How to Ace the Girls Who Code TA Interview

15 minute read

Annyeong, everyone. I’m Nayeon. (“Annyeong” means “Hi” in Korean.) If you’re a female underclassman in college pursuing Computer Science and looking for a summer internship, Girls Who Code’s Virtual Summer Immersion Program Teaching Assistant is an exciting opportunity. Long story short, I was able to pass every step and get the offer to join GWC for summer 2021 in March or so but I had to turn it down for personal reasons. In this post, I’m going to explain how I could get the offer, what my experience with the recruiting process was like, and how I got the interviewer telling me my teaching skills are “phenomenal” in the middle of the interview. Are you curious about how I prepared and what I actually did during the interview? Let’s get into it!

There are two steps.

Step 1: Apply online

Girls Who Code TA job description

On the Girls Who Code website, you will be able to see where to apply for the program. Read through the description and make sure that you meet all the qualifications and requirements.

Girls Who Code apply button

Hit the APPLY FOR THIS JOB button.

Girls Who Code application

Then, you’ll see the application page. Fill out and answer everything carefully. Make sure you do not have any errors or mistakes in the information you provide.

Girls Who Code application questions

On the application, you will see 3 questions you’re required to answer.

It says your answer shouldn’t be longer than 350 questions in length. I wanted to do really well on these so I pulled up Microsoft Word to type my answers instead of typing directly into the answer boxes. I actually thought about sharing what I wrote but I’m reluctant to do so as it’s quite personal. Instead, I’ll give you some tips:

First and foremost, be honest.

Like, literally. I know this is so cliche. But really. Do not exaggerate or overstate at all. Write what’s on your mind and what you actually have experienced. Even if you lie and pass this step, your interviewer will know that you have lied. Remember that the people who interview students for this position are professional.

Let’s dissect each question and think about how to write great answers.

  1. Why do you want to work with Girls Who Code? Why do you want to teach in the Virtual Summer Immersion Program specifically?

    Two questions.

    • Why do you want to work with Girls Who Code?
    • Why do you want to teach in the Virtual Summer Program specifically?

    It’d be great if you first read the Girls Who Code’s mission and think about how you can weave it into your answers. (Also read their inclusion statement). In short, Girls Who Code has the mission of bridging the gender gap in tech. Tech is still a male-dominated area; it’s easy to get discouraged to start Computer Science if you’re one of the few female students in your CS class. So, how should you tackle these questions now that you know their mission?

    • Think about how you got interested in Computer Science.

    Was it a supportive and encouraging high school teacher (or professor)? Was it watching an inspirational speech of a female tech CEO? Was it just that you found your interest in coding (though CS is not all about coding)?

    For me, I first went to a co-ed liberal arts college. I took Introduction to Computer Science there in my first year, and I was surprised to see there were only like 5 female students out of about 20 classmates. Although it was a small class, the population of female students taking it was still disproportionately small. I felt a bit discouraged, actually.

    Then I transferred to my current college as a sophomore, which is a women’s college where a lot of students major or minor in Computer Science or Data Science. I took Data Structures in the first semester and loved how supportive my instructors were. For me, I personally did not do well in the intro to CS class, so I struggled a lot more in the class. But I just kept pushing myself and tried to understand what was going on in the class. I got super discouraged and overwhelmed throughout the course, but I could learn a lot and successfully complete it. Ironically, I got an A on Introduction to Computer Science but an A- on Data Structures, although I said I learned a lot in Data Structures. That was when I was reminded again that grades sometimes fail to capture how much and well you have learned.

    I wrote about my experience of taking CS classes at a co-ed college and a women’s college, respectively, and talked about how it was different. Then, I mentioned the importance of encouraging instructors to get more girls involved in tech. My answer is mostly about why it’s important to empower girls and women in tech along with the explanation of my classroom experience. Lastly, I mentioned that I’d want to deliver the support I got from the instructors to the girls at Girls Who Code.

  2. Which of our core values do you believe is most important to your role as a teacher in the virtual Summer Immersion Program? Why? You can find our core values on our website.

    This is the page that explains their core values: Bravery, Sisterhood, and Activism. As you know, there is no one right answer. As long as you make the link clear between the value of your choice and your role as a teacher, you should be fine. For me, I didn’t refer to that website but saw a Facebook post about the core values, which had some different contents. On the website, there are only 3 values, but on the post I saw (it was the official post from GWC), it showed me that their core values are Girls First Leadership, Candor, Sisterhood, Quality, and Bravery. I’m not sure which post you should refer to, but I personally chose Candor.

