Getting to know Katherine Kuan and her journey as a Software Engineer
In today’s post, we get to know about Katherine’s journey from being a student, her time as a Software Engineer at Google, and what advice she has for students that want to become a Software Engineer.
Q1. So to start off with the first question, can you tell me a bit about yourself?
Sure! I’m Kat Kuan. I grew up in the Bay Area and went to college at MIT to study Electrical Engineering and Computer Science for my Bachelor’s and Masters of Engineering as well. After I graduated, I joined the Android apps team at Google, which was a dream job for me at the time! After a few years, I switched into the Developer Relations team at Google to teach more people about how fun Android development can be. And most recently, I left Google to write a children’s book and build a business.
Q2. Was software engineering an interest you always had? And what was your deciding factor in choosing this career path and focusing on Android Development?
I was first exposed to computer science in sophomore year of high school and went on to take 2 years of it. I enjoyed building fun games on the computer, and also enjoyed math and science, so I applied to colleges for engineering.
I actually applied to college as a biotechnology/bioengineering major, but after working at a summer internship at a biotech lab after my senior year, I realized it was very isolating and wanted more people interaction, haha! I was already headed to MIT though and decided to pick a different engineering major. From process of elimination, not wanting to do aero/Astro, mechanical, chemical and other types of engineering, I decided on software! 🙂
I discovered Android development through a school project while I was looking for a Masters degree project. At the time, the project Sana was a telemedicine platform to connect rural healthcare workers with specialist doctors using mobile Android phones and an electronic medical record system. I was blown away by how a simple app that collected patient symptoms and photos could be leveraged for something as hugely impactful as patient care. It was a prototype, and I didn’t get to see it fully work on the ground, but I did visit the Philippines to do prep work for it, and I was just mesmerized even more by the power of mobile technologies.
I think that’s what made working on the Android team at Google literally a dream job for me. I was definitely interested in the app development side of it, and what it meant to provide a great user experience for people.
Q3. Internships are a great thing to do and give’s you that experience outside of the classroom which can be very different. What would be your advice to students that are looking to do an internship and how do feel it helped you in your studies?
Yes, I totally agree that internships are great! I feel like I gained so much insight into different companies and the working world through my internships. MIT the school and the student clubs provided a lot of support to help people get internships, so I was lucky for that. The professional club I joined was the Society of Women Engineers, and I gained valuable networking and professional skills(resume, mock interview) over the 4 years there.
My sister was also studying computer science (several years older than me) and she served as a great role model for me in terms of preparing for the work world, joining Society of Women Engineers, and she actually connected me to my first internship for my freshman year summer.
I enjoyed the practical application that internships provided. Theory from school was hard to grasp, and I felt like there was great purpose and meaning in being able to contribute to a team in the workplace.
I would encourage students to keep applying, networking, brushing up resume and interview skills. The more exposure and outreach you can do, the higher your chances.
Q4. For students that would be interested in following your path and working as a software engineer and to give them an idea what would be involved, could you describe what a typical week at work was like?
A typical work week as a software engineer at Google was mostly coding(for new features or fixing bugs), having team meetings, working with designers or product managers, and also doing code reviews with other engineers. For big features, sometimes it involves discussing with other teams and coming up with a design document to agree on things upfront. It’s highly collaborative and for me, it was great to have senior engineers nearby so I could ask questions for anything I needed help on. Later on, as I became more senior, I would mentor interns or recent grads and help guide them on their work assignments.
Q5. You have worked on many projects, out of all those projects, which one did you enjoy the most and why?
I really enjoyed working on Google Keep because our team built it from the ground up. To go from mockups from a designer to a rough prototype and testing it on colleagues, to building a full production app with real users in the public was amazing. It gives me enormous satisfaction and pride that we did it! And also it’s so heartwarming to hear when people really enjoy using the app in their daily lives.
I really enjoyed that aspect of Android development – being able to share my work with friends and family members and have them use the apps I worked on!
Q6. The last question, what advice would you give to someone that would be interested in a career as a software engineer?
I would encourage them to start building! Whatever interests them! That is the best way to learn. And get people’s feedback and tweak it. When users spot a bug, it will motivate you to want to fix it and improve the app for them.
Also working with peers or more senior engineers will help you get up to speed so much faster. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
I was always more interested in the human impact of what we can build as software engineers. I think there is so much more potential for apps that improve people’s lives – whether it’s in education, healthcare, agriculture, finance, small businesses, etc.. and I hope that future engineers are bold enough to transform these industries with new technologies. I also hope that future engineers understand the nuances of what technology *cannot* be used to replace. Empathy and staying ethical as engineers are super important.
From software engineer to now an author of your first book “Use Your Voice”. You showed that you can do anything if you set your mind to it, and a message to everyone following you on your amazing journey which I feel is to follow your passion, and I hope you will keep sharing your amazing journey with everyone! So one little last question, any hints of what 2018 has in store for those following your journey?
Thank you so much!! Haha, I honestly don’t know what’s next for me! I want to stay healthy in mind and body, so taking care of myself is a big priority after years of working too much!(yikes), I love creating new things for the world, teaching/sharing what I know, and learning new things, so I hope to have plenty of time for ALL of that this year! 😉
I hope you have found this interview with Katherine helpful and gives you a better understanding of what being a Software Engineer is like, and her advice if you are interested in a career as a Software Engineer.