Lauren Khoo grew up with Rice University as her playground. Literally. “My dad graduated from Rice and my childhood home was just a few blocks from Rice Village,” she said. “Dad used to take us to Rice to play when I was little.” The family moved to Bellaire, where Khoo took an AP computer science course that prompted her to choose CS as a major.
“When I arrived as a Rice freshman, I was already inclined to major in CS –I liked the way problems were posed in this field,” Khoo said. She used the O-Week Activities Fair to talk with upperclassmen in CS about their clubs and joined the CS Club, but feels she owes her own personal success to CSters (pronounced ‘C-stirs’).
In her first CSters meeting, Khoo found herself surrounded by other students who understood what she was feeling as a woman and a freshman in CS. She said, “Python was new to me, the homework was hard and sometimes overwhelming, but these upperclassmen could relate and they got me through the tough times.” She also said individual CSters were quick to share the steps they took to get where they were now.
“Then I joined their Big and Little mentorship program,” said Khoo. “Elizabeth Liu, the woman assigned as my big sister, was a junior and had recently interned at Spiceworks.” Liu suggested Khoo connect with the Spiceworks recruiters at the fall Career Expo. “I chatted with them and they gave me an interview,” Khoo said. “As a freshman, I didn’t have any experience, but I had a good time in the interview. Even though I felt like I didn’t know anything, I think I gave the impression that I was eager to learn.” By December, Khoo had an internship offer.
Her experience at Spiceworks was rewarding and she credited her CSters connections for that success, so she returned to Rice determined to spend as much time as possible with the club. The more time she spent with the club, the more she wanted to become involved in leadership. “I wanted to run for positions that could affect change,” she said. “By my junior year, I was serving as co-president with one of my good friends, GaYoung [Park].”
The two friends discussed ways to strengthen the club and implemented a bi-weekly study break to provide more opportunities for members to interface with each other. They also addressed on-going issues of missed member communications by funneling all announcements into a weekly digest and restructuring the club leadership responsibilities.
“That was a big exercise in empathy,” she said. “Understanding how the infrastructure of the club supported the members’ needs and thinking about what people want, why they want it, and how to deliver that. That space was a fun place to a develop important leadership skills and it improved my approach to product management.”
Khoo spent two summers in as a product management intern with Microsoft, first in Consumer Storage on Windows and then with the OneDrive team. During these internships, Khoo realized that she had more fun on the product side. She said, “When I was working in software development, an off-day could feel really monotonous. But when I was a product manager, there were no off-days. Every day felt like fun and that I was doing something to contribute to the team.”
Reflecting on her CS experience, Khoo’s one regret is that she compared herself to other students. “For so long, I felt like I was underperforming compared to everyone else in CS, especially those people who seem to come to it so naturally. But college is a unique place to grow and learn with people both similar and different from you. The only thing that really matters is that you learn how to learn and approach new problems.”
Khoo’s own ability to effectively assess and solve problems helped her map out a capstone sequence that included human factors and business strategy courses, and also complete her B.S. degree by December of her senior year. “I’m so excited to go to Seattle and join the OneDrive mobile team as Microsoft Product Manager,” she said.