    I decided to share my answer to this question. It’s a lot less personal than what I wrote for Q1, but please do not plagiarize:

    It is candor. I believe the only difference between other girls who haven’t learned coding and me is just that I have learned it before they have. People may think teachers are smarter than students. Indeed, they have more knowledge and experience. However, we are all lifelong learners, even if you’re in a position to teach other people. There can be embarrassing times for me: I get asked a question I don’t know the answer to, need to ask for help from other teachers or even students, or misunderstand what someone has said. It is my responsibility as a teacher and learner to be candid and patient in such situations.

    Candor is the core of learning; it’s much more critical now as we are all going through a hard time. Admitting what I don’t know, asking questions, and acknowledging my mistakes will take vulnerability and honesty, especially with the title of a mentor and teacher in the program. But it’s what I will have to face and keep doing. It would also help students become open-minded and honest when they recognize that I’m doing that. If everyone in class puts themselves in each other’s shoes, tries to be patient with one another, and holds oneself accountable, that’s when I would think to myself that I’m doing well as a teacher.

    It’s probably not the best answer ever but I hope you could sense that I was trying to be as honest as possible in my answer. Again, please do not copy the bits and pieces of my answer; please just read it to get a sense of what you would need to talk about.

    One tip I’d give you is to first explicitly write which core value you have chosen. My answer starts with “It is candor.” Make it clear which is the value of your choice before you expand your answer.

  3. What does an inclusive and supportive virtual classroom environment look like to you? What is the teacher doing and saying? What are students doing and saying?

    I was honestly running out of ideas after having finished writing my answers for the two other questions. But the way I answered this is that I wrote what I think is an “inclusive and supportive virtual classroom environment” is from the beginning till the end. I focused on a few things:

    • Everyone gets the chance to speak.
    • Students are the ones who lead class discussions.
    • Ice breakers
    • Checking in on how everyone is doing in class

    Again, there is no right answer. What you think is right would be the right answer. Feel free to be creative and think outside the box as much as you can!

Step 2: Interview

Once you pass the first step, you will be reached out by an email. You’ll be asked to select the interview time and given a project info sheet you can use to prepare. The interview is on Google Meet. If you haven’t tried the platform, make sure you sign into your Google account and open a meeting room there to see if you have any technical problems.

The interview was about 1 hour long in total. There are 3 parts:

  1. Behavioral questions
  2. Sample teach
  3. Debugging (like coding interview)

First, the interviewer introduces themselves and they will also ask you to introduce yourself briefly. Don’t get too nervous! The interviewer is also a human. Ask how they are doing before you get started.

Then, the interviewer asks about your background. For me, I explained who I am focused on my teaching experience: mentoring elementary school students through a student organization and volunteering at Women Who Code. You also get to clarify time commitment and availability.

1.1. Behavioral interview

The interviewer asks general behavioral questions. They ask how you would react in certain situations. Here are some questions I got and my answers:

  • As the instructor gets cut off and faces technical difficulties, the students get confused and don’t know what to do. What would you do?

    I would also get embarrassed for sure, but I would first calm down the girls. Maybe play a simple game or an ice breaker instead of trying to continue the session. As I’m not as professional as the instructor (because I’m a teaching assistant after all), I would not want to touch something that’s out of my abilities and deliver wrong information.

  • If you see there is a student struggling and being so frustrated, what would you do?

    I would share how I also struggled in my Computer Science class. By sharing my experience, the student would be able to open their mind as they can find the story relatable. (Then I went into the details of how I actually struggled in that class.)

I think I got about 4-5 questions here but I do not remember the rest of the questions I got, unfortunately. But the questions are all about unexpected situations and how you would handle them. I’d advise you to keep in mind that Girls Who Code’s mission is all about diversity and inclusion. Do not forget that you are there to help girls learn together, not on their own. Also, reading the interview reviews on Glassdoor will help you.

1.2. Sample teach

The project info sheet provided to you has all the information about it. It should be 10-15 minutes in length, and you should share your screen with the interviewer. You teach one of the topic & language (details are in the info sheet):

  • Tags and Elements in HTML
  • Introduction to CSS and Selectors in CSS
  • Variables in JavaScript
  • DIY Lession

For me, I chose tags and elements in HTML. You need to use visual aids, but they don’t necessarily need to be slides in my opinion. If you want to create slides on your own, you definitely can. There are the links to sample slides on the info sheet as well. Take a look at them to see what topics you’d need to cover. Also, I’m not sure if you can use the slides provided, but I wouldn’t recommend doing that. Create yours on your own rather than using the ones given to you.

I’m not a fan of slides. Then what visual aids did I use?

  • Websites

The reason I chose not to prepare slides is that if you think about it, going over all the new topics on slides and tell girls “Now, it’s your turn!” would be overwhelming. Remember that the girls are completely new to coding. They will not be able to remember everything that’s covered on the slides only once. This is why I decided to stick to other forms of resources.

Now, this is what I did for my sample teach.

