Eva Li on Risk and Success

MCS student Eva LiYifan “Eva” Li, a student in the masters of computer science (MCS) program at Rice University, is willing to take calculated risks to advance her career. “When I was considering my choices for graduate school, Rice was known to have a great professional masters program for students who aim to find a good job.”

All she knew about the university had been learned through websites and comments from Rice students and alumni in a China-based group chat. None of her friends were headed to Texas, but Li balanced the risk of the unknown against the promise of future results and accepted the Computer Science Department’s admission offer.

“Rice initially stood out because of its beautiful campus,” she said, “but its reputation for high quality education, knowledgeable professors, and excellent job hunting results for its students got me excited and I’ve remained excited while studying here.”

She had heard that CS professors took responsibility for presenting difficult concepts in the best possible way for students to master the material, and Li discovered the stories were true. In one of her first courses, COMP 504, Stephen Wong so impressed her with his dedication to student learning that she TA’d for him when he taught the undergraduate version of the course the next semester.

“In Object-Oriented Programming and Design, Dr. Wong guided us through the development of projects. We were randomly assigned teammates for different projects and also had a lot of material to read and learn to complete each assignment. Yes, the course enhanced our software development coding and design skills, but it also familiarized us with many OOP concepts,” Li said.

“But what stands out most in my mind is how Dr. Wong stayed up all night with us leading up to the final demo day, helping us debug our final project. He didn’t just sit at a table and wait for us to come to him, he walked around asking questions and making subtle suggestions that helped us check and recheck our code. That night, Dr. Wong showed us what it feels to be an enthusiastic programmer.”

Scott Pollock’s COMP 531 course taught front and back end systems and web development through building web applications. “Scott had us work individually, and at the early phase of this course, building an online game by myself not only taught me the foundations of web dev and design, it also made me confident of my skills. My game was simple, but I learned a lot,” said Li.

When she applied for internships, Li recognized the value of another course, COMP 582. “That course was really helpful in building our knowledge of algorithms and data structures. Also, many of us try to complete the coding practice sets in an online judge, LeetCode, we treasure the website’s coding challenges as job seekers.”

Li successfully navigated the internship application process while competing in a programming contest for a ticket to the Google I/O conference, and her summer software engineering internship at WalmartLabs began three weeks after she attended the conference.

“The conference is where Google announced their new technologies and products every year and it attracts developers from all over the world. It was an amazing experience, beginning with the keynote where they introduced so many wonderful technologies!

“I learned a lot about different applications including VR (visual reality) and AR (augmented reality) in Google DayDream & Tango, but I was also fascinated by the way Google is handling big data, from smarter identification and analysis of information in Google Lens to improved predictions through Google Assistant and more efficient sharing of images with your friends through Google Photos’ facial recognition enhancements. The excitement was contagious, and developers all around me seemed to be caught up in the fun with childlike wonder.”

She also appreciated the transparency of the competition for tickets. An initiative to get more women involved in the conference, Code Jam to I/O for Women posed problem set that more than 600 participants attempted to solve. Scores for the timed test of four problems with both small and large data tests, were based on how well the participants solved each challenge. Google I/O tickets and travel reimbursements would be given to the best 150 scores. When the top scores were posted, Li recognized her user name in the 77th position.

She recommends other MCS students also seek out and apply for opportunities like the Google I/O conference and Code Jam competition.

“Please dare to dream, ask, and do,” she said. “We need to jump out of our comfort zone, and always seek better solutions to make our code better.”

Li also acknowledged the challenge of completing a fast-paced and information-packed program in 12-18 months. She said, “Frankly, we MCS students seem to be the busiest people among our colleagues in other masters programs. We need to assign our time reasonably in study, job hunting and life. Make the most of your time by paying attention to every detail of your programs and projects. Knowing why and how you wrote something in a particular way can be very helpful during interviews and future development.

“Pay high attention to resume polishing as well as giving and collecting referrals in channels like LinkedIn. Only when you are prepared can you meet the perfect chance.”

Yifan “Eva” Li completes her M.C.S. in 2018.