Xilin Liu wins CS Senior Merit Award

Xilin Liu portraitXilin (pronounced “schee-lin” but just call him “X”) Liu did not travel from North Carolina to Rice to major in computer science, much less preside over its largest student club, or win the department’s Senior Merit Award. “I planned to major in Physics,” he said, “even though my parents said I wouldn’t get a job in physics.”

Then he took COMP 182 in his second semester. “Luay [Nakhleh] was teaching it and it was fun,” said Liu. “I liked solving the algorithms and a friend from North Carolina was taking it at the same time.”

As a sophomore, Liu was prompted by a senior CS student to join Rice Apps, a working group within the CS Club. He switched majors in October of his sophomore year. “Abdul [Nimeri] had a big influence on me,” Liu said. “He pulled me into hackathons and got me into Rice Apps.” Nimeri also recommended Liu intern at a startup company. “Completely opposite to his advice, I went to a big company,” said Liu, “and I hated it, there was too much bureaucracy.”

Liu accepted leadership positions in the CS Club, and served as Director of Technology for the Student Association Executive Committee, where he helped facilitate technology-related aspects of the student government group. Liu said, “In particular, I made sure the ballots were secure during the SA elections. Since the SA used Owlection, made by Rice Apps, there was a lot of cooperation between the two organizations –including a lot of projects created just for the SA.”

He credits another CS upperclassman, Waseem Ahmad, for launching the Rice Apps group. “I took over Rice Apps after Waseem graduated, and helped grow a prototype group into today’s project-driven Rice Apps team,” he said. Liu introduced more projects and people to the team and publicly offered their services to other groups on campus, such as Coffeehouse and Rice Bikes.

Three members of the HackRice leadership team, Krishna Thiagarajan (left), "X" Liu, and Jake Peacock,.

Three members of the 2016 HackRice leadership team: Krishna Thiagarajan (left), “X” Liu, and Jake Peacock.

By his senior year, Liu was serving as the CS Club president, the only returning officer that year. “I think being President was an incredibly rewarding experience for me,” said Liu. “It was strange to have people look to me for answers, but being a leader is really about vision and initiative. There’s also an important teamwork aspect, too.”

He developed both delegation and follow-up skills as a leader. “I used to like to work alone and get things done my way, but when tackling gigantic tasks like organizing HackRice, you really have to trust your officers and teammates.” Liu also recognized his role as a facilitator. “Being president is less about getting the club to do what you want to do, and more about helping the club do what it wants to do,” he said.

In addition to his positions in various leadership roles, Liu also completed internships in three very different organizations. But he turned down an internship offer with DoorDash, the startup he will be joining after graduation. “When I applied for a permanent position, they were a little hesitant,” he said. One of the founders asked what had changed his mind since he had turned them down before.

Liu explained in that interview that he’d previously chosen a large company internship, but had hated the work and felt disconnected from his co-workers’ conversations about walking their dogs or trimming their hedges on the weekends. “Here, the founders say, ‘Hey, come over and play some video games this weekend,’ and I’m like ‘What?’”Xilin Liu

He also relishes being “thrown into the pool at a startup. You have to learn a lot on your own,” he said.  “You have to do a lot for the startup to stay afloat. If there are 10 people, your code is 10% of what’s making the company work. It is not as exciting if your work is only 1% of the company’s outcome.”

Liu was pleasantly surprised when he won the CS Senior Merit Award at the end-of-year Rice Engineering Alumni picnic. “I thought I might win recognition for leadership,” he said, “and I was surprised when they called my name for the merit award.”

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