From Facebook ‘Rock Star’ to full-time employee

From Facebook ‘Rock Star’ to full-time employee

Trojan meets Mark Zuckerberg and lands a position as a research scientist with the tech giant

October 25, 2017 Breanne Grady

Qinqin Zhu could have updated her Facebook status to the “feeling accomplished” emoji when she interned at one of the most illustrious information technology companies in the world.

Coincidentally, Zhu’s internship in 2016 happened to be at Facebook, the social media and networking juggernaut approaching 2 billion monthly users, according to a recent CNN report.

During her internship, Zhu exemplified the type of talent the tech giant was looking for. So much so, she received the “Rock Star” rating in her performance review, the highest given to interns and full-time employees.

Be our guest

That accolade was followed by an invitation to join Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for a celebratory dinner with fellow Rock Star-rated peers in his home.

Mark Zuckerberg and Qinqin Zhu
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Qinqin Zhu (Photo/Courtesy of Qinqin Zhu)

“It was a great experience,” Zhu said. “During the dinner, Mark asked what we were doing in our internships and discussed with us how we could improve our projects. He also asked our opinions about the advantages and disadvantages of Facebook and suggestions to improve the user experience.”

During her internship, Zhu, who will complete her PhD in chemical engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering in December, worked on machine-learning algorithms to support advertising revenue growth. Machine learning is a type of artificial intelligence that enables IT systems to automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed.

After passing Facebook’s technical and team match interviews, she received a full-time offer as a research scientist in machine learning during the last week of her internship in August 2016.

Freedom and food

For Zhu, some exciting aspects of her new job are the exploratory freedom, fast-paced nature of the work and excellent food options. Her favorite dish at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., is the Korean BBQ.

“[Facebook] gives you a lot of freedom to explore things and make a great impact,” Zhu said. “One of Facebook’s cultures is ‘Move Fast,’ and though that brings a lot of pressure, it pushes me to learn a lot of things, which I think is good for my career.”

At USC Viterbi, Zhu’s PhD adviser is Joe Qin, a professor in the Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. Under his tutelage, Zhu explored research in multivariate analysis, machine learning, process monitoring and fault diagnosis.

“Qinqin’s Rock Star award speaks well about the interdisciplinary training environment I foster in my research group at USC Viterbi,” Qin said. “Our students get exposed to the new methods in data science and can apply them in a domain of applications effectively.”

He added: “Qinqin is a valuable scientist to any company since she always goes the extra mile for everything you ask her to do. You can consider it done when you instruct her with a simple email or text message.”

Zhu believes the high-quality courses at USC greatly enriched her machine-learning expertise that made her the perfect fit for Facebook. She is already planning the next steps in her career in order to keep up with the energetic work culture.

“First, I want to focus on my technical background and strengthen those skills,” Zhu said. “I want to develop a strong sense of machine learning in industry and gradually I want to develop my leadership skills and transfer to a management track.”

Going forward, Zhu will help shape the future of social media technology, a landscape in which Facebook plays a prominent role.

“The mission of Facebook is to bring the world closer together,” Zhu said. “Being part of it, you can see how we implement it step by step.”