Shelby Bice’s CS Surprises

Shelby Bice’s path to a CS and theatre double major

Shelby Bice

“When I was growing up in Georgia, my dad kept showing me all these articles about Rice and talking about this strong academic school in Texas,” said CS sophomore Shelby Bice. She read the articles and kept her thoughts about remaining in Georgia to herself, even when a friend’s older brother headed to Rice to play baseball.

In her freshman year of high school, her father returned to the theme. Bice said, “I asked him why Texas, and he said Rice’s residential college system is like Hogwarts. ‘OK, that’s where I’m going then,’ I told him.” Three years later, she was admitted to Rice University where she planned to pursue materials science and nanoengineering. And then came O-Week.

“Molly Reilly, a CS junior, was one of my O-Week advisors” Bice said. “Molly told everyone in our O-Week group, ‘even if you think you aren’t going to do CS, consider taking Rixner’s class anyway.’ Plus, my dad had taken Rixner’s Cousera course and recommended it. So I ended up in COMP 140 and it was actually more fun than my materials engineering course.”

Although she looked forward to meeting CS professor Scott Rixner, Bice landed in a section led by Rebecca Smith, an alumna who had completed her B.S. and M.S. degrees in CS at Rice in 2014 and 2015. “It was amazing,” said Bice. “We were taught by this incredibly smart woman –a female PhD student in CS– and the group I worked with during class was all women. Rebecca would come by and to talk with us and it was really cool. I have a lot of respect for Rebecca, and she’s a great role model.”

Bice was equally enthusiastic about Rice’s theatre community and dove into a Shakespeare play produced by the Visual and Dramatics Arts department at the end of September. “I was in a VADA show, Much Ado About Nothing, and it felt like half of the people in the cast were in CS,” she said. “I was working backstage, and while helping the guys with their costume changes, I got to know CS majors like Sean Doyle and Kevin Mullin and some other upperclassmen who had taken COMP 140, so I asked them about their majors. By the end of the show, I had decided to do both CS and Theatre.”

Even before declaring as a CS/Theatre double major at the end of her first semester, Bice began exploring technology careers. “In early September, I was talking with Molly and several other women in CS and told them I really loved COMP 140 but wasn’t sure it was something I’d want to do as a job.” The women encouraged her to talk to people in the industry, so she started going to employer events organized through the Center for Career Development.

One of the events was a pizza and coding event hosted by Spiceworks. Bice said, “The coding challenge was in SQL and other languages I wasn’t familiar with and I had to have a lot of help, but I’m pretty stubborn, so I stayed until I finished. It was just me and my friend at the end, and they asked if I wanted to interview.” She submitted her resume, but–as a freshman with only a few weeks of CS classes–she didn’t expect much. “Just after midnight, I got an email offering me an interview at 10:00 a.m.”

The interview process was a blur and Bice did not think she did well. “But a few weeks later, I was sitting with my parents in Brochstein during Families’ Weekend and I got an email with the offer.” That summer, she headed to Austin and joined two other rising sophomores, also women from Rice, as the youngest interns in the company.

“We were all on the same team,” said Bice, “which was really nice. I learned to work the full stack, front end to back end and I worked in Ruby and JavaScript even though I’d never coded in either before.” She thoroughly enjoyed working on projects, seeing them pushed to production and watching customers use them. More importantly, she discovered her calling. “Coding eight hours a day didn’t feel like work, it was a lot of fun!” she said.

Spiceworks encouraged the three rising sophomores to grow as new developers by providing tutorials as part of their work hours. “I also got very good at searching through Stack Overflow and learning to try different things,” said Bice. “That internship taught me how to fail fast, instead of spending hours trying to fix just one small thing.”

No one was more surprised than Bice when she won the Spiceworks summer intern hackathon. All interns were invited to come in on a Saturday morning and work around the clock on a project that they would like to see incorporated into the company’s product lines. “The CTO and CEO actually worked shifts as mentors,” Bice said. “Around 1:00 a.m., the CTO walked over to me and asked if I needed any help. He knew my name. It’s very much like a family.”

At noon on Sunday, the interns presented their projects to the CTO. Bice said, “I had to explain not just why it was good for our customers and the company, but also how I had designed it. I didn’t expect to win, there were 5th years (experienced undergraduates) working on projects I didn’t even understand.” She believes the key to her success was the attention she paid to why her project would benefit Spiceworks customers.

Bice brings that same intensity of focus to her CS courses, but she also gives herself room to falter. During her first semester at Rice, she heard valuable advice from another CSter (a student club for women in CS). Bice absorbed the advice and now shares it with other students. She said, “It is okay to fail. It is okay to not get a concept right away, or not get the grade you want. Just keep moving forward.”

She said the advice was timely because after COMP 140, the CS courses get a lot harder, a lot faster, and she was able to remain calm in the midst of challenges that might have otherwise overwhelmed her. Now that she’s feeling more confident about her skills, she’s ready to tackle another challenge: working for a global corporation. “I love Spiceworks,” she said. “It is a great place to work, but I’d like to try product management. I’ve heard my theatre experience—producing and designing—could be a good fit for that. So I’m headed to Seattle in the summer to work as a Microsoft Explorer Intern and where I’ll have the chance to do both product management and software development.”