just about you! You’re interviewing the company to learn more about them and see whether they fit your needs. Ask about salary, benefits, and thoughtful questions about the role like “What is your favorite project you’ve worked on?”. I see tons of people who don’t take the opportunity at the end of an interview to ask questions, which is a bad sign to an interviewer.

Using Hackathons to Showcase Your Leadership & Technical Skills

When I’m applying or interviewing for roles, I talk about my hackathons experience to showcase my leadership experience and to show my technical abilities. As someone who’s organized and directed a hackathon, I make sure to talk about my experience public speaking, mentoring, and leading people whether it’s a hackathon team or a team of organizers.

Naturally at hackathons, you’re exploring and utilizing tons of technologies. I make sure to list the ones I’m the most experienced with on my resume and showcase the skills most relevant to the role in my interviews. 

To make the most out of your hackathon experience, talk to as many people as possible. It sounds extremely obvious but I often see many attendees who go straight into their projects without taking the time to talk with company sponsors, workshop hosts, judges, or other hackers. At hackathons, you meet all kinds of people, and with that comes many potential opportunities that you might not expect. Winning a hackathon is great, but getting a job offer from someone you meet at a hackathon is life-changing!

Navigating the Economic Downturn as Job Seeker

It’s definitely difficult right now with many companies downsizing, but my main advice is to put yourself out there in as many ways as possible. Try to get active on social media and follow some cool developers, attend hackathons/conferences or try to just make something cool outside of class!

Recruiters are looking for candidates who stand out and the best way to do that is to showcase all of your strengths as a person, not just as a developer. Anyone can code, but maybe you’re interested in forming your own company? Maybe you’d like to volunteer and help a group of people? Perhaps you want to give back to a community that’s important to you. 

Show that you’re a well-rounded individual with long-term goals and that you have ambitions you want to pursue! Companies aren’t just hiring developers, they’re hiring people who have the values/interests they align with so show them the kind of amazing person you are through your work outside the classroom. 

Interested in attending hackathons?

Join us for an upcoming hackathon, and subscribe to our hacker newsletter. Stay connected with Zane on LinkedIn!