Facebook software engineer Yanfei Wu credits Rice University’s Master of Computer Science (MCS) program for giving him a professional edge. “The program is ideal for its professional working aspect,” he said. “Don’t be afraid of difficult courses. Compilers, operating systems, networking– they are all really hard because they are useful. Choose them anyway. You’ll need the sense of them when you join a company.”
Wu entered the professional masters program with an intense interest in the tech industry and a passion for creating things by writing code. He then maximized his experience in the program by mastering new fundamentals, learning leadership skills, and taking every opportunity to speak English more naturally.
He said, “Compilers and databases with Professor Cooper and Professor Jermaine – I knew these technologies existed but had no idea of their underlying objectives. And I learned some things appear much simpler than they actually are.” In early interviews, he was able to demonstrate his knowledge of these areas by talking in depth about the projects he’d worked on in the courses.
His leadership abilities developed through courses like COMP 429. “We gained a solid knowledge about how different receivers coordinate with each other to send images all over the world, and it was an interesting way to learn networks,” said Wu. “But through the projects Professor Ng assigned us, I also learned how to be a leader and how teams work together.”
Because his undergraduate experience in China focused on individual accomplishment, Wu felt these lessons in how teams interact were extremely important and helped him better understand employment in the tech industry. After two semesters, he landed an internship with Tableau Software in Seattle.
The MCS program also gave him confidence to strike out in a new direction. When he was hired by Facebook, he asked to join a frontend team even though he had no experience in that area. “I had always focused on the backend,” he said. “Now I am an Android developer working on the front end and my goal is to become a full stack engineer.”
Wu received competitive offers for both internships and employment and shared several of his tips. “It will never be too early to start,” he said. “Get familiar with the interview process, get to know the top companies, engage with other people, reach out.” He also recommends practicing the answers to interview questions out loud, over and over.
When Wu arrived at Rice, he noticed that about 70% of his class was from China. “Practicing English is very important if you want to be competitive in interviews,” he said. “Boost your first impression by speaking English well. It would have been so frustrating if I had tons of great examples in my mind but couldn’t voice them easily.”
Although it was tempting to hang out with people from the same country or area, Wu chose a different path. “I asked for a non-Chinese roommate at Rice, to force myself to speak more English,” he said. “That first semester, I joined him in social activities, met his friends and had random conversations with them.”
Wu still watches family-style TV shows to strengthen his English. “Friends, Big Bang Theory, How I met your Mother — they actually give you an idea of real conversations, how people really say things,” said Wu. His determination to talk more naturally boosted his career even after he accepted a job. “Speaking English made it easy to participate in technical talks after I joined the company,” he said.
For more information on Rice’s professional MCS program, ranked #20 in the United States, see http://www.cs.rice.edu/academics/graduate-studies/mcs/.