Susan Wen Blends Comp Sci and Poli Sci

Susan Wen, CS alumna

“I came to Rice as a Political Science major because I wanted to be a journalist,” said CS alumna and Two Sigma software engineer Susan Wen.

“But my high school had a heavy STEM background, so in my freshman year I thought I might as well try some engineering courses and took ENGI 120, CAAM 210 and COMP 140. Of all those, I liked COMP 140 the best and decided to take some more computer science courses.”

By the time she finished her sophomore year, she had completed five COMP science courses and declared a double major in Political Science and Computer Science.

“In sophomore spring, I took COMP 321 and 322 in the same semester. I was struggling with the courses but I learned a lot,” Wen said. “The double major was possible because the political science major had a flexible schedule and I was really interested in the topics, particularly comparative policy. It didn’t feel like I was completing too many requirements, as much as taking the opportunity to learn more about the things that interest me.”

Wen’s passion for both public policy and computer science made her a good fit for the Stanford U.S.-Russia Forum (SURF), a two-semester research project matching American and Russian students with similar interests. After connecting remotely, the research team chose to focus on cyber security. The teammates met in person and collected data in Russia that November, and met again to present their capstone project at Stanford in April of her senior year.

“Before getting into the SURF program, I didn’t know much about cyber security but I have since realized how important it is, particularly in Internet of Things and ownership of data. It was an area where I could combine my interests in policy studies and CS, a perfect blend of what I had been working on for four years,” she said.

But Wen also said the research experience revealed a need for better organization and procedures, similar to those she’d discovered in industry. “In my internship last summer, I learned a lot about tackling open-ended questions. I had guidance through the project. And the process of hosting design sessions, setting objectives and receiving regular feedbacks was helpful in narrowing down the problems into manageable chunks and eventually to completion.”

“The research process was less organized so our progress didn’t seem efficient.  Those and technical skills are what I want to get from industry experience. I’m excited about the opportunities to grow in those areas with Two Sigma.”

Wen dove into her role as a software engineer in the company’s New York office and has already begun taking advantages of opportunities to further develop her technical skills.

“I recently completed our new grad training program, NewTS, where we work on group projects with other new hires to understand the internal development process,” Wen said. “Since I joined my team, I was able to make contributions to our product. And I learned a lot about finance through the context of my work and daily interaction with our quantities researchers.”

As much as Wen loved her political science courses, she recommends all students try at least one computer science course. “What I’ve learned in my four years at Rice is that everyone is different and you have to take a class or two to find out if you really like it before you decide to major in it. Among the seniors graduating with me, I heard a lot more students express regret that they didn’t major in CS than I heard CS majors say they wish they had majored in something else.”

One of her regrets is that she did not become active in the CS student community until her junior year. “Learn to appreciate the community you are in. The CS Club, CSters – those communities helped me a lot with resume help sessions, tech talks, and other events. At Grace Hopper, I got a lot of interview experience and also learned a lot more about different career paths available.”

“By the time I graduated, the community had become one of my favorite things about being a CS major. Everyone is willing to help you, both faculty and students. Go to hackathons, I wish I had done those. And get into mentoring, both receiving and giving.  I wouldn’t have gotten my offer from Two Sigma if my friends hadn’t practiced interviewing with me.”