Interviewed by Xinyue (Cynthia) Zhang '21 and Riho Kawamoto '21
Duong Vu ‘18 is a Freeman Asian Scholar majoring in Computer Science and Studio Arts from Hanoi, Vietnam. He talks about the bittersweet feeling toward his upcoming graduation, his love for graphic design and software engineering and his job-hunting process as an international student, in the interview with Kai. Having interned at Facebook during junior summer, after graduation he is planning to return to Facebook as a software engineer.
Also the founder of Wesdash, an innovative online dashboard where Wesleyan students can get all Wesleyan-related news and events with just one click, Duong shares with us how he came up with this brilliant idea in his boredom. “One day, I was eating breakfast and wondering what I should do with my life. And I wonder wouldn’t it be great if there’s one website I can check all the upcoming events on campus?” he said, “The idea is simple, but it’s convenient and I’ve kept using it.” Wesdash has useful information about gym hours and film series, which most people are looking for but always too lazy to look up the Wesleyan website. Duong’s story illustrates that a room for a creativity may be hidden in our daily lives.
Kai: How do you feel about graduating soon?
Duong Vu: This is cliche, but I’m feeling bittersweet. It is good to go into the workforce doing something I like and also earning money to pay back my student loan, but it’s also good to be in school. You have a good library, a good gym, good teachers, and a lot of good friends, and also postponing your responsibility a little bit. It’s a good life. Most of my good friends are here, and that’s why I don’t want to leave.
K: How did you discover your interest in software engineering and graphic design?
DV: I didn’t even know what programming was before I came to Wes. I took a class in Computer Science in my first semester. It was interesting, but it did not teach me as much as I wanted it to. So I spent my first winter break here just learning java, by borrowing a textbook from the professor. I found it interesting and as I always tell myself to what I’m interested in the moment, so I took more classes in it and naturally majored in it.
Learning software engineering was another story. Learning Comp Sci in class and doing software engineering are two different things. I did not know about software engineering until the second semester of sophomore year when I took a class about it here. When I went off to a company called Facebook to do an internship, I taught myself more coding on the side. I really like making things and coding, so I guess it works out.
For graphic design, I’ve always been good at drawing my whole life, not artistically or professionally, but I always do it when I feel like it. I was good at it, so I decided to take Drawing I here. People kept asking me to make posters for their events, so I made posters for FASA (Freeman Asian Scholars Association). I talked to Professor Schorr, who is a Professor here of Graphic Design to ask for advice, and he gave quite positive feedback to my work and encouraged me to do more graphic design, so I did.
I worked as a freelance graphic designer for a while, just taking commissions from students and organizations. I thought I was going to be a graphic designer first because I was better at graphic design than at computer science, but after a while, I found graphic design less intellectually stimulating than I did at first. Also, I thought it would be more practical for me to focus on software engineering because there was more need for it, also I can always do art on the side as a hobby. So I switched to software engineering.
K: Can you tell us about how you found the opportunity to intern at Facebook and how do you feel about working there as an intern?
DV: It’s pure luck, actually. I applied to the internship through a Vietnamese scholar who graduated a few years ago. He had a friend who was working at Facebook at the time and recommended me to talk to his friend. After I talked to that guy, he said he would be willing to refer me if I wanted to apply to Facebook. This was the first job I applied to coming into unior year, and luckily I got the job.
In terms of my experience working there, I guess it’s not that different from working in other large tech companies. There were a lot of different kinds of people doing different kinds of cool things. I worked under Instagram for the growth team. “Growth engineering” was something I hadn’t even heard of before, so basically it’s an engineering team that works to increase monthly active users and retention rate, etc. My task was to make it easier for users to sign up and log in. It was for the Android app of Instagram. People were wonderful there. Although I was an intern, I was treated as though I was a full-timer. I think this is something you don’t get to find everywhere, and that quality of Facebook really helped me grow. I made a lot of good friends there, and the food there was really good, so I guess that’s another plus.
K: You just mentioned you used Wesleyan network to find the internship. Overall, how well do you think Wesleyan has supported you on career-related development?
DV: Academically, I would not have discovered computer science without coming to Wes, so that’s a big thing. Career-wise, I guess the most important quality Wesleyan has provided me is the confidence to believe that I can achieve whatever I set my mind to. This kind of mindset I think is more important than anything else.
K: What do you think student organizations like Kai can do to help students in terms of career-exploration?
DV: Fostering awareness so that people who are interested in the tech industry need to start planning early on. Even if they only have a vague interest in a field, they should start early to explore what it takes to get into that field and take the time to prepare. I think Kai can host talks and discussions about how to be ready for the job market and also invite students with job offers or internships to share about how they have got to where they are.
K: Do you have any long-term goals in mind that you would like to share with us?
DV: This is a hard question, I don’t even know what I’ll have for breakfast tomorrow. But there’s one thing I definitely want to do, that is to contribute to a grant or scholarship once I have the financial capacity to do it. I came here on the Freeman Asian Scholarship, and having worked at the Career Center I understand how much of a difference a grant can make to a student who cannot afford to do what they want. Even if I only spare 100 dollars each month, in the long run, it would be a large sum of money. I hope to maybe contribute to the Freeman Scholarship so that other people would have the opportunity to come here as I did.
It’s a privilege to have interviewed with Duong a few weeks before he graduates, and a big thank to him for sharing his passion for software engineering and his journey to Facebook! It has given us, both current and incoming Wesleyan students, an insight into utilizing resources in college and preparing for job-search. As we step into the long summer vacation, it’s a good time to start talking with friends, parents, and alumni to explore our potential paths.