Moving away from home to pursue a dream isn’t easy, but Computer Science student Yifan (Emma) Wang uprooted herself twice to follow her own.
At a young age, Yifan showed an interested in computer science and was supported by her family to do the unexpected and overcome adversity. “When I was very little, my mom was always saying that if someone says you’re not good at math, physics, or computer science just because you are a girl, it’s total nonsense,” recalls Yifan.
With that mentality, she left China in 2018 and moved to Halifax to begin her degree in computer science at Dalhousie.
Although leaving home wasn’t an easy choice, Yifan knew that Dalhousie was the right one.
“I heard that Dalhousie had a lot of amazing professors who provided students with a lot of opportunities. I also found the courses covered a variety of topics I was interested in,” she explains. “When I was younger, I didn't know which fields of computer science I was specifically interested in, so it was a great opportunity for me to choose a range of courses and discover where my interests were.”
Facing fears, exploring opportunities
Yifan has taken full advantage of her time spent at Dal, completing co-op placements with companies such as Ubisoft and RBC as well as performing research with a supervisor via the Undergraduate Student Research Awards (USRA). She’s also completed an honors thesis and received an Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud Practitioner certificate, to name just a few of her accomplishments.
Yifan’s thesis research was supervised by Norbert Zeh, a professor in the Faculty of Computer Science, and focused on combinatorial algorithms that measure the difference between phylogenetic trees, a diagram showing the evolutionary relationships among various biological species or other entities.
Completing an honors thesis at the undergraduate level is uncommon, but it was something Yifan looked forward to.
“Research taught me how to face my fear of failing,” she says. “There’s something powerful about exploring something new. Research taught me to never give up and to always try to improve myself.”
Building virtual houses
In her cloud computing class, Yifan enjoyed the hands-on projects and designing the cloud-ready application architecture. “It feels like building virtual houses and it’s your responsibility to make them stable,” she says.
During a team project that used a variety of cloud services, she felt a strong sense of achievement after her team was successful. Following these experiences, she decided to learn more about cloud knowledge and explore the career possibilities in the field.
When one of Yifan’s instructors, Robert Hawkey, suggested she apply for the AWS Cloud Practitioner certificate, it felt like a natural step for Yifan. The certification is intended for anyone who has a basic knowledge and wants to advance their expertise of the AWS platform — a diverse, evolving cloud computing platform provided by Amazon that includes a mixture of software offerings.
“Yifan was the only student to pursue and achieve the official AWS Cloud Practitioner certification from Amazon. This certification means she now has access to a job board on AWS available only to certified individuals,” says Hawkey. “Jobs listed on this board come from Fortune 500 companies. She's opened the door to the best jobs in the industry through her hard work.”
Searching for the keys to Google
Yifan’s hard work certainly did open the door to opportunities, leading her to secure a position with Google as a software engineer in site reliability within the cloud department. The role will focus on writing infrastructures as well as monitoring and identifying underlying security issues of cloud services.
Yet with all Yifan’s achievements, she says the interview process with Google was a humbling experience. Being selected as a candidate was only the tip of the iceberg after a long and complex hiring process.
“I had to make sure my resume was impressive,” she explains. “So, I created a personal website that included my computer science projects and uploaded demo videos on YouTube.”
Yifan is thankful for feeling properly prepared for the opportunity. She believes her co-op placements combined with computer science courses truly helped her build the confidence and knowledge needed to secure the role. She acknowledges that although the hands-on experience and foundational knowledge were needed, she couldn’t have done it without the support from the peers, professors, and friends she met while living in Halifax.
“I had a lot of fears when I first got to Halifax, but I made a great friend who made studying abroad a lot easier. Whenever I made mistakes, she would patiently help me and encourage me. I’ve made so many great friends and memories while I’ve been here,” says Yifan, who completed her course work in December 2021 and plans to attend her convocation ceremony in May 2022.
In February, Yifan packed her bags and said goodbye to Halifax. Once again, she finds herself leaving one home to explore another. Today, she calls Waterloo, Ontario home while she works in her dream role at Google.
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