Yifeng Zhu: Voices of Penn Engineering Master’s Alumni
This is the first of a series of articles, written by Penn Engineering alums in their own words, of their Penn experiences and how the University shaped their lives. Our first article is written by Yifeng (Daisy) Zhu, who graduated with a Master of Science in Engineering (M.S.E.) in Computer and Information Science in 2015. She currently works in the San Francisco Bay area as a software engineer at Google.
I originally grew up in a coastal city in China called Ningbo. I went to the East China Normal University in Shanghai, and majored in Software Engineering. Since my first year in college, like every other college kid in China, I was busy adapting into a brand new life, and making new friends. I was also exploring all the fun stuff Shanghai had to offer. However, at the back of my mind, I wanted to go overseas to see what life looked like outside of China.
During my sophomore year, our university established an exchange program with Colorado State University (CSU), where students could continue their studies for their junior and senior years. Moreover, students would get degrees from both universities upon graduation. I applied and was lucky to be chosen. That opportunity allowed me to explore the life in the U.S., and also laid the foundation for my future study at Penn.
At CSU, I became more outgoing as I learned to mingle with different kinds of people. I studied hard and played hard. I also decided I want to go a little further in my field of study, so I started to look around for good master’s programs. I read about Penn online, and also learned more about it from my CSU professors and classmates.
Why did I choose to come to Penn? Penn was attractive to me as one of the Ivy League schools. It is also located in a nice, walkable, historic and culture-rich city. The history of Penn attracted me — it was founded by Benjamin Franklin, America’s First Engineer, and the tradition of engineering education there goes back more than 100 years.
The Computer and Information Science (CIS) program offers lots of pretty cool courses, such as Software Systems, Internet & Web Systems, Algorithms, and Machine Learning. The curriculum also offered flexibility for me to explore other courses on my own. All these factors contributed to me selecting Penn as my top choice.
During the two years I spent at Penn, all the courses I took have proven equally valuable to me. It is hard for me to pick the best among them, but I particularly enjoyed the Software Systems course, where I learned the key concept of how multiple computers can connect and work together; Internet & Web Systems, where I learned how to build my own web search engine; Algorithms, where I learned all those fundamental algorithm concepts; and the artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing classes that introduced me to the exciting world of data science.
In addition to taking courses, I also worked as a teaching assistant in the Databases and Software Systems classes. Being a TA required me to gain a more thorough understanding of course materials in order to handle all sorts of related questions from the students. I owe special thanks to Professors Val Tannen and Boon Thau Loo for giving me the opportunity to be a TA, which was a totally different experience compared to coursework.
One more thing I want to mention about Penn is its career fair. Penn has very good resources for helping their students to find internship or full-time jobs: I made good use of the alumni connections on our alumni database, and many companies conduct their first round interviews on campus, which was very convenient. I still remember wearing a suit for class just after finishing an on-campus interview!
Fast-forward to my life today. I am currently in the San Francisco Bay area, where there is lots of California sunshine. I try to be outside every day, hiking to the Mission Peak, enjoying the San Francisco view from the top of Twin Peaks, exploring Golden Gate Bridge, Santa Cruz beach, Carmel Town and other places.
Of course, the Bay Area is also about booming technology, and plentiful opportunities for people working in the tech field.
I am currently a member of a team at Google working on the Google job discovery service. In a nutshell, this service aims to connect people with relevant jobs that they are seeking. I work on the “backend” portion of this cloud service, meaning the search engine software that enables the service. Unlike generic keyword search, the job discovery
search engine is more complex, since it requires sophisticated machine learning algorithms that take as input job titles, acronyms, company information, search location, in order to return meaningful search results to job seekers. Our machine learning algorithms have to be both accurate and fast, so that users can get the most relevant job postings within a short response time. Every day, I utilize what I have learned in the Internet web systems, algorithms, artificial intelligence, and machine learning classes that I took at Penn.
Within Google, we have a very good culture of collaboration between teams. You can even ping Googlers anywhere in the world with questions, and they will get back to you very promptly. There are lots of new ideas coming up every day, and many learning resources are available to help Googlers become more skilled at our work. My goal in life is to develop cool and innovative products that would help other people, and working at Google helps me do that.