How a Math-Hater became a software engineer at Google
Regardless of struggling in math and not knowing what to do, Tae was able to find his own path and started his early career as a software engineer at Google. In this blog, we will be sharing his secrets and experiences. Tae graduated from University of Texas at Austin. During undergrad, he founded a student organization as a vice president and interned at Samsung and IBM. He is currently working at Google in San Francisco.
Q. What kind of student were you in high school or college?
Not to be humble, but I really was a below-average student for most of my life. I spent my middle school years in one of the most educationally heated neighborhood in all of Korea and there was absolutely no evidence that I would do well in the U.S. — really, my confidence was at an all-time low. Thankfully, the learning environment here was much more relaxed and I was able to explore different subject matter that I never thought I’d like — physics, statistics, computer science, etc. I hated math and that usually meant that I will not do well in other STEM fields. I found momentum after that and was able to graduate high school with a pretty good standing. In college, I focused more on personal projects as is the nature of majoring in computer science.
Q. How did you start pursuing your career?
I still remember the day — it was late afternoon and I was about to go home but my friends dragged me to this robotics club. At the time, I had no interest for student organizations and never thought to join one. But alas, I watched what my friends did and it was quite intriguing. When I was a kid, I loved building Lego sets. This seemed pretty similar to that — but what really caught my eye was that they were building some “code” that made the robot move by itself. That really blew me away. To this day, I still think cutting-edge technology is as close we get to magic. After that day, I had no doubt I’d study computer science. Not because of how much the profession would earn (we were high schoolers, no one cared about jobs at the time) but because I loved it.
Q. What is one thing that helped you get where you are?
This really is my dream job. Who know I’d get paid to work with the computers all day? Even in my own time I do personal projects — not because I’m good at programming but because I just really enjoy it. A lot.
Q. If you could go back in time, what is one thing you would change?
I read it somewhere that starting a second language before 10, and at lease before 19 gives one an exponentially high chance of succeeding. I think this is true for any subject. If I had gotten into computers just one year earlier, I really do believe that I’d be a much better programmer. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean shove whatever subject you think might earn the big bucks down your kids’ throat; no, not at all. Rather, give them opportunities to explore and find their passion. No matter how early you start, if you don’t have the inner drive to continue it won’t matter at the end. I think this is true in this current society then ever before: If you are really good at something (doesn’t have to be your “traditional” fields), you can make it.
Q. What is your philosophy?
Well, it’s more of a pledge to myself — “don’t dwell on the past”. They say life is a series of choices. Naturally, some choices are difficult and may result in regrets. It’s always good to learn from your mistakes and shortcomings but being stuck in the past and lamenting what could have been is, I came to know, just a waste of time. Sometimes when you’re knocked down you might feel it’s too late, or that it’s impossible to overcome what’s ahead but isn’t it just better to get up now and find a path forward? You’ll get there faster.
Q. Any plans for your future?
I want to create a small startup with my friends, I don’t wish to be tremendously successful or anything. How nice would it be to earn a living while working on your own creation? Sounds amazing to me.
Q.What is one advice you would give to students who wish to follow your career path?
Never give up. What you learn in classes doesn’t necessarily reflect what you might be doing outside of school. In fact, it rarely does! Theories are boring, tests are hard, and projects seem useless. Trust me, I’ve been there. If you really like tinkering with software, just hang on tight and you’ll find that all those tedious schoolwork was worth it.
Hackathons. Hackathons. Hackathons. Why do people not participate in hackathons? You get to spend a night with your friends actually building something you think might be cool, get free meals and might even win a prize at the end! Oh, not to mention you can write this down on your resume. Please just try it out!