  1. Showing the interviewer an image of most popular Internet browsers:

    Browsers image

    Explain browsers are things like Safari, Firefox, Chrome, and Edge.

  2. Showing The Korea Times website:

    Explain that a website is just text file. There are 3 languages we can use to write the text file: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

    The Korea Times

    I explain the structure of a page on The Korea Times: titles, images, subtitles, text. This is what HTML does: telling what is what. Telling “This is a title!,” “This is text!,” and “This is an image!”

    Then, I point out some text is green:

    Green text on The Korea Times

    This is what CSS does; it’s a design language. It decorates things.

    And I explain what JavaScript is for: it’s to add interactivity to a web page.

    Emphasize that browsers are stupid. It’s you as programmers to tell the browsers that this is a title, this is text, this is an image, this is a paragraph, and so on.

  3. Coding on HTML tag intro

    Explain how a tag is structured. I made up a tag and called it tag. Say that a tag consists of an opening and a closing tags. Tell the content should go between the opening and closing tags.

    food tag

    I made up another tag and called it food. Here, I explain pasta is food, but steak is not because of where each of them is located. Emphasize that the content should go inside the tags.

    Move on to a tags:

    a tag

    Say a tag is for links. Write out a and its content (The Korea Times, for example) as you would write other tags. Then run the code and try to click on it. Nothing happens, why?

    Because a tags needs additional information, which we call an attribute!

    a tag attribute

    Then we write href="" and run the code again. Now we can click on it and it brings us to The Korea Times. And I went into the details of an attribute.

    This is how you should teach; remember that you’re (pretending to be) teaching people new to coding. Instead of explaining everything at once, build something new from the things you have already explained. This is how I naturally transitioned into another topic: attribute.

    Next, I talk about other tags: headers, p, and span.

    Other tags

    Lastly, I go over img.

    img tag

    Explain that img is a self-closing tag. Only write the img tag without any attributes first, run the code, and show that we also need additional information for it. What’s the additional info called? Yes, “attributes”!

    img tag attributes

    Then finish by introducing attributes for img tags.

Some things you should keep in mind throughout your sample teach:

  • If you’re nervous, you may tend to talk fast. Calm yourself down, and try not to speed up.
  • Pause after you introduce each concept. Ask the interviewer who’s pretending to be students if they have any questions.
  • Refrain from remarks such as “This is easy.” At the end of my interview, the interviewer asked if I was open to feedback and I asked for one. And this is what I heard. I said “this is easy” because I didn’t want the “girls” to be scared of the new concept. But let’s think about it. When we’re new to something, it’s hard. If you say something is easy so don’t worry, it can be discouraging because the girls can think “Oh, this is what the teacher told us to be easy. But why am I not getting it?” Don’t forget that it’s assumed you are going to teach girls completely new to coding.

1.3. Coding (or debugging) challenge

After your sample teach, you’ll spend about 20 minutes for a coding-interview-like debugging problem.

For me, I got a Vanilla JS problem where I was asked to fix the functionality of a button. When we click on the button, it should have “incremented” a number on the screen. Back then, I wasn’t very familiar with VanillaJS so be sure to study HTML, CSS, and Vanilla JS (pure JavaScript without any libraries and frameworks) for your coding interview.

It’s fairly easy for a “coding interview,” so you don’t have to be worried. If you know how to code, you’re good.

Overall, it was very positive experience and I enjoyed the interview a lot. The interviewer was very friendly, and although I was a bit nervous before my interview started, I could stop feeling that way after starting to talk to them. Like I mentioned, at the end of the interview, the interviewer asked if I was willing to get feedback and I said YES! And not to sound pretentious, but the interviewer literally told me my teaching skills are “phenomenal,” and they said they really wished I were a graduating senior so that they could hire me as an instructor, not a TA. It was one of the best compliments I’ve got in my life.

The reasons I think I could get the compliments were:

  1. I focused on the idea of building the relationship with students during the behavioral part
  2. I tried a different approach than using slides; I tried to make the session interesting with images and real-world examples (The Korea Times).
  3. I used beginner-friendly teaching methods:
    • Word choice: “The browsers are stupid.
    • Natural transition from tags to attributes by saying we need to give a tag additional information

That’s it for this post! I hope this helps. When I was preparing for my interview, I really wished someone had written a detailed review of how their experience with the GWC interview was like. But I couldn’t find one, other than brief reviews on Glassdoor. So, I decided to write one.

Remember: If you believe all girls can code, you’ll be fine. Take a deep breath, and review MDN documents that cover the fundamentals of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. I do not recommend W3schools, as it’s said it’s not very accurate sometimes. But it’s up to you.

Thank you so much for reading! If you have any questions, feedback, or suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment down below. I’ll be back with another post soon!

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