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Passionate about Literature, Enthralled by Computer Science

Passionate about English literature and enthralled by computer science, Ha Truong’21 will join Meta as a software engineer after her graduation in December.

Ha Truong'21 with the Chicago Skyline as backdrop. Computer science major and English minor Ha Truong’21 is excited and sad: Excited to join Meta as a software engineer after she graduates from Beloit in December, and sad to leave her college years behind.

Ha came to Beloit College because she believed people learn more when they engage in discussion. “As a high school student in Vietnam, I used to dream of going to a liberal arts college where I could sit in a classroom with people from around the world and hear their views.”

That dream was not only realized when Ha arrived at Beloit, but learning to communicate effectively proved vital when she began honing her skills as a software engineer.

Still, speaking up in class did not come easily in her first year at Beloit College.

“I was afraid to share my voice and held back. But in every single class I was expected to speak and to put my ideas on the table. Speaking up got easier when I realized it was more important to share my ideas than to worry about whether they were right or wrong.”

Ha came to Beloit excited to study comparative literature, and she’ll graduate with a minor in English. She was also excited by the presence of not just one, but two museums on Beloit’s small campus, the Logan Museum of Anthropology and the Wright Museum of Art. Once on campus, Ha took advantage of Beloit’s arts and humanities curriculum to analyze literature, study art history, and to write short stories, draw, and paint.

What then was Ha’s pathway to software engineering?

The summer after her first year at Beloit, Ha returned home to Vietnam, where she interned at Vandy English Language Academy. Asked to build an automatic email sender, she succeeded, but remembers the experience as disastrous. “I had no idea what I was doing.”

Instead of simply walking away, however, Ha decided to tackle her ignorance of computer science head on. Returning to Beloit for her sophomore year, she joined computer scientist Steve Huss-Lederman’s Open Energy Dashboard (OED) student team. Ha’s role was to implement a pipeline system to process energy data from different sources. Ultimately, 33% of the back-end’s redundant code was replaced and a structure established to support the project’s expansion. She also took Darrah Chavey’s introductory computer science course.

Ha was hooked. In addition to working on the OED for two semesters, Ha undertook a research project supervised by computer scientist Eyad Haj Said, in which she used data mining to analyze smart phone users’ movements.

“Although I knew nothing about data science, Prof. Said patiently guided me through the entire process. He also really inspired me with his amazing work ethic, and gave me a TA job right after I declared a CS major.”

As a computer science teaching assistant, Ha worked with any students needing help, no matter which computer science course they were taking. That meant continuing to learn herself. In fact, she thinks she may have learned more from the students than they learned from her.

“As a TA, I often found myself having to relearn material, and the problems the students were working on were often completely new to me. Plus, the students all processed knowledge and approached problems differently. I was glad to have already learned how to work with people from diverse backgrounds and with different ways of tackling a problem when I began working in the software industry the following summer. Plus, being a TA forced me to improve my English language skills.”

But Ha was also becoming more self-confident, something she attributes directly to Eyad Said. “The kind of mentoring I received from him is hard to find. He gave me the courage to apply to intern at Facebook in my sophomore year.” She also won several scholarships, including Google’s Grace Hopper Scholarship, which opened up doors to her in the tech industry.

Ha’s potential as a software engineer was not only recognized by Beloit’s computer scientists, but the Facebook managers in charge of hiring interns.

“They saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. But my work on the OED project and the smartphone research gave me an advantage, and once on the job, so did my experiences as a TA.”

Ha’s willingness to take initiative also paid off. Returning to Facebook for a second summer of interning after her junior year, Ha was assigned to build a debugging tool on Instagram Story Ads. When the project went well, she asked to be assigned tasks with more impact and eventually joined an Ads Formatting Team.

“I implemented an algorithm to calculate optimal font size for Story Ads, which was later published worldwide. I apologize if you use Instagram and catch an ad with odd font size!” Ha’s technical improvement resulted in a 6% increase in ad clicks.

Ha’s advice to new and prospective Beloit College students as she prepares to graduate and join Meta?

“Take initiative and don’t be afraid to show what is inside you. I missed out on some things during my first year at Beloit because I was afraid to share my thoughts and who I was. But faculty and students really want to hear from you, and you’ll enjoy your college years much more when you begin to open up. And take advantage of the liberal arts. They allow you to pursue more than one passion.”

Elizabeth Brewer
November 03, 2021

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