Shan Zhong: Keep Learning

Rice University Computer Science alumna Shan Zhong.Rice University alumna Shan Zhong (B.A. ’17) feels most alive when she is learning something new. Now a software engineer for Indeed, she finds the company’s goal of helping people get jobs through building products that work with employers and job seekers in different ways to be a perfect fit for her interests in collaborative problem-solving.

“My team’s product, Indeed Hire, helps small to medium-sized businesses find potential employees, like a recruiting agency but much less expensive,” said Zhong. “We view the limited number of tools available in the recruiting agency market as our challenge as well as our opportunity.

“Most recruiters are just using a contact list and an Excel spreadsheet. But we’re developing web apps that connect clients, recruiters, and candidates. 20 of over 100 hiring specialists of Indeed Hire are often the first to use our new features; they are like our beta testers. We then push the features through to all hiring specialists when we have enough data to prove the effectiveness of them. ”

Zhong expected her own resume to only include an undergraduate degree in Computational and Applied Mathematics (CAAM) and possibly a Ph.D., but she took a Computer Science course in her first semester at Rice and her plans shifted.

Zhong consulted with CAAM seniors before registering for her classes. They recommended a little programming background, so she took COMP 140 with Scott Rixner.

“Professor Rixner made each lesson very interesting, but the amazing thing to me was the sense of accomplishment I had after solving each and every in-class problem. It was very similar to the way I had felt in high school math competitions when the solutions effortlessly and almost magically solved the proposed problem.”

Even though she focused on completing her CAAM degree requirements, Zhong wondered if she could repeat her previous sense of accomplishment with another CS class and signed up for COMP 182 with Luay Nakhleh.

“He was teaching us algorithms using discrete math, which I love, and that confirmed my passion for CS,” said Zhong. “But I didn’t want to give up CAAM, so I double majored. Rice is perfect for students who want to study more than one thing, but in my case, the two majors were especially compatible.

“It felt really cool to be learning different approaches to solve similar problems. For example, to solve the shortest path problem, we used Dijkstra’s algorithm in CS and linear programming with discrete optimization in CAAM.”

After her freshman year, Zhong completed her first summer of statistics research and expected to sign up for a second summer experience with the thought of preparing for graduate school. Then her friends began getting internship offers and their excitement was contagious.

She said, “I had been thinking of going for a Ph.D., so I only applied for internships after my friends already had their offers. At the spring Career Expo my sophomore year, I talked with Indeed and several startups. Luckily, Indeed moved very fast with me and made me an offer after an on-campus interview at Rice and an onsite interview at Indeed’s headquarters in Austin. ”

Zhong appreciated Indeed’s culture that encourages every employee to feel personally responsible for improving products and performance for their customers, even to the extent of competing with Google’s speed in delivering search results. In fact, she was so impressed with the organization that she did not even consider working for another company after her internship.

She said, “I love the people here and there is no internal stress or competition. Everyone I’ve interacted with goes out of their way to help you if they know how. I knew I could learn a lot here and I didn’t think twice after the internship. I just immediately accepted the return offer.”

When Zhong returned to Indeed as a new graduate hire, she spent three months in an onboarding program that forced her to wear several different hats. Indeed University, the company’s employment  orientation for recent graduates, creates teams of four or five new employees. Each team receives funding and acts as a startup inside Indeed to develop a new product.

“In IU, whether you were hired as a BI or a product manager, you act as a software engineer; software developers learn to work as PMs and marketing people. I learned to put ads on Facebook and Google and track our progress with analytics. It taught me that I have capabilities beyond programming.

“Plus, our first industry experience uses real money to put out new products that help job seekers and clients. That is really unique and impactful. But it just keeps getting better. We have so many other teams – like Prime and Incubator – new products get funding if they are successful. We’re innovating every day.”

“A good day at work is when I have things to do and people to ask, if I have questions. If I am learning something new, it is a great day.  If you only do tasks about which you are 100% confident, you are probably not challenging yourself enough.”

One of the ways Zhong challenges herself to learn and do more is through Indeed’s code review process. She said developers are highly recommended to put their code in review after implementing a new feature or making an improvement to an existing feature. The software engineers are responsible for pulling together a review team to check the code, look for bugs, and recommend improvements.

“In college, you don’t usually get your code looked through before it’s graded, but then you’re moving on to another project so the incentive to improve your code is weak. But in industry, it is really beneficial to have that peer review. It helps you have a consistent coding style with the rest of the company and it is a great opportunity to learn from more experienced team members. ”

“All features we create go through testing and verification conducted by our quality assurance engineers. That requires me to think about my project in all aspects, like how other people will see and use your feature. They may try things you might not have thought of, and end up getting errors. ”

Zhong said working with other teams helps her learn more about Indeed’s overall organization and goals. One of the promotions she worked on recently interacted with another team’s web page.

“I had to dive into that team’s code base and coordinate with their code review and release process,” said Zhong. “That process involved meeting and working with a lot more people, including the Resume team. A challenge like that really makes my day. I am learning something new and learning more about my company.”