This undergraduate found her way to computer science and a world of opportunities.
Q: Where are you from?
A: This is the most difficult question—I’m from all over. Born in New Jersey, did K-8 in Glen Ellyn, IL, moved to Atlanta suburbs for high school, and moved to Toronto halfway through high school. My family has been in Toronto for six years; they are all permanent residents of Canada but I’m not. I would say that Chicago is my home.
Q: How did you hear of IIT?
A: I am actually a transfer student from DePaul. I went to DePaul as a freshman because I was out of state everywhere and international in Canada. DePaul gave me a huge merit scholarship and it was in a big city that I liked, so I decided to go. I didn’t declare a major but I thought I’d study English. I had some of my work published in local lit mags during high school and it seemed to make sense. I took all liberal arts classes and calculus—my mom told me to get the math out of the way while it was fresh in my head from high school. Calculus ended up being the only class I liked. I didn’t have a strong math background and I had to work hard, but I appreciated the challenge. I realized I wanted to do something I’d never tried before—I felt like I had already majored in English in high school. I decided to study engineering and had to transfer. IIT has the best engineering program in Chicago. I came for a visit, loved it, applied, had a decision and scholarship in three weeks, and started studying mechanical engineering the following year.
Q: When did you know you wanted to study CS?
A: I wrote my first line of code in a mechanical engineering requirement (CS104 - MATLAB for Engineers). I loved it. I would do extra programming questions for fun. I thought my love for programming translated into wanting to do lots of computer work in MechE. I didn’t think that people who had never written code before could study computer science, but I was envious of my IIT friends who studied it. Not only did they get to write code, but they had tons of money! They all had part-time jobs in industry or did freelance work during the semester. They went to cool meetups, started companies, participated in hackathons—computer science had a culture and social aspect unlike any college major out there. There seemed like so much opportunity to make an impact immediately — you didn’t need tons of funding or a company backing you to make cool projects happen. With the support of many, I changed my major to computer science the summer before my third year of college. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.
Q: What has been your favorite class here?
A: I’ve loved all of my computer science classes (I’m not just saying that!).
Q: What research have you done? How did you get involved?
A: I do research with Professor Aron Culotta, the head of IIT’s Text Analysis in the Public Interest lab. I’m creating a reusable framework to predict the demographics of Twitter users based on who they follow. He trained the model, [and] I’m applying it to predict the demographics of people who tweeted about ecigarettes. I got involved in research for not so thrilling reasons—I wanted to have some extra experience to apply to jobs with. I had no idea that I’d love it and learn more from research than I have in any class. I learned Python, learned about using APIs [application program interfaces], and learned the fundamentals of data science and machine learning. I also learned about libraries and technologies that are popular in industry—something you don’t usually learn in the classroom. This research has opened so many doors for me and I’m so grateful that Aron gave me a shot. I won the Wells Fargo Analytics Challenge using techniques I learned from research. Many people in industry are familiar with the lab’s work. I met the head of data science at Bloomberg [where Emily did an internship—see question 8] and he knew Aron—it’s been fun to have Aron in common with people. The crazy thing about doing research at IIT is that all you have to do is ask. I’d never met Aron, saw that he did work that I was interested in, sent him an email, met with him, and became an NSF funded research assistant. One of the great things about IIT is that my story isn’t unique. Research positions are available to those who ask here.
6. What internships have you done? How did those come about?
A: Last summer I interned at Visa’s Denver office. I got that internship at the Society of Women Engineers conference in LA. IIT fully funded about 20 members of our SWE chapter’s attendance. I interviewed with Intel and Cisco as well. This summer, I was at Bloomberg in NYC. I got that internship at Grace Hopper in Houston. An IIT alum fully funded five women studying CS at IIT to attend. I also interviewed with Square, Microsoft, Facebook, and Dell. Attending these conferences has given me professional opportunities that have changed my life. I’m grateful for IIT’s support of sending students to these conferences.
7. What has been your favorite moment as an IIT CS student?
A: The Wells Fargo contest was a great experience. I felt very supported by the department and that meant a lot to me. I feel like the professors and staff in the CS department really care about every student. Another exciting time was hearing about Chris Gladwin’s donation. IIT is an incredible school. It is great to know that new students will have an even better experience than I did.
8. What’s next for you? What do you plan to do after IIT?
A: Oh wow, what’s next….There are so many options! I know that I will do a masters in data science in the next few years. I want to have a little industry experience before I start grad school. I’m interviewing for software engineering, analytics, and consulting full-time jobs at big companies. I know that I have a Bloomberg return offer. I’m interviewing with Google (engineering) in a few weeks. I started interviewing for a tech consulting job with Microsoft this summer. I’ll probably do some interviews with Wells Fargo for analytics positions as well. I’m actually pretty interested in staying in Chicago and working for a fintech startup or small company. I’m also considering getting a Ph.D. and exploring social media data analytics questions similar to my current research. Something that’s really important to me is giving back —I want to support others getting started in computer science and contribute to CS communities.
9. What would you tell other people who are considering studying CS at IIT?
A: You can do anything here. You will be someone at IIT. You can make a difference at this school. You can find role models here. You’ll be supported when you reach out. You’ll be a community member of IIT, but also of Chicago’s tech community. If you’ve never tried computer science before, you can try it here. You’ll be challenged. You’ll be prepared for industry. You’ll meet people who inspire you—people who’ve started businesses, people who have done incredible projects, people who have entry-level developer jobs as freshmen—but it’s not intimidating or competitive. I wouldn’t have gone anywhere else for undergrad.
10. Do you think tech has a woman problem, and if so, what do you think should be done about it?
A: Yes, but it’s getting better. This year, we founded an ACM-W [Association for Computing Machinery – Women] chapter at IIT to support women in CS. I’m actually starting a vlog with a friend of mine to interview women in tech. You can’t be what you can’t see — we’re hoping to bring greater visibility to female role models in tech. I think the most impactful thing I can do is to continue working hard and support other women’s efforts in computing.