Break the Algo helps students to think big

Too often, students think they will never land their dream job. To break that pattern, students Asfandyar Azhar (Data Science) and Marissa Manago (Computer Science) founded Break the Algo. The association stimulates students to aim high and to challenge themselves. Also, it provides them with the necessary skills to land their dream job or internship.

photo privécollectie

When the students appear on the Teams-screen, a huge space behind them shows. It is the Tesla factory in Tilburg, where they are both currently doing an internship. Getting there wasn’t that easy, Azhar says. “I applied seven times. The seventh time they hired me.” When he was in, he helped Manago to get an internship at the company too. It illustrates what Break the Algo stands for: aiming high, facing up to challenges, not giving up and helping each other out.

The association fills a gap that, according to the students exists between the university and the industry. “At the Career Academy you can get some support with your resume and things like that, but they mainly focus on the Dutch market,” Azhar says. “They don’t prepare you for technical interviews, which are often needed for big international companies. At some interviews you have to code something on the spot. Doing that with time pressure and your potential future employer in front of you can be quite nerve racking.” The students felt that the opportunity to practice those types of interviews was lacking at the university, and decided to set up mock interview sessions themselves.

Cutting edge

That initial idea turned into a thriving association with around 200 ambitious members, who encourage each other to challenge themselves in relation to their career. They check each other’s resumes and write whole paragraphs to each other about how to improve them, Manago says. “They tell each other not to be afraid to brag about things.” There’s some kind of ‘can-do’ vibe going on, the student explains. “When someone wants to get a job or internship at a cutting edge company, all the others will say: do it. No one will ever tell you not to do something because it’s too hard, or to take the easy road.”

The fact that students tend to advise each other not to do something because it’s too hard, stems from insecurity, Azhar and Manago think. Manago: “A lot of students suffer from the impostor syndrome. That often makes people feel they are not qualified, which makes them think that others aren’t qualified either. That way a culture is created in which students are actually warning each other not to face up to certain challenges.” She sees it as her duty to change that culture. “We encourage students to be ambitious.”

Not specialized enough

If you want to be ambitious, it makes sense to aim for big, international companies, the students believe. “And we don’t mean Philips and ASML,” Azhar says. “Those may be big players in the industry, especially in Eindhoven, but they pay interns really badly. While companies like Google, Uber, Tesla and Adyen sometimes pay three or four times as much for internships.” Also the type of projects you get to work on as an intern at ASML and Philips are usually limited to thesis work or are not specialized enough for some, Manago adds. “Because of that, as a student you don’t get to work on cutting edge projects with the most impact. At other companies you do sometimes get that opportunity.” Part of their mission is to let students know that they can become top talent not only in the Eindhoven region, but also for big tech companies abroad.

If more TU/e students ended up working at cutting edge companies, it would reflect positively on the university, Azhar believes. “Future students then know: if I study at the TU/e, I can end up working at one of those companies too.” He would like there to be a dedicated location on campus that companies and students can visit all year round, where companies can go to recruit students and conduct interviews. For that he takes the first initiative: Break the Algo soon invites Tesla and Adyen to campus for recruitment events, and Netflix for a lunch lecture. Upcoming events are announced on the Break the Algo page of My Future.

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