Before applying to Rice University’s professional master’s program in computer science, Federico Hernández had finished his bachelor’s degree in CS at Fundación Universidad de las Américas Puebla, where he worked for another two years as a research assistant.
Hernández said, “I was more into the academia side of Computer Science because I’d thought I would dedicate my life to research. Although I enjoyed it, I grew less sure if that was what I wanted to keep doing. So, I tried a job in the industry, at a company that provided online invoicing services to the government.
“We were producing tools for tax determination, so people –and the government itself– could calculate taxes based on the invoices they were emitting or receiving. I had a little more fun there for two reasons: I didn’t have to write papers and I could see the impact on the customer. They would be saying, ‘thank you, thank you!’ and I thought it was great to be able to positively impact people that way.”
Hernández began seriously considering a move to the United States for more opportunities to work for the technology industry giants, but realized he first needed a degree from a well-known CS program. He inquired about different CS graduate programs, but the responses he received all recommended he pursue research and a Ph.D.
“I had already gone through the research route and knew I didn’t want to write any more papers, I just wanted training that would help me get further into the tech industry,” he said. “So I narrowed my search to professional CS master’s programs that encouraged their students to specialize in a particular area of technology and also included industry internships.”
Then he realized he already knew about a similar program in Houston, Texas. He and his family had toured Rice University several times while visiting family in the area. He had admired the campus for years before, but the Rice MCS program captivated his attention for several reasons.
“First, I noticed Moshe Vardi was on the faculty. As an undergraduate, I’d loved his work, and I’d always wanted to study logic and discrete math further. I also saw that many of the professional masters students are now at Google, Facebook, and other recognized industry leaders and that’s what I wanted.
“Then I saw courses on compilers, advanced graphics, and visualization — and that’s what I had done my thesis in. I recognized Keith Cooper’s name because of his compilers textbook and multiple academic references to him. The first thing I did when I got to Rice was take the compilers and computer logic courses with Keith and Moshe.”
Hernández said Vardi’s course on computer logic was daunting but he persevered and really learned a lot. Cooper’s compilers course aligned with Hernandez’s previous research, and he enjoyed it so much that he decided to deepen his knowledge by taking the advanced compilers class.
“That professional master’s program was the best program I could have taken. I don’t regret my decision whatsoever. Through that program, I gained an understanding of how everything fits together. But I also gained an appreciation for diversity.
“In my previous work, everyone was similar. But at Rice – and now at Tableau Software – everyone is different – different backgrounds, different cultures. I have friends from everywhere and that is one of the many things that attracted me to Rice, which prepared me to be successful here, at Tableau.”
Tableau Software, where Hernández is a senior software engineer, develops tools that help people see and understand their data. Hernández works on projects that enable Tableau customers to connect to their sources of data, while making sure those connections are fast, secure, and in compliance with the latest standards. Hernandez’s work revolves around authentication and security of connectivity, but he often gets involved in other security related subjects like licensing.
Ironically, Hernández accepted a summer internship at Tableau even though he had initially pursued his MCS degree to get a job in one of the global technology organizations. He said he had prepared his resume and begun talking with huge companies that offered internships on the West Coast.
“Then I visited the people from Tableau, a company that had only 1200 people at the time. I felt comfortable talking with them because I had already worked on projects similar to theirs in the past, so that got me interested in the company. Then they said, ‘oh, we’re in Seattle,’ and I thought that was even better.”
“Choosing between internships with Twitter, Amazon, or Tableau, I finally convinced myself that the big companies would always be there and I should try out the smaller company for my internship.”
Tableau made an effort to ensure their interns enjoyed their three months in Seattle while contributing to real projects. Hernández said his own mentor was a Rice CS alumnus and they had much in common.
“Robert Morton (MS CS ’02) mentored me through my internship and I admire him a lot. He knows so much and his knowledge is so broad. If he doesn’t know the answer, he knows where to point you to start looking,” said Hernández.
“To sweeten the return offer, Tableau told me Robert could to be my mentor again if I agreed to come back after graduation. But they didn’t need to convince me. I’d already fallen in love with Tableau and Seattle, from the company culture to hiking in the mountains.”
At the end of their summer experience, the interns’ projects were presented at the annual Tableau conference. Hernández had enjoyed his own team immensely, but the conference helped him realize the culture in which he thrived actually extended across the entire organization.
“The culture at Tableau is great because everyone is so friendly. Everyone is willing to help. You can stop anyone and ask a question. If they can’t stop their own work at that moment, they will say, ‘Catch me later today,’ but usually they just stop what they are working on and give you their full attention.”
Federico Hernández completed his M.C.S. in 2014.