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Vivian Zhou: From Math and Comp Sci Double Major to Bay Area Tech Career

By Vivian Zhou, BS Mathematics and Computer Science ’19

Vivian Zhou - Drexel math and computer science major

Five years ago, I was on a twenty-hour flight from Beijing to Philly. I was excited and full of big dreams, imagining what America and college life would be like. I remember thinking, “I want to change the world one day.”

But the beginning was tougher than I thought. It was my first time in the country, and I didn’t speak English fluently. Most importantly, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was a math major, but didn’t know if I wanted to be a mathematician.

I scheduled a meeting with an academic adviser, who encouraged me to pursue and take courses in whatever interested me. I took two classes for a fine art minor, but soon realized that it wasn’t for me. I added a finance minor, but again, realized that it wasn’t that interesting to me. As a math major, we are required to take computer science classes, and that’s where I found my true passion.

I added a computer science major and loved what I was doing, and that led to my first co-op — as a software engineer at SAP in Newtown Square. My co-op adviser had told me to make connections and get to know as many people as possible, and that’s exactly what I did. I asked to work on hard projects and was able to impress my managers with my work on a data migration tool.

By the end of my co-op, I had gotten to know my manager’s manager, who is based in the headquarters in Germany. I asked him if it would be possible to open a co-op position for me in Germany. He was surprised at first, but then said, “Sure, why not?”

That’s how I got my second co-op position as a technical project manager at SAP in Germany. I was in charge of selecting a group chatting tool for internal use, which entailed participating in due diligence, sitting down with suppliers, and analyzing and collecting data.

While in Germany, I also took online courses in history, international politics and other electives offered by the College of Arts and Sciences. I liked them even more than my required courses, because they helped me understand big concepts like freedom, equality and the American dream.

During my co-op in Germany, I kept making connections, including with the head of a branch in Palo Alto. So I asked, “Can I go to Palo Alto for my third co-op?” And again he said, “Why not!”

That’s how I wound up in the Bay Area, in the heart of computer science industry with all of the biggest tech companies. After I came back to Drexel as a senior, I started applying to full-time jobs and was offered positions at two of the biggest tech companies in the Bay Area — Google and Apple.

During one of my on-site interviews, one of the managers asked me, “Why the math major?” That question brought me all the way back to five years ago, when I was 17 and standing in front of the Main Building — nervous, scared, and excited about the future. I told him, “Math is the foundation of everything, and pretty much what brought me here today.”

There were challenges over the years, but coming to Drexel was the best decision I’ve ever made. Drexel provided me with the platform to see and experience things I had never seen before. It gave me the opportunity to explore all of my options. I’ve learned to dream big, and to dream even bigger, because there is no limit on what we can accomplish.